One hundred and eighty miles south of Albuquerque in the New Mexico mountain region, visitors to the resort town of Ruidoso have a new place to eat, sleep, hold conventions, and even play the slots, all under the watchful eye of the Mescalero Apache gods. Nestled between Mescalero Lake and the 12,000-foot Sierra Blanca mountain, the five-star Inn of the Mountain Gods, which opened in early March, boasts 302 rooms, a 38,000-square-foot casino, and 40,000 square feet of meeting and convention space. But one of the very things that sets it apart from other destinations and makes it so attractive to vacationers — namely its remote location — turned out to be one of the biggest obstacles to making sure it opened on time.
Mills Electrical began wiring the 1.1-million-square-foot resort in January 2003 after winning the $15.2-million design-assist contract from Centex Construction. (It would eventually rise to $19.6 million.) For the most part, the scope of work for the Dallas-based electrical contractor was standard hotel fare: install the distribution backbone system, provide power to the guest suites and office areas, and wire the various kitchens.
But because it's located smack in the middle of mountainous terrain buffeted by high winds, the hotel needed an extra level of backup to cope with frequent downed power lines. Two 2,000kW generators — one for each half of the building — support a 2.5kV continuous loop from the electric utility. Should the facility lose one feed, it will automatically switch to the other within 2 to 4 seconds. The generators will flip on within 8 to 10 seconds and go through a 30-minute cycle to confirm that utility power is stable and then transfer back.
John Kwyzla, a senior project manager for Mills, made the 600-mile trip from Dallas to oversee the project, but getting himself there wasn't the hard part. Shipments of copper wire and conduits into Ruidoso were slowed by indirect trucking routes, making it necessary to plan well in advance. “At times, material would literally pass the jobsite three times before it actually got there,” Kwyzla says.
Advanced planning wasn't always easy, though, because the hotel owners were moving, adding, and changing elements in the building on a regular basis, in some cases only days before a major deadline. The fact that they were more than willing to pay for their eleventh-hour modifications — at whatever the cost — lessened the stress of placing last-minute orders for light fixtures or low-voltage wiring.
Kwyzla says almost $950,000 of work was added to Mills' contract in the last three to four weeks of the project alone. And just three days before the resort was to hold a special pre-opening for Mescalero Apache tribe members, the owners decided they wanted track lighting in the gallery area. With a ground shipment out of the question, Kwyzla had the fixtures air-freighted in. His team began installing the lights at 7 a.m. on a Friday and worked 19 hours straight to get it done by early Saturday morning. “When things like that would happen, we'd tell them it was going to cost them a lot for the overtime,” Kwyzla says. “But they just said, ‘Get it done.’”
Sidebar: A Little Help From Their Friends
With more than $19.6 million of work spread over 1.1 million square feet, Mills Electrical had a Rocky Mountain-sized project to climb, but by subbing out $7.1 million of it to four other electrical contractors, Kwyzla and his team were able to make a mole hill out of the mountain.
Zuni Electric — The Alamogordo, N.M.-based contractor wired the inn's 1,500-space underground parking garage. Total contract: $300,000
Southwestern Electrical — Also from Alamogordo, this firm was responsible for the site lighting and all of the high-voltage work on the project. Total contract: $3 million
RT Electric — This Las Cruces, N.M., outfit took care of powering the convention center, exhibition hall, and buffet area. Total contract: $300,000
Federal Communications Group — Nine specialty systems, including fire alarm, cable TV, and IP telephone, provide safety and entertainment to the complex, and this Albuquerque-based firm installed them all. Total contract: $3.5 million