HOUSTON — When the two on-premise laundries serving The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa couldn’t keep up with its linen demand, the urban resort embarked on a project to upgrade its laundry service.
The Houstonian enlisted local distributor Scott Equipment, equipment manufacturer G.A. Braun and laundry consultant Pertl & Associates to assess the effectiveness of its hotel laundry and its fitness center laundry, which were located in separate buildings on the 18-acre campus.
The two laundries were producing a combined average of 410 pounds per hour in roughly 2,100 square feet of usable space, and linen quality was marginal at best. The fitness center laundry was operating around the clock every day, but The Houstonian still had to outsource some terry goods.
“We had space issues,” says Greg Branum, director of engineering for The Houstonian. “The equipment was antiquated. It was a poorly designed laundry, because we were actually running two.”
In the end, The Houstonian decided to build a new 3,500-square-foot laundry on the basement floor of a parking garage expansion on campus and purchase all-new equipment. Construction began in January 2008, and the new facility has been open since May.
“My initial perception is that it’s incredible and it’s only going to get better,” Branum says. “We’re just trying to figure out, now that we’ve got this magnificent plant, how to be smart (and best use it).”
OLD-WORLD CHARM, MODERN-DAY COMFORT
To understand the makeup of an OPL, one must first get to know its end-users. The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa combines elements of a fine city hotel with amenities of a secluded oasis on its 18 acres in the heart of Houston.
The hotel’s 289 guestrooms (all remodeled in a $7.1 million renovation completed in 2008) feature a range of state-of-the-art amenities to complement its floor-to-ceiling wooded views. Its 32,000 square feet of meeting space attract meeting planners and business travelers.
Hotel guests have complimentary access to The Houstonian Club, a 125,000-square-foot private-membership facility featuring top-of-the-line exercise equipment and a staff of personal trainers. There are three resort-style pools, a climbing wall, boxing ring, eight tennis courts, a full-court gymnasium and more for the 7,000 members. One of its specialty programs is the NFL Draft Preparation Program, a training regime favored by athletes hoping to be selected by an NFL team.
Spa enthusiasts can pamper themselves at Trellis The Spa, with its 17,000 square feet of relaxation space, an indoor float pool, and more than 100 decadent treatments.
The Manor House, former residence of President George H. Bush, serves as the hotel’s signature restaurant.
The Houstonian is charged with processing roughly 3.6 million pounds of linen annually, including high-end and unique bedding packages, food-and-beverage linen, spa towels and robes.
The Houstonian began contemplating the idea of consolidating its laundry operation in summer 2004, according to Branum.
“We wanted to have one centralized laundry when we were finished,” he says. “A lot of different decisions went into that laundry. We actually did an extensive, exhaustive set of surveys, not just a single survey.”
“There were a lot of different design concepts floated around,” says Clifton Quick, director, Inside Sales & Project Management, G.A. Braun, whose company became involved in the project in mid-2007. “We had a finite floor space ... to look at with respect to the equipment. We looked at a lot of different equipment densities.”
“As large as the project was, and the cost of it, it was absolutely critical that we did it right,” Branum says. “We had one opportunity to do it. It was about $1.2 million for equipment costs and install, then the cost of the physical plant … got the price tag well over $2 million.”
A freestanding facility was ruled out because the hotel didn’t want to build on property that, at some point, could be developed as a revenue producer, Branum says.
Site choice was vitally important so the laundry could most efficiently serve the hotel, club and spa, all in separate buildings interconnected by roadways, he adds.
“We spent a tremendous amount of time talking about traffic plans,” Branum says. “Literally, where does the stuff get picked up, in what fashion, what kind of carts are we talking about, what kind of transportation vehicles.
“When you talk about starting in 2004 and not doing construction until 2008, it wasn’t like we’d go six months at a time without talking about the laundry. We were on this thing all the time.”
Once construction started, the project presented certain challenges, Quick says. All of the equipment had to be rigged and craned into the laundry area, working around the larger construction project. Low ceiling clearance forced designers to look closely at machine operability and utility connections, especially the dryer ductwork and the efficient movement of supply/exhaust air. Some general contractors and tradesmen had never worked on a laundry installation before, he says, so some plumbing had to be relocated when its original placement would have interfered with washer operation.
Ultimately, the project came out exactly as designed and included all the “critical elements,” Branum says, crediting Scott Equipment and G.A. Braun for its successful completion.
There is room for growth, as the laundry can now produce 5.8 million pounds annually at full capacity, according to Branum. The upgrade has enabled the laundry to go from three shifts a day to 1½ shifts per day. Branum declined to discuss specific employment figures, but says that increasing labor efficiency by 25% to 33% is not an overstatement.
RIGHT EQUIPMENT MIX
Anchoring the wash aisle are three 250-pound Braun open-pocket washer-extractors, a 125-pound UniMac washer-extractor and a 35-pound UniMac washer-extractor. A thermal reclamation system by Thermal Engineering of Arizona captures heat from the wastewater and uses it to preheat incoming water, Branum says.
There are two 250-pound, gas-fired Braun Pass-Thru dryers, a 170-pound UniMac dryer and a 75-pound UniMac dryer. A Clean Cycle Systems central lint collector helps keep the dryers running safely and efficiently.
The new ironing system consists of an Alpha 3-in-One spreader-feeder; a three-roll, 130-inch-wide, steam-heated Delta ironer; an Omega folder-crossfolder; a small-piece rotary accumulator; and a dual large-piece stacker, Quick says. Two Sigma small-piece folders assist with finishing.
“One of the reasons we went with the steam plant and this new Braun ironer was so that we could get a better (quality) table linen for our conferences,” Branum says. There are plans to build custom rolling racks for draping the ironed linens, as requested by management and conference planners who asked they not be folded, he adds.
The ironer also enables the laundry to quickly and efficiently process a 2x3 oval-shaped tray liner for the restaurants that it previously had to iron by hand.
“They’d wash them in a small batch size, then finish them by hand,” Quick says. “Now, because of the versatility of the ironing system, we were able to put a formula program together to run those through the ironer. Operators feed them on the front end and they come out perfectly finished. ... You can run them as fast as you can feed them.”
Workers transport linen throughout the campus using plastic carts that are loaded onto two gas-powered utility vehicles, Branum says. In the hotel and at the laundry, the carts are positioned onto a table sitting atop a pneumatic scissor hoist. An operator activates a switch to raise it to the height of the truck bed, then rolls the carts on. Each vehicle can carry up to three carts.
The original plan had been to load the vehicles using custom-made ramps, but workers struggled to push full carts up and onto the trucks and the hotel didn’t want anyone to be injured, Branum says.
There were many discussions about possibly outsourcing the laundry service, and several local companies pitched their services, he says, but it ultimately came down to maintaining quality and control.
“Any time that you outsource that, the second you make that decision, you start to lose control,” he says. “We just were not convinced that anybody could produce it the way we wanted it produced.”