Watertown, N.Y., Local 910 members have helped modernize Olympic venues in Lake Placid like this historic hockey arena.
Photo credit: Creative Commons/Flickr userFISUMedia (Logan Swney)

When the aging site of the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, N.Y., needed modernizing, the officials who oversee the sports complex knew they could trust the IBEW’s electricians from Watertown Local 910.

"This was the first major upgrade there since 1980,” said Local 910 Business Manager Travis Flint of the recently completed project. “We helped the whole place get to modern international sporting standards.”

Lake Placid was the home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, and most of the buildings on the site were built for the 1980 games, said Assistant Business Manager Dave Hoover. The sites “had only been lightly touched” since then, he said, with routine electrical maintenance handled by Local 910 members.

Olympic venues often are torn down or abandoned afterward because it can be expensive to maintain facilities that aren’t expected to be used much again, if ever. Following the 1980 games, though, U.S. Olympic officials and other organizations kept using the Lake Placid campus as a training center focusing on winter sports like bobsled, luge and skiing.

Over the past several years, to attract athletic events to Lake Placid, the state of New York has invested more than $600 million to modernize the sports campus. The strategy began to pay off in 2018 when the International University Sports Federation selected this village of 2,300 year-round residents as host of the 2023 World University Games. The biennial, 11-day competition was set to gather nearly 1,400 students representing 46 countries — the largest collection of athletes in Lake Placid since the 1980 games.

For nearly two years leading up to the university games, about 60 Local 910 electricians and apprentices, plus some travelers, worked with signatory contractors to help install new snow-making and ice-making systems, ice-melting mats for stairs and walkways, and a chair lift.

“We were under a high-stress and tight timeline,” Hoover said. “One of the hardest things for us was that the site had to remain open for tourists and spectators while we worked.”

On this state-managed job, which was covered by a project labor agreement, the Local 910 members also upgraded lighting systems and electrical panels in buildings such as the Herb Brooks Arena, the site of the 1980 Olympics’ “Miracle on Ice.”

This “miracle” took place on Feb. 22 that year, when the men’s hockey teams from the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the heavily favored defending champion, competed in the semifinal medal round. As the third period wound down and the U.S. team battled successfully to hold on to its hard-fought 4-3 lead, ABC sportscaster Al Michaels exclaimed, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” The U.S. went on to win the gold medal, beating Finland in the final.

Joy-filled spectators that evening had turned whatever paper was handy, including tickets, into confetti. Hoover said that during the renovations, Local 910’s electricians found a ticket stub from that game resting atop a light fixture. After some sleuthing, “we figured out who it belonged to and mailed it to them,” he said.

Winter sports athletes continue to train at Lake Placid year-round. Since the World University Games, the campus has hosted major events such as the World Synchronized Skating Championships in March, and the World Figure and Fancy Skating Championships were held there. Hoover believes it’s not out of the question that the U.S. could someday bid to host or co-host a third Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, placing Local 910’s handiwork on display for a global stage.

Meanwhile, the site’s administrators have asked the state to allocate about $150 million per year for maintenance and updates. “The renovation and upkeep of these facilities should go on for the foreseeable future,” Flint said. “We’re proud to be associated with a venue that has so much history and significance.”