NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Gaylord Opryland Resort is taking guest reservations for a Nov. 15 reopening, just six months after massive springtime flooding from the adjacent Cumberland River left the hotel, the legendary Grand Ole Opry and the company’s other area facilities severely damaged.
As of mid-September, clean-up and remediation work had been completed and construction was under way, according to Pete Weien, senior vice president and general manager, who posted an update on the resort’s website.
Opryland’s on-premise laundry—which lies just 100 yards from the banks of the Cumberland—has required full renovation. Installation of a new tunnel washer and other equipment in the hotel’s OPL is continuing in advance of the planned restart on Oct. 15.
Derek McCann, director of Opryland’s Rooms Division, credits the company’s contracting with a world-renowned disaster response company for enabling resort management to quickly assess the flood damage and formulate an aggressive strategy for lighting the “Welcome” sign again.
OPL PROCESSES 12 MILLION POUNDS ANNUALLY
The Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center is the largest non-gaming facility in the continental United States. After three expansions, today it offers 2,881 rooms and 600,000 square feet of meeting and convention space.
Its OPL is housed in a 55,000-square-foot building connected to the main power plant directly behind the resort. It processes approximately 12 million pounds of linen annually for the resort and the nearby Radisson Hotel Opryland, also owned by Gaylord.
“It’s a common pool. We use the same linens,” says Bill Jones, Opryland’s director of Laundry and Linen Services. “It’s almost like a department within the resort itself.”
The product mix consists of guestroom linen and banquet linen.
Jones described the laundry as being two different facilities, the laundry operation and a uniform and drycleaning area that processes uniforms for approximately 3,000 employees—called STARs, short for Smiles, Teamwork, Attitude, Reliability and Service with a Passion—and personal garments for executives.
Underground tunnels link the buildings on the resort campus, and the laundry uses these tunnels to transport linen throughout.
The laundry employs a staff of 68, including production and administration, Jones says. Prior to the flood, the laundry operation ran a single 10-hour shift each day, and the drycleaning plant worked two shifts each day because of the large uniform volume.
Jones, a Nashville native, has worked in the laundry industry for 25 years. His career took him to California, Chicago and Florida before he was offered the position at Opryland. A week before he was scheduled to start work, the property was flooded and he was left wondering if he still had a job.
ANKLE-DEEP MUD; LAUNDRY CART PERCHED ATOP OVERHEAD RAIL
After several days of heavy rain in late April and early May, the swollen Cumberland River started to breach the retaining walls along the hotel property and water began seeping into the underground tunnels, Jones says in describing the reports he received from some of the laundry employees. Hours later, the rising waters prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to open the floodgates on a dam upriver from Nashville.
“At about 7 o’clock that Sunday night (May 2), it started really flooding at that point,” Jones says. “Our senior vice president issued the call to evacuate the property.”
The next morning, the entire resort was under water. The laundry appeared to take the worst of it, given its proximity to the river and its location on the lowest point of the resort property. The $6 million in damage was the most suffered by any one Opryland department, according to Jones.
“Water marks on the wall are at 12 feet,” he says. “The laundry was under water for about 48 hours before the river finally crested and ultimately receded.”
When Jones arrived on May 10, the laundry’s floor was covered in ankle-deep mud. A laundry cart sat on the overhead rail system, and 55-gallon drums of chemicals were found perched atop equipment. “It was heartbreaking. You just couldn’t believe the level of devastation that it caused.”
But even as he surveyed the damage, the Gaylord team had already started the process of rebuilding. The resort had a temporary work force of more than 1,000 people and temporary power within 72 hours of the flood occurring.
“This rapid response allowed us to quickly assess the damage that was sustained in the laundry as well as throughout the rest of the resort,” McCann says.
A team comprised of McCann, Jones and other key personnel began the task of redesigning the Opryland laundry from scratch to completing purchase orders in less than eight weeks.
“I was kind of given carte blanche in that I was allowed to use my vision for what I thought the laundry should look like, not just going back and duplicating the old laundry, but maybe looking at this as an opportunity to realign,” Jones says. “I was given that ability to kind of script out what I wanted.”
Please check back Friday, October 8 for Part 2 of this story.