After years of planning, the Bronx, New York City’s northernmost borough, got a new court complex, nicknamed the “Superblock.” The 10-story, 750,000-square-foot building, worth $396 million, extends over two-and-a-half blocks along East 161st Street. The aluminum and glass structure houses the Supreme Court of Bronx County, the Criminal Court, the Bronx District Attorney offices and space for the Department of Corrections. The building is expected to use at least 30 percent less energy than a typical Code-compliant design, while providing superior comfort, thanks to the use of an energy-efficient all-glass, blast-resistant curtain wall concept.

The new Bronx Criminal Courthouse has 40 standard courtrooms, seven grand jury courtrooms and seven special audiovisual (A/V) courtrooms for high-profile cases, requiring live video feeds to the press room and video teleconferencing to remote locations when the defendant in a case cannot be present. In addition, the jury assembly room is equipped with a full A/V system to provide information to potential jurors.

All systems were designed for the “nontechnical” end-user to easily and intuitively control each A/V component using touchscreen technology. The complex design includes many technologies, ranging from fiber optic A/V distribution to video over Category 5 cabling and full remote control of each system’s features.

The owner, Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY), chose Bovis Lend Lease Inc., New York, as the construction manager, while a joint venture of New York City-based Rafael Vinoly Architects PC and DMJM Architects and Engineers designed the overall project.

Flack and Kurtz Consulting, New York, was the electrical engineer, while Shen Milsom & Wilke, New York, designed the A/V and communications systems. Virginia-based SYSTECH Group was responsible for designing the security system.

The lead electrical contractor chosen for the $10 million low-voltage package was Five Star Electric Corp., Ozone Park, N.Y. About half of Five Star’s work is in public projects, so company employees scour publications and notices for new projects to bid on. After finding the notice for the Bronx Criminal Court Complex, Five Star Electric submitted its bid in December 2002 and won the contract—based on the nature of its low, responsible bid—in March 2003.

“Five Star Electric has worked with DASNY for more than a decade on various electrical installations in buildings such as courthouses, hospitals, and universities and colleges,” said Gary Segal, president. Five Star also has a long history with Bovis Lend Lease that spans more than 20 years, and the two companies have collaborated on a number of high-rise residential, educational, courthouse and stadium projects in and around New York City.

Five Star began working on the installation of the building’s data and telecommunications, security, A/V and security systems in February 2003. It took an average of 30 and a peak of 40 electricians to complete the project by July 2005, with additional owner-requested requirements for system programming extending to spring 2007.

To deploy the telephone and data system as specified, Five Star installed one main distribution frame, 22 intermediate distribution frames and nine local area network rooms. The data and telecommunications backbone included 12- and six-strand multimode and single-mode fiber optic cable, 100-pair Category 3 riser cable and Category 6 data cable. Once the backbone was in place, the company installed distributed Category 6 cabling to more than 2,500 locations throughout the building, including furniture systems, offices and open area floor-mounted workstations. After completing the pull, Five Star workers labeled, terminated and tested all cables and provided the owner with certified test reports that met both project specifications and the latest industry standards.

“In all, there were more than 1 million feet of cable installed and 3,000 cables terminated and tested,” said Lou Grady, Five Star project manager.

The security system installed at the courthouse includes 200 closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance cameras, 200 duress or panic switches, 400 card readers, a door control system and a programmable logic control (PLC) system for detention doors and gates. The system design incorporated three control rooms for officers of the court and Department of Corrections personnel to monitor all devices.

All control rooms are provided with a console equipped with an uninterruptible power supply system, graphic touch panels, CCTV monitors, door releases and other associated equipment. More than 200 intelligent panels throughout the facility provide control of the card readers and electric strikes or magnetic door locks. Each door is wired with cabling ranging from two-pair shielded wire for door contacts to eight-pair shielded for card readers. The PLC system, according to Five Star foreman Joe Gariola, controls all detention doors, motorized gates and sliding gates.

“A Department of Corrections officer can monitor the status of each door on the system via a graphic touch panel, which indicates if all doors or individual doors are either secured or unlocked,” he said. In addition, the system is designed to prevent multiple doors from opening at once, which ensures defendants are always contained in secure areas.

The cameras that comprise the CCTV surveillance system range from fixed units in public areas to tilting units in other interior and exterior areas of the building.

“Vandalproof units were used for more secured areas,” said Five Star foreman Rich Borgese.

All cameras were wired with RG-6 coaxial cable for video and Category 6 cable for power and control and terminated at the console in the security control room, which also includes monitors, switchers, recording devices and various control equipment. Also included in the security system were more than 60 intercom stations located in the court rooms, cell block areas and at various doors, which were hard-wired to the main intercom rack in one of the security control rooms.

The high-end video and broadcasting systems specified by Shen Milsom & Wilke and implemented by Artel Communications provide display panels that allow attorneys to exhibit evidence to all participants in the proceedings.

“Even as construction was ongoing, new technology had to be incorporated into the system,” Gariola said.

The system needed to be flexible and implemented in any courtroom, so it was designed to allow users to take a single touch panel from one room, plug it into another room with different applications and be ready to work.

Challenging work

There were multiple prime contractors on this project, as well as more than 100 subcontractors, which required significant coordination for installing and testing systems. In addition, the sheer number of systems, as well as their complexities, made effective planning the key ingredient to the project’s success.

“We overcame scheduling issues with the other trades and contractors by holding regularly scheduled meetings and by constantly communicating to fine-tune what would happen next and in what order,” Grady said.

DASNY knew it could rely on its past working relationship with Five Star, and the two entities together coordinated the installation of the low-voltage systems around the schedules and requirements of the other prime and subcontractors.

“Five Star helped this complex, state-of-the-art project succeed by being willing to take on responsibilities above the original scope of work and by being willing to extend their resources,” said a DASNY senior project manager.

In addition, the building’s security system, with its extensive number of devices, required thorough planning with the detention hardware contractor to ensure the correct voltages and wiring were provided for the motorized gates, door locking systems and other devices used in containment of defendants and prisoners.

One of the more challenging parts of the installation, according to Grady, was the installation of the A/V system, which required running wiring through attorneys’ tables, judges’ benches and between the various courtrooms and offices.

“The project required wiring for special, custom connectors, monitors, microphones, plasma televisions and presentation podiums to be terminated at 54 A/V racks throughout the building to handle the end-users’ video and broadcasting requirements,” he said.

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or darbremer@comcast.net.