With overall construction spending in the black and double-digit increases for non-residential construction in the last few years, electrical firms have been elbow-deep in challenging, high-profile projects. In the pages of EC&M, we often illustrate our articles with examples from these projects, but rarely do we highlight the contractor's work in full. For 2008, we'd like to change that. In our new department, “Project Spotlight,” we will feature the formidable obstacles certain tasks pose and the unique plans electrical firms create to overcome them. Following are just a few examples of ingenuity in our industry, giving you a glimpse of what's to come in our new department next year.

O'HARE MODERNIZATION PROGRAM, CHICAGO

The O'Hare Modernization Program (OMP) is a multi-million-dollar project intended to reduce delays, increase capacity, and improve efficiency at the Chicago airport. Upon completion, scheduled for Nov. 20, 2008, the OMP is expected to decrease the average delay time from 22 minutes to less than 16 minutes. The OMP has awarded $750 million in construction contracts and has approximately $640 million in additional contracts that will be awarded within the next year. In addition to adding a runway, OMP is relocating three existing runways and extending two others. A new western terminal will create a western entrance with up to 60 gates and include an automated pedestrian mover to transport passengers between terminals. The project also includes wetlands mitigation, land acquisition, and the construction of on-airport access roads.

One of the world's busiest airports, O'Hare hasn't decreased the number of flights during construction. As the project progresses, safety, efficiency, and planning and coordination are of the utmost importance. To complete the threshold displacement for runway 14L so that the new runway (9L/27R on the North Field) could be built, Aldridge Electric, Inc., Libertyville, Ill., the general contractor on the $20.1 million contract, coordinated two shifts, which included working weekends and holidays. “The challenge of that job was to maintain operation of the runway,” says Frank Manna, division manager for Aldridge's Airport Division. “The work that was involved in the actual runway had to be done at night. We had to open the runway every morning at 6 a.m. Operationally, that's a challenge — to not disrupt the airport's traffic flow.”

From April 14, 2006, to Nov. 2, 2006, Aldridge supervised as many as 15 subcontractors as well as performed work around-the-clock. “We actually had multiple shifts. Our work times for the runway safety area was from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. We had three separate electrical crews: one doing approach lighting, another one doing installation of underground duct banks, and the third pulling cable. We also had our subcontractors moving earth, and then also doing asphalt.”

Since the completion of that contract, Aldridge Electric has been the GC on two other OMP projects and participated in a total of six OMP contracts to date.

Currently, Aldridge is working on the new runway under three separate contracts. One is as a subcontractor for the runway and taxiway lights on the actual construction of the runway. A separate contract for that same runway is as the prime contractor on a $15.2 million contract for the demolition, relocation, and installation of the navigational equipment (NAVAIDS), which is the equipment on the airfield that allows the pilots and the aircraft in the cockpit to land the aircraft safely in all types of different weather. “It's all the other visual, audible, and other electronic information that assists them in navigating the aircraft to a safe landing,” Manna says. “That's all the FAA-owned instruments and lighting for the approaches on that runway. It consists of localizer antenna, glide slope antennas, other miscellaneous FAA equipment, and approach lighting on both ends.”

The third contract is for an additional NAVAIDS project. “They're lengthening runway 10/28, and we're doing the new navigational aids for that extension,” Manna says. “The scope of work is almost identical to 9L NAVAIDS.”

For the work it has completed on the OMP, Aldridge has received recognition for both safety and sustainability. The firm has completed its work with no recordable incident occurrences, and has also followed the OMP's sustainable design manual.

For compliance with the OMP regulations, the firm recycled material from the field. “Nothing really leaves the airport and goes into landfills,” Manna says. “The asphalt's recycled, the earth's recycled, the concrete's recycled.”

In addition, the electrical firm modified its equipment for EPA Tier 2 emissions compliance. “We had to use ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel to reduce emissions,” Manna says.

The firm also installed vapor scrubbers on all the equipment. Since construction began, more than a million gallons of ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel have been used.

MUSEUM PLAZA, LOUISVILLE, KY.

This facility will mark Kentucky's largest public-private project, providing 1.5 million square feet of mixed-use space near the Ohio River's riverfront. Reaching 703 feet tall at the highest point, the Museum Plaza's towers will include 99 luxury condominiums, 117 studio loft condominiums, 270,400 square feet of office space, a 260-room Westin Hotel, and 36,500 square feet dedicated to the University of Louisville's Master of Fine Arts program. The 3-acre plaza will feature a new public park with connections to the Muhammad Ali Center and the riverfront. The project's centerpiece, however, will be “the island,” designed to float virtually 25 stories in the air and to house the museum space, scheduled to open in spring 2010.

The island will be the public hub of the $490-million project. The two stories of the 62-story skyscraper — described by its architects, REX, New York, as an inverted lobby — will combine commercial and cultural enterprises in a shared “loop” with four galleries that may be repartitioned in unlimited configurations to mix seamlessly with the commercial establishments. The island's amenities will include: 40,000 square feet of contemporary art museums; hotel lobby; luxury spa, pool and fitness center; condo club; ballroom; retail ventures; and 20,000 square feet of restaurant, shops, and cafes. A tram running on cables will traverse 20 stories to connect the island with the street level.

“The museum is a relatively small portion of the size of the project,” says David Engleman, project manager for Newcomb & Boyd, Atlanta, the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) consultants on the project. “Yet, it's been a motivating factor behind the entire development.”

In an unusual twist, the island will not only host the public heart of the building, but it will also hold the critical equipment that keeps the building running — all nearly 20 stories above the ground. “Usually, you have switchgear at the bottom of a building, and some of it branches out from that point,” Engleman says. “Instead of having an elongated system with long distribution systems duplicating the path that shorter distribution systems can take, in this case, some of the major switchgear, chiller plant, and other key elements are located at the hub and then can go either up or down to the respective elements very efficiently.”

The decision to elevate the substations was driven by the project's location on the floodplain of the Ohio River. The building is situated on the riverside of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers floodwall, so all the critical equipment had to be elevated. “It's sort of unusual,” says Bob Hughes, electrical engineer for Newcomb & Boyd. “The incoming service comes in, we have switchgear at the bottom, and we peel off two substations, but the majority of that energy continues to be conveyed up to a midpoint in the building, and then it's broken down to six other substations.”

Although locating the equipment at that level has turned out to be more cost-effective with regard to actual construction costs, the plan doesn't come without challenges. There were many concerns regarding the vibrations caused by the substations. “The acoustical engineer has evaluated the unit substations,” Hughes says. “Some of them are located over a long-span structure, so provisions have been made to dampen those vibrations, such as increasing the rigidity of the structure and increasing its mass.”

Newcomb & Boyd began work on the Museum Plaza project in January 2007. The firm has completed the design development phase and is presently in the construction document phase.

Although mixed-use projects have been on the rise for the last five years, there can be complexities with adding a residential component to a project. “In this case, because this is a single large complex, the quality of the systems has to be such that they can support, in a dependable manner, the office building and the hotel functions, as well as maintaining the more critical environment of the museum,” Engleman says.

Despite these particular challenges, the mechanical and electrical systems surprisingly have wound up actually fairly straightforward on this project, says Engleman. “We'll use a lot of conventional components for the most part and apply them in a manner so that the MEP portion of the project is not as complex as the architecture and the structural systems,” he says. “We have arranged the utility systems to use conventional components in a manner so that the project electrically and mechanically is not as mysterious as it was at one point in time.”

SPRINT CENTER ARENA, KANSAS CITY, MO.

With only two years between the official groundbreaking and the first scheduled event, the Sprint Center Arena, the result of a $276-million public-private partnership between Los Angeles-based AEG and the City of Kansas City, Mo., was built under a tight construction schedule. This was made even more challenging by competition for local resources caused by a $4 billion construction boom in Kansas City, spurred by the revitalization of the downtown area, of which the arena is the cornerstone. Minneapolis-based Parsons Electric, a union shop, solved its staffing problem by calling on IBEW Local Union 124 to provide local electricians, but still had some difficulty in finding a space for out-of-towners to operate from.

Once settled in, however, the electrical firm, which performs high- and medium-voltage work as well as voice and data communications and low-voltage systems design and installation through its technologies division, began work in the glass-covered arena, which features condominiums, restaurants, themed bars, movie and live entertainment theaters, and mixed retail. The facility also houses the College Basketball Experience, a 41,500-square-foot building that includes the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and an interactive fan area.

At times, the installation seemed more like working in a company headquarters than a stadium designed to house professional basketball and hockey teams. Behind the 18,500 seats at the Sprint Center Arena are more than a dozen separate telecommunications rooms, which contain more than 2,500 data outlets, each wired to provide 10gbps transmission capability, and 2,300 telephones. To accommodate that technology, Parsons Technologies installed 600,000 feet of Cat. 6 augmented data cable and 300,000 feet of Cat. 5e voice cable in the building, all of which had to be connected to the building's fiber-optic backbone, also installed by the firm.

Despite the work that made the installation seem conventional, the size of the venue — the arena complex comprises 8.5 acres — and the heights from which the firm's employees were forced to work were unconventional. Owing to this, the work couldn't be done on ladders. Instead, the firm used aerial lifts, which required safety tie-offs or harnesses that wouldn't be needed on more traditional jobs.

The Sprint Center Arena opened on Oct. 10, 2007.

Send Us Your Projects!

Are you an engineer, designer, or contractor with a unique new project that deserves some press? In 2008, EC&M is launching a new department in its print version that will feature the best and brightest projects that highlight extraordinary feats of electrical design and construction. If you would like us to consider one of your projects for publication in this department, send a short description and photo to electrical.group@penton.com.