Low-voltage systems integration specialist and National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) member Commercial Electronic Systems Inc., (CES) Joliet, Ill., recently completed an installation at a groundbreaking multiuse community YMCA facility in Plainfield, Ill., designed to handle the extraordinary growth around Chicago.

More than a traditional systems installation, the project had numerous facets and challenges, the magnitude of which only came together with much interaction and community infusion—truly a team effort from top to bottom.

If you know Chicago, you know that many young families have moved far beyond the perimeter edge of the city. But the boonies of yesterday are the growth communities of the future. Plainfield is such a location. Located 35 miles southwest of Chicago, the village is Will County’s oldest community and one of the fastest growing in the state. As such, its offerings must be on par or better than what buyers can get elsewhere. Enter the new C.W. Avery Family YMCA.

One of the most unique aspects of the project was funding. While most cities rely on the approval of bonds and referendums, a process which can take years, the facility got off the ground with the direct help of the community, which came together to fund the project, according to Tami Sender, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Joliet Area YMCA, the owner of the Avery YMCA. It took only two and a half years to raise the money for the $10 million facility. Once major funding was in place, construction was a mere 15 months from groundbreaking to completion in early 2006.

The entire facility was built on generosity and support. Funding included an Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Grant of $250,000; a $3 million pledge in the name of the wife of the late Clyde Avery (for which the YMCA was named); and community fundraising contributions that totalled close to $10 million.

Creativity in execution was also at the root of its success. The village was initially approached with a site donation by another local resident. However, because there would not be water access at that location, a land swap was undertaken that allowed the facility to be built nearer to the center of the village, adjoining Ira Jones Middle School.

Usage and sharing agreements allow the Plainfield Park District, Plainfield School District 202 and the YMCA to share land and facilities. Although Plainfield did not provide monetary funding, its board waived several permit fees associated with the construction and aided in construction of a nearby intersection.

Cooperative effort

“There were many parties involved, but everyone was able to come together to reach a consensus and plan the project in a short period of time,” said Sender. “It was a true collaboration and partnership between all parties. There were many different agencies with different missions, but everyone gave a little.”

Such was the case with the contractors on the job, especially lead low-voltage systems integrator CES. The company acted “in kind” to reduce its fees to help complete the project, but by no means did it sacrifice its expert electrical contracting and engineering skills; instead, the company streamlined processes and worked efficiently and effectively within its own labor and planning forces. Another challenge was the budget. The original estimate for the turnkey job was $300,000. CES value-engineered the job to reduce its fees as part of its donation.

“It was an important project for us and the community,” said Ronald Lindsay, president of CES. “We, of course, wanted to keep with our high standards for quality but yet provide an affordable systems solution,” he said.

Lindsay said CES and its project team went the extra mile and carefully thought out their approach to the installation, while keeping quality of foremost importance.

“Essentially, it all came down to project management, getting everybody on the same page, so we could deliver our original planned systems without losing money,” he said.

The 52,000-square-foot sports and recreation facility opened on time and within budget. Sender said the project was more than a YMCA—the plan was the development of about 80 acres in a campus-like setting. The Ira Jones Middle School, as well as the Provena Physical Therapy facility buildings are on-site, and the YMCA is available for Provena’s physical therapy patients.

Also part of the facility is a 3,200-square-foot wellness center, a double-sized gymnasium, an indoor track, a senior center and a teen center that also share spaces as well as an abundance of studios and multipurpose rooms.

Secret to success

“The project was a tremendous win-win for the community,” Sender said. “All funding, $9.2 million, was raised specifically for the project and nothing was based on bonds or increased taxes.”

Tying in the new low-voltage systems to the existing network was a critical part of the installation and its success, according to Tom Sutter, senior vice president and chief operating officer for the Greater Joliet Area YMCA.

“In planning the facility, we were looking for state-of-the-art low voltage as well as seamless systems to integrate with our existing network. The system was value-engineered, but that doesn’t mean any of the contractors took short cuts. In fact, contractors like CES designed a top-notch system solution and did it effectively and efficiently with the end-user in mind,” he said. “We sat down with CES and told them what we wanted in an effort to design the ideal YMCA. They came up with the best solutions.”

CES selected the equipment and installed the following systems on the project: structured voice, data and fiber optic cabling; voice paging system; fire alarm; telephone; card access control; intrusion detection alarm system; closed circuit television surveillance; and audio-visual and equipment projections and screens.

CES also sold and implemented the telephone network services from SBC (now AT&T) and Call One Communications. This included everything from standard plain old telephone service lines and point to point T-1 networking circuits that connect and assemble a LAN/WAN for this YMCA and three other facilities as well as digital subscriber lines (DSL).

“It was our range of services and diversification and expertise in this type of project that helped seal it for CES,” said Bob Misiurewicz, vice president and general manager. “CES assisted the owner, architect and electrical engineer with layout and specifying the equipment to be installed. We were directed to use equipment of the highest quality as always and that’s just what we selected.”

Some of the equipment included vendors such as GE Security, Toshiba, Dukane, Shure, EV and others. CES’s Mile Gilson served as project manager at the Avery YMCA.

“There was a guideline specification written for the low-voltage systems but because of our good reputation, the YMCA board decided to work with us as a sole source and accept our input and suggestions about what was most appropriate for the application and their needs now and in the future,” he said. “The responsibility fell squarely on our shoulders to determine the owner’s specific needs and priorities. This goal was achieved through a process of countless meetings, telephone conference calls, submittals and product demonstrations.”

Misiurewicz added that in a traditional plans and spec job, the contractor provides what is specified and rarely meets with the owner to get input or feedback. In fact, subcontractors are prohibited from talking to the owner or the architect about the project without going through the proper protocol.

“In this case, the customer, architect, engineer and electrical contractor were calling on us constantly for answers, details and direction,” he said.

All systems for the facility were installed by CES, who employs International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 176 technicians. For the fire alarm system, CES was a subcontractor to Austin Electric, who held the Division 16 Electrical Package. For all other low-voltage systems, CES was the primary contractor. Other project partners included Cliff Bender, architect and designer, Healy Bender Associates Architects; electrical engineer R.L. Millies and Associates; and general contractor Nicholas Construction.

“The fire alarm system was left in the Division 16 Electrical Package. For this system, CES was the subcontractor under an electrical contractor with all the proper licensing. This approach is standard in construction because it is a life safety system, which carries increased liability and is subject to NFPA and local fire codes,” said Misiurewicz.

In the real world, electrical contractors generally bid Division 16 packages and then perform all the work in it or subcontract parts like fiber optic terminations and fire alarms to specialty subcontractors, which was the case with the fire alarm system for the facility. These are specifications prepared in accordance with Construction Specification Institute format and comply with the latest editions of all applicable codes.

Only through give and take and a careful analysis of the needs of the end-user can a project of this magnitude come off without a hitch. That’s what happened in Plainfield, Ill., and everyone’s still talking about it. EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.