When Mass Electric Construction Co. (MEC) signed on to do a comprehensive electrical package at the new Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC), they became a part of the city's history.

“Our scope included the entire power distribution network, from the secondary side of 17 primary transformers (13.8kV/480V) to the main switchboards and local distribution panels, to lighting and lighting control, to the fire alarms, and the security and emergency stand-by power system,” said Joe Hurrie, MEC's safety supervisor.

The BCEC is the largest public building ever constructed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The convention center promises to become a landmark in a city known for architectural sites such as Paul Revere's house and Old North Church.

It is massive and artistic-for example, it uses wood panels for ceilings in its 40,000-square-foot ballroom, only one portion of the structure.

The convention center design planned for meeting rooms on both sides of the exhibit hall. Two pedestrian bridges traverse the exhibition space to connect the entries and the meeting room areas.

The exhibit hall has a high, curved ceiling and controllable natural light. The hall covers 516,000 square feet. The roof is a gently curved, sloping metal structure that features a 100-foot cantilever over the main entry plaza. Inside is a 700-seat food court and the 3,500-seat ballroom.

BCEC was built with sustainable design features such as natural day lighting, a sophisticated air handling strategy in the exhibit hall, and the first siphonic roof drainage system in the United States. The building was designed for easy expansion. Lighting, fire alarm, security, power backup and other systems are state of the art.

Let the party begin

Now open for business, it is the biggest convention and exhibition complex in the northeastern United States. For years to come, thousands of business and social events will be bringing people together at BCEC. So it was fitting that the first-ever gala affair held there honored the electrical contractors and others who took the BCEC from blueprint to reality.

On May 21, 2004, more than 3,000 workers, foremen and managers-including dozens of employees of NECA-member firm MEC-gathered at the center to toast themselves and the eye-popping new structure they helped to build and equip.

MEC certainly earned its place at the table of this historic fete, although expansive public projects such as convention centers and stadiums are second nature for this electrical contracting firm. During the peak months of installation activity, MEC had crews of 150 on-site each day, with 55 or 60 dedicated to deployment of personal security and fire safety systems.

Members of IBEW Local 103 did MEC's work, in accordance with a project labor agreement penned in January 2000. The full value of the electrical contract, awarded through competitive bidding to MEC, was in the $45 million range, according to the firm. MEC project managers at the BCEC were Kevin Leroux and Brian Demore.

The BCEC is not only gigantic, it is also a beautiful building of graceful elegance. Owned by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA), it was designed jointly by Indianapolis-based Hunt Huber & Nichols and by the architectural joint venture of HNTB/Rafael Vinoly Architects.

It is the BCEC's size, however, that has gotten so much attention, not only from the New England media, but from those who worked tirelessly to get it up and running on time and on budget. Perched on thousands of precast piles and hundreds of drilled shafts, the new center covers more than 1.7 million square feet.

The BCEC's groundbreaking was in 2000, and in late 2001, MEC personnel began their on-site work.

MEC continues its presence at the center. Having already put in place tons of electrical hardware and apparatus and laid roughly 8 million feet of cabling for the entire scope of the project (2 million dedicated to security and fire safety systems applications), MEC will remain at the BCEC finishing up any work and fine-tuning systems.

The integrated facility management system features about 115 restricted-access card reader doors and more than 500 networked alarm points. The head end consists of a 2.4 gigahertz dual processor with a RAID-5 configuration and six hard drives.

BCEC's security “eyes” are a Panasonic video monitoring camera system, featuring 162 high-definition cameras that can see virtually anywhere in the building. Most computer-controllable surveillance cameras include pan/tilt/zoom capability. Real-time images are digitally recorded at the building's control center on a continuous basis.

For maximum visitor comfort and in order for security cameras to be optimally functional, internal lighting was a key consideration at the BCEC. MEC worked closely with joint venture construction managers Clark/Huber, Hunt, Nichols/Berry to install a comprehensive lighting package.

More than 14,000 light fixtures of all types were installed at the BCEC, running the gamut of brand names, from Portfolio, Surelite, Lumark to Failsafe, Kramer and others.

The building's Lutron Lighting Control System can be programmed from the control center to integrate architectural dimming with theatrical lighting systems in partitioned spaces, Hurrie added.

The customized Picture IT control software allows BCEC to operate the system from up-to 50 points of control via intuitive, floor-plan-based control screens throughout.

Life safety system

The fire alarm is a Siemens MXLV multiplex emergency voice alarm/communication system. The system interacts with almost all building systems during an alarm sequence and annunciates at the building's control center. It includes independent power supply, remote paging capability and remote enclosures linked directly to the main Voice Command Center panel.

For instant smoke detection, there are 33 beam detectors protecting the exhibition hall. In the event of an emergency, the system feeds directly into the BCEC's sound system to ensure proper intelligibility and sound decibel levels for evacuation and warnings.

Sprinklers in place throughout the entire center are “more numerous than all the boats that dot Boston Harbor on any given day,” according to the project's general contractors, Clark Construction Group Inc. of Boston.

In addition, there is emergency standby power, and the BCEC is equipped with a Caterpillar model 3512B low-emission diesel engine-generator set rated 1,500kW, primarily for emergency lighting.

A safe project

Worker safety was a constant effort on the job, as with any project large or small. The daily work routine included a safety session and other briefings.

“We had daily hazard analysis reviews that complemented our safety program,” Hurrie said. These generally lasted no more than two or three minutes, but kept safety first in everyone's mind.

Hard hats, safety gloves and protective goggles were mandatory as personal protective equipment. A detailed lockout/tagout policy was strictly enforced. “All electricians were issued individually keyed lockout/tagout locks,” Hurrie added.

Now that the BCEC is open and operational, there's no doubt it will join other architectural marvels such as the John Hancock Building, Faneuil Hall and Fenway Park and stand for decades as still another architectural wonder, this one in the great city of Boston. EC