One of the largest construction projects in the United States is taking shape along the Potomac River near Washington, D.C., and the biggest piece of that project—Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center—is at its center, bringing state-of-the-art amenities along with a 19-story structure to the area.

National Harbor, under construction in Prince Georges County, Md., is an ambitious $2 billion mixed-use waterfront development, covering 300 acres along 1¼-miles of the Potomac River with views of Washington, D.C., and Old Town Alexandria and Mount Vernon, Va. The project will add office, retail, dining, entertainment spaces and a hotel, a convention center, a public waterfront and a marina to the District of Columbia area. The Peterson Cos. of Fairfax, Va. is developing the project

A partnership of electrical contractors stands at the center of construction for the Gaylord National. McPhee Electric, Farmington, Conn.; Truland Systems, Lanham, Md.; and J.E. Richards Electric, Beltsville, Md., formed the joint venture partnership MTR Electrical Construction to provide electrical, teledata, audiovisual and security systems. TECH Inc., a sister company to Truland Systems, is providing the low-voltage solutions for the MTR team.

Resort and convention venue

As part of the National Harbor development, Gaylord Entertainment is building the $900 million Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, a 2,000-room full-service hotel along with 470,000 square feet of convention, meeting and exhibit space. It will include four ballrooms that total more than 100,000 square feet for corporate functions and community events.

The entire facility is expected to open in April 2008. The date is fixed because the facility is scheduled to host conventions that coincide with the grand opening. Gaylord Entertainment and the construction teams have no intention of missing that deadline.

The Gaylord National, which will occupy more than 40 acres and include a 1.65 acre multilevel atrium overlooking the Potomac River also includes an exhibit hall with 17 loading docks, an Old Hickory Steakhouse and other restaurants, a salon, a fitness center, and an 11,000-square-foot marina and pier. The building comprises the convention center and atrium as well as the hotel and central plant, all in all encompassing 2.4 million square feet.

“One of the unique things about Gaylord is that it is set up to be a convention-oriented facility,” said Rod Dornbusch, executive director of construction for Gaylord. On the convention center floor, attendees and exhibitors will have the flexibility and access to a grid of power and teledata. There are no cords running across the floors and no visible plugs or dangling wires in the ceilings, which differs from traditional convention venues.

Involved wiring

MTR Electrical Construction installed two 2,000 kW generators and 30 transfer switches. Electric service provider Pepco has the ability to feed power to the building through three 13.2kV 1,200-amp feeder cables. The system is designed so that if one feed goes down, the other two can still be used. The facility requires two of those feeds simply to power the massive building; the third is for redundancy.

Because of the length of the building, MTR Electrical Construction also added several 13.2 kV substations with high-voltage distribution.

“That is certainly not standard,” Dornbusch said. The central plant includes four 4,160-volt chillers to provide 8,000 tons of cooling.

The ceiling contains 5 million feet of wire, 7 million feet of audiovisual cable and 5 million of teledata connectivity. In addition, the ceiling contains HVAC ductwork and 20- to 24-inch diameter water piping, which extends back to the central plant.

Beyond the sheer volume of cabling, there have been other challenges for the construction crews. Just being able to get lighting down to the floor surface from a height of 32 feet in the high ceilings has been a challenge, said Dornbusch. The atrium, all in glass, extends 230 feet high with trusses to allow seasonal decoration.

Compounding the height issues is the fact that the convention center is four stories high with 80 feet to the top. In addition, the building is set into a slope along the river, with two massive retaining walls to shore up the earth on the side of the building.

“We had to plan well ahead in anticipation of those retaining walls,” Schuler said. “Once everything is installed there you can’t go back in there again.”

TECH inc. gets involved

TECH inc., founded in 1992, has handled large jobs before, as much as $10 million in value and has other projects under way at National Harbor. The Gaylord project is a $7 million job for TECH inc. to include low-voltage, security, teledata and automation connection.

For low-voltage work, TECH inc. is performing several roles, said Kenneth Fox, TECH inc.’s vice president. That includes low-voltage conduit coordination for MTR and low-voltage project management of audiovisual, telecommunications, security and lighting control. TECH inc. is also wiring the telecommunications cable plant installation, the closed-circuit television surveillance (CCTV) and security cable plant and end-user equipment. Workers also are installing audiovisual cable and lighting control and providing other miscellaneous work for MTR, Schuler said.

TECH inc. first came on the site in January 2006. The low-voltage company brought several advantages to the project, Fox said, because the job required a contractor that would be able to mobilize quickly on a large scale.

The first critical deadline for TECH inc. was the data center, located in the nucleus of the building, and Dornbusch describes the room as “gorgeous.” The room comes with a 2,100-square-foot raised floor and encompasses the building management, fire, audiovisual, dimming systems and teledata. Cameras also are routed out of the data center. TECH inc. installed 71,000 teledata terminations and ran 2.5 million feet of cabling out to the building. From the data center hub, connectivity extends into the convention center to reach the customer on the convention hall floor.

For lighting, TECH inc. coordinated automation with the lighting control operator, Candela Controls Inc., Winter Garden, Fla.

“[At Gaylord National] we are currently running approximately 46 field people and expect to peak out around 50,” Fox said. At the peak, it is anticipated that about 30 percent of the project will be completed, including the majority
of cabling.

Deadline woes

With a project such as this, subcontractors have to work around each other’s schedules, and ultimately, the project’s deadline of April 2008 leaves no room for flexibility. If a subcontractor falls behind in one area, they have to catch up later. The entire project is a matter of constant mobilization and demobilization from one area to another. As a result, the contractors experienced some delays early into the project as crews were waiting for their opportunity to get into specific areas of the construction site.

“There are several critical deadlines, and we, of course, will be the last in and last out. This is one of the larger projects we’ve done and one of the fastest schedules,” Fox said.

That means the company needs to have the flexibility to put more men in when needed as deadlines approach.

“We had to have the central plant in first to get the distribution where it needs to be,” Schuler said.

“So far, everything has been going fine,” he said of the electrical subcontractors. “There are about 1,500 workmen and women on the site, and it could peak at around 2,000. I’d say, of those, there are about 350 electricians right now.”

“It’s a mass coordination effort between all the trades,” Schuler said. Currently, the project is on schedule.

The rest of National Harbor is being built over the next five years and will include 2,500 residential units, more than 500,000 square feet of office space and about 1 million square feet of retail shops on 300 acres.

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.