Renovating an early 20th century theater is like building a ship inside a bottle. All the construction activity is confined within four, historic masonry walls, which can't be moved or damaged. Because the construction crew has no room to store materials either inside or outside the facility, they must carefully time material deliveries, stack their jobsite trailers on top of one another, and work on a limited site footprint.

“It's a real juggling act to keep the materials flowing and keep the construction progress moving forward,” says Trey Nobles, the senior project manager for PCL Construction, the Denver-based general contracting firm leading the project.

Quigg Newton Auditorium, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, lifted its curtain for the first time in 1908 but hasn't been renovated since the '50s. Aging mechanical and life safety systems nearly led to the closing of the landmark in the '90s, but as part of a $1.2 billion revitalization of downtown Denver, the historic opera house is getting a two-year, $75 million facelift. The facility will feature a 300-seat studio theater, pre- and post-performance gathering room, six multi-function practice and rehearsal rooms, and a 2,400-seat lyric opera house with shallow wrap-around balconies.

On the Quigg Newton Auditorium project, the design team faced a daunting challenge — to preserve the four existing perimeter walls and seven sets of paired columns while completely gutting and demolishing the inside of the building. All the wiring had to be torn out, the transformer was taken offline, and everything was brought down to bare dirt. The construction workers spent five months on abatement and demolition and are now pouring grade beams and structural concrete walls. As part of the redesign of the theater, the workers also had to relocate the fly tower, which sits above the stage and flies scenes into position, as well as a quarter of the roof. Because the storage space is so restricted, they took advantage of the opening in the roof to erect a 175-foot tower crane. A crane operator can swing the boom over to the desired location, scoop up the material off the back of a delivery truck, hoist it up in the air, and drop it inside the building.

Sturgeon Electric, a Denver-based electrical contracting firm, has a $9.7 million contract to perform electrical work on the project. The company is currently roughing in the electrical systems and working with the architect to determine the placement of lighting fixtures within the architectural design.

To coordinate construction activity on the historic building, PCL organizes subcontractor meetings three times a week. The city of Denver, architect, general contractor, and electrical contractor also developed a design-assist relationship in the early stages of the project to keep the project on time and within budget. Paddy Moore, senior project manager for Sturgeon, says the relationship creates teamwork, helps with issues of responsibility, uncovers problems early in the game, and eliminates many potential mistakes.

The newly renovated theater doesn't open until June 2005, but in the meantime, visitors can watch the construction project unfold in front of their eyes. PCL installed a 3-foot wide by 7-foot tall Plexiglas window 16 feet above the jobsite excavation to show the Denver community the process of constructing a ship inside a bottle.

Electrical Needs-By the Numbers

  • 295,330 ft or about 56 miles of electrical conduit
  • 1,432,135 linear ft of wire
  • 1,200 linear ft of wireway for dimming circuits
  • 100 low-voltage remote lighting transformers
  • 3,800 architectural lighting fixtures
  • 1,000 theatrical dimming circuits
  • 50 electricians (projected) at the peak of construction in Summer 2004

Source: PCL Construction