More than 100 years ago, St. Louis served as the gateway to the country’s Western frontier. Today’s pioneers are technology firms, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and health care facilities. St. Louis has become the host city to many of these high-tech facilities and the country’s gateway to the future.

A group of young entrepreneurs founded Guarantee Electrical Co. (GECO) in 1902 for the express purpose of wiring the St. Louis 1904 World’s Fair. Guarantee has grown into a company with more than 600 employees and $100 million in annual sales. “Our professional engineers, project managers, and electricians provide our high-tech and health care customers with the highest-quality electrical construction, design build, voice/data/video, and maintenance services,” said Rick Ledbetter, president.

A healthy community

People in St. Louis can access superior medical care through Barnes, Jewish and Children’s (BJC) Hospitals. Recently, BJC Health System, St. Louis, and the Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM) purchased all three facilities, thus merging their operations. According to U.S. News and World Report, Barnes-Jewish Hospital is ranked seventh in the nation, and WUSM is ranked as the fourth medical school. The BJC medical campus also houses rehabilitation, medical research and administrative facilities on about 240 acres in downtown St. Louis.

After the merger, it immediately became obvious that to maximize efficiency, the patient services and medical and administrative functions of the separate facilities had to be integrated. The Campus Integration Project is a huge undertaking that has entailed the demolition of three city blocks, more than 1 million square feet of new construction and the complete renovation of the remaining facilities and buildings. New construction for the $320 million project was begun in 1997 and was scheduled for completion in November 2001, while the renovation work is due to be finished by this fall.

A total of four general contractors report to Jacobs Facilities Inc., St. Louis, which is the program manager for the project. “Some of the original facilities were built 90 years ago,” said Valerie Larkin, project director for Jacobs Facilities. “Successful completion requires an enormous amount of cooperation by all of the involved contractors.”

Guarantee Electrical has served the needs of Barnes and Jewish hospitals individually for many years and the company has been involved in all facets of construction in the health care industry for more than 20 years. This experience, along with the company’s preconstruction, value engineering, design-assist services and a competitive bid package, won the company approximately $15 million worth of electrical work for this project.

Another factor in Guarantee’s successful bid for this massive project is its experience in the voice/data/video (VDV) market. It was as early as 1996 when the company began focusing seriously on projects that involved low-voltage and systems integration. “The market in St. Louis has been growing steadily as the city becomes home to data centers and communication infrastructures,” said Thomas Morrell, manager of industrial estimating.

Preconstruction phase

When the Campus Integration Project was originally conceived, Guarantee joined the team that examined the constructability of what was being proposed. Using the company’s expertise in design-assist and engineering services, Guarantee analyzed the original project concept for BJC Health System and provided reports on its feasibility. “We were approached in 1997 by BJC to be involved in this phase of the project based on our previous work on the existing hospital facilities,” recalled John Meier, vice president of engineering sales for GECO Engineering Corporation, a division of Guarantee.

During this phase, Guarantee worked with several engineering firms and BJC to help determine that the original locations planned for the new substations must be moved to take into account the new general construction in the area. “We developed an alternative location that was still close to the original switchgear, but that could be accessed without interfering with other construction activities,” Meier explained.

The whole preconstruction process allowed Guarantee to structure a concise plan of how the electrical work could be executed and still fulfill all of the customer’s requirements. “With the plan in place, we could focus on optimizing manpower and other resources to make the project operate smoothly,” Meier recalled. Its involvement in the preconstruction process also gave Guarantee extensive knowledge of the project and all of its intricacies and provided an edge when it came time to bid on the more than 12 electrical packages.

The preconstruction phase presented its own unique challenges, including how to organize the installation infrastructure for the new 5 Kv power distribution system. “The existing distribution system ran through buildings scheduled for demolition, but the system had to stay in service while demolition was in progress and while the new system was being installed,” Meier said. The company overcame the challenge by planning the installation in sequential phases and coordinating them with building demolition.

Construction and renovation

The first package the owner released was actually for the relocation of a loading dock. “That small scope of work turned into a negotiated contract with the general contractor, McCarthy Construction, St. Louis, to perform the Pre-Phase I Campus Integration,” says Steve Briesacher, senior project manager. The company’s responsibilities during this phase of the project included infrastructure modification and improvements to facilitate new construction as part of helping the two separate entities of Barnes and Jewish hospitals become a single functioning health care facility. Work began in September 1997 and was completed during the summer of 1999.

For the rest of the integration project, the campus was divided into north and south sections, with each one having a separate general contractor. On the North campus the general contractor is the St. Louis firm of J.S. Alberici Construction Co., and Guarantee is responsible for installing 200 branch panelboards and two 3,000-amp feeders of 4,160 volts each for the power distribution system. GECO’s electricians also had to remove four 1,000-Kw emergency generators, store them, and then return them to service when the power distribution work for each phase was completed. In the meantime, three 1,250-Kw generators were used as temporary power backup.

Other responsibilities include installing all the branch circuitry and major distribution feeds for the cancer center, installing a 5-Kv power distribution system and four unit substations ranging in size from 1,500 KvA to 2,500 KvA, three 800-ton chillers at 4,160 volts each, and emergency power distribution for four 1,000-Kw generator sets at 480 volts each.

Work on the North campus began September 1999 and was scheduled for completion in October 2001. An average of 25 electricians worked on site at any given time, and as many as 50 might have been on the job at peak times.

The general contractor for the South campus part of the project was St. Louis-based McCarthy Construction. Guarantee began working at this location in February 2000, and the contract called for the project to be completed by December 2001. With a peak number of electricians estimated at 75, the company was responsible for installing three 3,000-amp incoming feeders at 4,160 volts each, reconfiguring the existing power distribution system, installing two unit substations, making provisions for a future six-story garage and total fit-out of the electrical systems for the new emergency room, and installing three 1,250-Kw emergency back-up power generators.

For both campuses, the company’s scope of work also included installing various lighting systems and providing rough-ins for the structured cabling systems.

A host of unique challenges

“The logistical challenges of working within the largest health care facility in Missouri while maintaining its services to its patients at the highest levels was extremely complex,” said Briesacher. Such a large project involves a great deal of vehicular traffic, which is made more difficult by its downtown location. “We are partnering with our material suppliers to cut down on multiple deliveries and to keep traffic to a minimum,” explained Briesacher.

Communication presents its own set of challenges. “There are two different owners consolidating their separate operations into a single one, a program manager, two general contractors and a host of other subcontractors,” said Briesacher. Meetings to discuss the logistics, project progress and scheduling conflicts are held almost constantly in an effort to maintain open communication among all the parties involved. In addition, GECO Engineering spends significant time redrawing engineering documents for the electricians in the field for both a more efficient installation and to facilitate coordination among the different trades.

The medical campus is served by a light rail system, which runs through the heart of the existing facility and project site. That also has to be integrated as part of the project. “Several carefully orchestrated shutdowns of MetroLink’s high-voltage system were required to perform the electrical work nearby,” said Briesacher.

The company’s dedicated team of engineers, supervisors and electricians has enabled it to update and expand an older system into one that meets modern standards and that will serve the community’s medical needs well into the 21st century.

Meeting electrical construction needs

Guarantee Electrical offers its industrial, commercial, institutional and health care market customers a full range of low- and high-voltage electrical installation services. About 60 percent of the company’s business is handled through its construction division, which offers engineering and design/build services. “Our construction efforts are supported and enhanced by GECO Engineering Corporation,” observed Meier. Founded in the mid-1970s, GECO Engineering maintains a staff of 25 engineers, CAD operators and draftsmen and project managers. “The design/build team is invaluable for sophisticated industrial projects that require an electrical contactor that can engineer a project, rather than just provide an electrical installation,” he added.

The company’s service and maintenance division is supported by a fleet of 45 trucks, more than 200 service electricians and a dedicated staff, including 15 project managers. Services include temperature control design and installation, fire alarm and security wiring, infrared scan analysis, energy efficiency audits, and high-voltage testing. The service division also offers regularly scheduled preventive maintenance programs, interior finish services, and design/build engineering expertise.

“Our goal is to exceed customers’ expectations,” observed Ledbetter. In today’s competitive market, customers always expect good work from their electrical contractor, and it is Guarantee’s philosophy to exceed that expectation and to always provide excellent work, he added. This philosophy has served the company well for close to 100 years. “The majority of our business is repeat business. We’ve been working with some customers in St. Louis for more than 50 years.”

To add value to its services, Guarantee Electrical offers a standard audit of its design/build work while it is still under the company warranty. “At no cost to the customer, we will independently check our work and correct any electrical problems through Guarantee Electrical Maintenance (GEM),” explained Ledbetter.

The company credits its employees for its success. “It was a family business when it was originally established and we try to provide a family atmosphere for all our employees 100 years later,” said Ledbetter. The result is very little turnover. It also offers its employees an excellent benefits package and programs that encourage participation, communication and camaraderie.

Guarantee is also one of the original founders of Federated Electrical Contractors (FEC). Twenty to 30 percent of its business is performed outside the St. Louis area and nearly half of that is performed in partnership with an FEC member contractor. “FEC offers us the opportunity to compete on a national level with local resources to the customer’s benefit,” Ledbetter observed.

Future plans

Guarantee Electrical plans to focus on anticipating change and developing an organizational structure to fulfill customers’ new needs. “For instance, as early as the 1970s, we have been preparing to become an industry leader for the explosion of voice/data/video work that began in the 1990s,” said Ledbetter.

It was also as early as the 1940s that the company started implementing its design-build practices. “We have always been willing and eager to be ready for the latest technological advances and to use the latest methods to provide engineering and construction services to our customers,” Ledbetter explained.

As it continues to stay current on the evolution of the industry and the needs of the customer for modern, efficient technologies, Guarantee will also continue its practice of slow, controlled growth. “We will continue to be guided by the principles that have made the company successful in its first 100 years.”

The company’s commitment to its employees and the professionalism of its staff has given the company the opportunity to build a reputation of exceeding customers’ expectations. “A company is only as good as its people and the quality of its performance,” concluded Ledbetter. EC

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or by e-mail at dbremer@erols.com.