The National Mine Health and Safety Academy sits on 80 acres of land in Beckley, W.Va., and is responsible for the training of all U.S. mining inspectors and mine rescue teams. Students come from across the globe, including China, Russia and many countries in Africa. During mining disasters, such as the 2002 Quecreek Mine collapse in Pennsylvania and the 2006 Sago Mine explosion in West Virginia, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which runs the academy, is in the limelight.

The facility functions as a backup for Washington, D.C.-based operations in the event of a local disaster. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) staff could resume operations at this facility. Since the DOL aids small businesses, one of its immediate functions in such an event would be to get businesses back in operation.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is part of the DOL, said James D. White, P.E., LEED AP, principal, LLI Engineering, Wexford, Pa.

“[Its] data center is an integral part of the DOL network and used for other DOL missions. Because the academy is remotely located and totally self-sufficient—with sleeping facilities, food storage and preparation, and perimeter security—it is also part of a federal government-wide disaster-recovery operations network and can be instantly converted as such during a national emergency,” White said.

White said the facility’s data center had to be upgraded to take care of DOL functions. LLI partnered with Fuellgraf Electric Co., Butler, Pa., to offer a data center to handle what the DOL was seeking. According to White, the initial request for proposal (RFP) was a disjointed solution that was heavily focused on the electrical system, but had a below-average mechanical design and did not adequately address security. Through the proposal process, the team was able to offer triple the computing capacity for a cost of only about 50 percent more.

“Engineering and constructing a complex electrical system within an academic facility that teaches these subjects required a team that was extremely competent on all applicable construction and safety regulations,” White said.

The team was selected through negotiation, rather than low bid, and the project was completed March 30, 2008, six months earlier than required by contract.

“As typical to most data centers, the single largest trade within the construction team was electrical. Chud Fuellgraf [president] and his project executive, Russ Whittaker, worked closely with LLI’s electrical engineers to design a system that met all of MSHA’s strict requirements for reliability and flexibility, while controlling costs. Selection of equipment, routing of large conduits, and interconnecting the existing facility while allowing it to remain in 24/7 operation was a challenge that could only be met by a team working extremely close, with a high level of trust,” White said.

Team communications were improved using a project Web site that contained all documents, drawings, photos and reports. MSHA managers, including IT personnel, contract administrators, security providers and academic faculty, had access to the Web site.

White led as both the design project manager and construction project manager. He personally responded to the initial project proposal and was actively involved from design development, through construction, commissioning, project closeout and warranty.


Chud Fuellgraf said the work his team performed created a comprehensive solution that would prepare the facility to handle the increased communication and networking functions that the new design would bring.

One of the primary components of a data center is emergency power. For this, Fuellgraf furnished and installed a 450-kW Cummins Power diesel generator with a weatherproof enclosure, 2,160-gallon sub-base fuel tank, and 800-amp bypass transfer switch. This equipment serves as a dedicated backup power system for the data center in the event that utility power fails.

The team also added new distribution and branch-circuit panelboards manufactured by Eaton Electrical to support a 160-kW uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system for power to the data center equipment, room lighting and convenience outlets. The normal power source was derived from a new drawout breaker and added to an existing switchgear lineup, which also is backed up by a generator for the entire campus.

Workers installed a new emergency backup power system that included a 450-kW diesel generator with a weatherproof sound-attenuated enclosure and belly tank (located outside) and an 800A automatic transfer switch (ATS) with bypass isolation switch. The new modular electrical system added flexibility in locating power outlets, power drops, circuit breakers and disconnects anywhere on the busway, helping to pave the way for a scalable data center.

The suspended cable runway system was chosen because it allowed the owner to organize and manage the many cables that would be connected between the servers and networking equipment. In a data center, the cabling requirements are increased in comparison to traditional networking closets.

Fire safety

Fuellgraf also did the wiring for a new fire alarm system that supported a fire extinguishment system specific to the data center. The workers started by removing the existing fire sprinkler system from the data room and relocating the test drain to an adjacent mechanical room. They then installed a new FE-25 dry chemical suppression system with smoke detectors, annunciation devices and a control panel. In addition, Fuellgraf provided both signage and warning lights in the corridor.


Communications were essential for the facility, as with most data centers, and especially those that have to communicate large amounts of data almost on demand. To satisfy the owner’s needs, Fuellgraf provided a new copper backbone from the existing facility demarcation point (demarc) to the new data center. The demarc is that point where the communication or telephone company’s network ends (outside) and the in-house network begins (inside).

Fuellgraf said the company also provided a fiber optic network including 9,000 feet of 12- and 20-strand multimode fiber optic cables.

A total of 30 equipment racks were installed and filled by the client with computer file servers and telecommunications equipment. Additional communication systems components, such as ladder racks, were installed over the customer--provided cabinets. Fuellgraf installed grounding for all customer-supplied cabinets and racks and extended analog and digital lines to the new data center.

Overcoming obstacles

White said timing was especially important to the installation.

“With the severe winters in this area—it is located 8 miles from a ski resort—it was imperative to get the addition and generator foundations installed before the bad weather arrived,” he said. “If not, the entire project could have been delayed four to five months. This meant accelerating the design schedule and making quick, solid choices on the selection of key equipment, such as generator, UPS, and cooling equipment. There is less than 1-inch clearance between most equipment within the new UPS equipment room. Both LLI and Fuellgraf worked very closely with MSHA and suppliers to resolve issues and secure purchase orders. LLI Engineering’s project manager worked full time from the site the entire month of November 2007.”

Approximately one month into construction, it became clear that the original fiber optic cabling subcontractor was not capable of providing the manpower and material necessary for the campuswide effort. LLI/CMI Construction already had assigned workers to remove and replace ceilings and open walls for the fiber optic cabling effort. Fortunately, Fuellgraf provided the service in-house. With less than a week’s notice, the company mobilized an experienced team and quickly procured the multiple spools of innerduct and fiber required.

“Prior to the end of construction, the Department of Labor had changed their preferred data room IT configuration,” White said. “The new equipment had entirely different electrical characteristics and had a floor loading of almost twice the originally selected IT equipment. Fortunately, the electrical distribution system utilized a Starline bus duct system over the IT racks. Since the twist-in disconnects had not been ordered, it was easy to modify. The raised floor system had already been reinforced with 2x pedestals along the pathway from the exit to the UPS room so that they could install the heavy equipment. LLI/CMI extended the double pedestal configuration over the first two rows of equipment to accept the new floor loading required.”

The age of the building was another obstacle. Because the center had been built in the 1970s, the team had to work with decades-old electrical drawings that had not been updated, increasing the difficulty of trying to find the logical connection points for tying in the new system.

“In order for us to locate those existing components, we had to do some investigation,” Whittaker said.

White added that other extenuating conditions caused the team to have to work in a somewhat unusual manner.

“The facility was operational while we were in there working,” he said. “In fact, classes were going on, and the facility was used about 16 hours a day. Even when mine safety classes were not running, the community college used those rooms for remote sites.”

LLI and Fuellgraf Electric were able to work together, and both White and Fuellgraf point to the dedication and professionalism of their respective teams as the reason for being able to complete the job successfully .

“The people made all the difference on this project,” Fuellgraf said. “Everyone involved, such as Russ Whittaker and Travis Huston, the superintendent, all worked together and brought this project in.”

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at