In 2006, Pacifica Ventures—owner of the renowned Culver Studios in Culver City, Calif—chose Albuquerque, NM, to build a sprawling campus of sound stages, offices and backlot space and to take advantage of New Mexico’s growing film and television industry. According to Nick Smerigan, vice president of Albuquerque Studios, the site was chosen because of the area’s mild weather, proximity to Los Angeles and incentives such as tax breaks, interest-free loans and free use of New Mexico’s state buildings for filming.
Completed in March 2007, the $74 million Albuquerque Studios project sits on 50 acres just 10 minutes travel time outside of the city and boasts 500,000 square feet of indoor space, consisting of eight sound stages and production offices as well as 78,000 square feet of office space. The studio will have a base employment of about 2,000 people, but at full capacity, can handle up to 4,000 people on-site working on various film and television projects.
In the spring of 2006, Build New Mexico, an economic development corporation in the area that focuses on promoting union contractors, and Albuquerque-based Jaynes Corp., a general contractor, issued the Solicitation of Interest to a short list of qualified electrical and specialty contractors for the design/build project.
McDade-Woodcock Inc. (MWI) subsequently submitted its proposal for the design and installation of the 15-kV distribution and duct bank systems, the 480/120-volt production power distribution systems, and the lighting and fire alarm systems.
“We have worked on numerous successful projects with Jaynes Corp. over the past 10 years in the retail, institutional, industrial and commercial markets, as well as having worked successfully with Build New Mexico on various projects of different sizes,” said Bob McDade, president. Those previous relationships, along with MWI’s size and experience in theatrical renovations, led to the company receiving the $12.8 million electrical contract award.
At the same time, Enterprise Electrical Services Inc. (EESI) responded to the same Solicitation of Interest for the $2.2 million telecommunications portion of the project. EESI and Build New Mexico also have a long-standing relationship, and after several trips to the Culver City studios and many meetings with the owner, engineers and architects, EESI proceeded to design the project’s telecommunications infrastructure. However, EESI worked directly for Albuquerque Studios as a prime contractor.
“The separation of the scope of work for the telecommunications and specialty systems from the scope of work for the traditional electrical systems has become more common in recent years, allowing specialty contractors to work more closely with owners to develop the proper customer requirements in a world that operates on wavelengths of lights and pulses of electricity at five volts and below,” said Jim Baca, vice president.
Design and construction
To help design its portion of the project, MWI subcontracted to the engineering firms of Telck-Hensley Engineering Group (THE Group) for the power distribution, duct bank and miscellaneous site electrical requirements and to Bridgers and Paxton Consulting Engineers Inc. for the internal infrastructure and conduit-delivery system.
“Designing the project was a continuous, evolving process from submitting the original conceptual proposal though final construction,” said Randy Dupuy, MWI’s design development manager.
To convert the owner’s desires into a tangible design, EESI listened to the studio team’s vision and worked with the technology team at its existing facilities in Culver City. The company also worked with the architect; electrical engineer; and the network implementation team, MWI and Jaynes Corp. to ensure the system was properly designed to integrate with the rest of the site’s systems.
“MWI had to be closely involved with our design as they were building the duct banks even as drawings were being developed,” said David Stewart, vice president and project manager.
Per the owner’s requirements, both companies’ designs had to include all the first class amenities that available technology could offer and to anticipate future growth, all with a keen eye toward budgets, value engineering and the project’s fast-track schedule. In addition, both MWI and EESI were tasked with the responsibility of specifying the necessary products and recommending the best solutions for the customer.
MWI’s design and construction of the studio’s power distribution system included a main and two satellite stand-up switchgear distribution centers and a concrete-encased, underground, medium voltage duct bank system to tie the system together. Each distribution center provides individual feeders to 120/208- and 277/480-volt secondary transformers serving support, sound stage and office buildings. Dedicated transformers provide 2,000-amp, 480-volt, three-phase power to each sound stage complex and the production office building for stage lighting, mechanical, and
general-purpose (house) power and up to 6,400-amp, 120/208-volt, three-phase power to each sound stage for production power.
“Each building’s power system is digitally metered and centrally monitored for usage and power quality, and the entire campus is protected and monitored by a campus-type fire alarm system connected via a fiber optic backbone,” said Rob Rives, MWI’s vice president.
Using the underground duct bank installed by MWI for the studio’s fiber optic and copper telecommunications network, EESI designed a system, using Internet protocol (IP) convergence technology, which transmits telephone, security, surveillance and fire alarm system data over an IP signal.
The surveillance system part of the installation included 80 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras for security surveillance in public areas. The external communications portion of the system consists of single- and multimode-fiber cabling with connections linking the different buildings on the campus to the main distribution frame (MDF) and main point of presence (MPOP).
From the fiber optic backbone in the MDF, EESI connected fiber cabling to the individual intermediate distributions frames (IDF) in the various buildings and, from there, cabled all of the offices and workspaces with Category 6 plenum cabling.
“What is impressive about this installation is what will be accomplished by the system,” said Anthony Gutierrez, EESI’s president. The backbone and telecommunications distribution system will be capable of operating at speeds of 10 gigabits, 40 gigabits and beyond. In addition, the system is scalable, so it can grow as the studio evolves.
“The main challenge of this project was to expedite design development so that construction could begin and to ensure that the defined power requirements were flexible enough to allow equipment manufacturers to meet the needs of a film and television studio,” said Dennis Simmons, MWI’s project manager.
Effective communication and teamwork, therefore, were necessary to make timely decisions on critical items.
“It was also important to have an owner that understood the process, as we did,” Simmons said.
MWI and the construction team used all forms of electronic communication and collaboration technologies and held structured weekly design and construction meetings. Normally, according to Rives, major studios are not built on this large a scale or on such a fast-track schedule.
“However, the owner, recognizing the opportunity in the current film industry market in New Mexico, realized the benefits of quickly utilizing the state’s progressive business philosophy towards the industry,” Simmons said.
The fast-paced design and installation schedule was also a challenge for EESI. “A fast-paced environment can quickly spiral out of control, and both quality and time can slip from your grasp,” Baca said.
Indeed, design changes on the project occurred regularly as the owner’s requirements shifted, requiring frequent meetings among the team to integrate design changes and ensure that any negative impact on each trade was mitigated and that the budget and schedule were maintained.
The team’s ability to respond to changes as the project progressed, each member’s willingness to communicate openly and to work toward a common goal, and an owner that was committed to the team concept enabled MWI and EESI to deliver a state-of-the-art film studio that will help the local economy grow and flourish. EC
BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or by e-mail at email@example.com.