On September 3, 2015, only days after construction was completed, a sold-out crowd of 17,500 people at the Lakeview Amphitheater on Onondaga Lake cheered as country music star Miranda Lambert took the stage. If the concert-goers had known the high stakes involved in bringing the amphitheater’s fast-track construction schedule in on time, they surely would have applauded the project team as well.

Coming back to life


The facility construction was part of the lakeshore revitalization in Geddes, N.Y. The effort included cleaning up the heavily polluted lake and integrating the theater into the 84-acre site and along the bike trail that surrounds it.


“The Lakeview Amphitheater is a very important addition to Onondaga Lake for many reasons,” said Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney. “The cleanup of the lake has turned it into an asset for our community, and we see so many people walking, running and biking on our lake park trail as well as boating and fishing. It provides a majestic setting to further enjoy the lake as well as bringing thousands of people from outside our community here to see what we have to offer.” 


The amphitheater/pavilion replaces the New York State Fairgrounds Grandstand. It is a two-story structure consisting of a multifunctional facility for performers and their stage crews and public meet-and-greet spaces. The pavilion contains the performance stage, a covered seating area for 5,000 guests under a long-span truss pavilion and an additional seating area for 12,500 people on a sloped lawn with views of the stage and the lake.


“The concept for the amphitheater was to be ‘the jewel in the crown’ that represented the community coming back to the lake,” said Tom Gallagher, principal and project director of design firm Westlake Reed Leskosky. 


Gilbane Building Co., headquartered in Providence, R.I., with locations across the United States, partnered with Onondaga County as the general contractor and selected 37 subcontractors to complete construction. The winning electrical contracting bid came from O’Connell Electric Co., Victor, N.Y., the nation’s 50th largest electrical contractor. While the company has five offices in New York, the Syracuse office handled the project. Three design firms were also part of the team: Westlake Reed Leskosky of New York, Savin Engineering of Pleasantville, N.Y., and QPK Design of Syracuse. 


Staying coordinated


“We came on board as subcontractor in a design/assist role to Gilbane,” said Don Coon, general manager of O’Connell Electric’s Syracuse office. “Very early on, our position was to expedite the design time and find ways to assist Gilbane to meet their budget requirements for the electrical-construction scopes of work.”


Reviewing and agreeing on design and installation concepts was an ongoing process between Gilbane, the design team and O’Connell Electric.


Release of early site and foundation packages allowed for a head start on the excavation of about 100,000 cubic yards of material, the relocation of existing utilities and the installation of more than 200 piles. Early bid packages and preordering long lead items were also instrumental in the on-time completion, according to the Westlake Reed Leskosky/QPK design team. 


Coordinating and scheduling staffing became a continuously fluctuating process for O’Connell Electric to balance the correct number of technicians to handle daily and weekly construction schedules.


“We worked fast and steady, but safety remained our No. 1 priority,” said Steve Briem, project manager, O’Connell Electric. “Communication was vital. Our safety advisers implemented a safety plan specific to our scope of work, and that plan was clearly communicated to our crews daily. When construction was complete, the company had zero safety violations or incidents.”


“The challenge of this project was not only that it was a complicated electrical project but also that there was the time constraint,” said Arlene Parker, lead electrical engineer on the project for Westlake Reed Leskosky. “The design and construction had to happen so quickly, which required a lot of coordination and communication between the engineers and the contractors. We worked very closely together with O’Connell to come up with the right decisions and the right designs for the project. Had either entity—our firm or O’Connell’s—been weak in this type of facility, I don’t think we could have pulled it off. We worked with O’Connell to get this design procured and built very, very quickly.”


To coordinate the fast-track schedule, the trade superintendents met daily before each shift. Project managers met weekly. With access to a large workforce of electricians, O’Connell Electric used a split-team strategy, allowing three teams to focus on key areas of the electrical construction. One team focused on site work and the box office and two restrooms. The second team focused on the pavilion seating area, theatrical lighting, fire alarms, video systems and overhead lighting. The third team worked on the amphitheater building.


The electrical portion of the 20-acre site development scope of work consisted of 13.8-kilovolt primary distribution, several thousand feet of underground primary duct banks, and feeding-pad-mounted distribution transformers serving the box office building, the two restroom buildings, the amphitheater/pavilion and several 200 ampere (A) and 400A power pedestals. It also included a quantity of light-emitting diode (LED) light pole assemblies electronically controlled inside the lighting fixture head for sensing motion. All the lighting is highly efficient.


“Open sides of the pavilion provide a direct view of the lake and to the supporting building areas—the restroom buildings and concession areas that serve the large crowds,” Gallagher said. “We positioned the restrooms to the west and east of the pavilion so that they’re visible from the pavilion. We backlit translucent clerestory surfaces to provide intuitive wayfinding at night, thus relying on less signage to direct you.”


O’Connell Electric’s scope of work for the box office and restrooms included electrical utility service, lighting, convenience power, power distribution, communications, fire alarm and security. 


On the outside


On the exterior of the pavilion structure, building materials create a contemporary look with the use of vertical panels made of steel mesh-pleated skirting.


“The fascia of the pavilion itself, which is visible to 12,500 concertgoers sitting on the lawn, is one of the ways we made the architectural expression of the project itself evoke the unique landscape in which it is sited,” Gallagher said. “Our design of the fascia is an open metal mesh that was twisted into wavelike panelized forms. The act of twisting the mesh made the panels more stable structurally against the wind loading, which is important for longevity of the facility but also acoustically to ensure there is no noise created from movement in the panels. 


“We backlit these panels from below in a way that allowed the read of the metal to look more like that of a theatrical scrim, while also providing light onto the lawn. The fall of the light on the mesh evokes the fall of the setting sunlight on the waves of the lake itself. We thus feel it’s a way to meaningfully connect this facility to its site. Additionally, the metal mesh of the fascia was open enough—60 percent—to allow the sound energy from the speakers hidden behind the mesh to fully serve the lawn patrons by reinforcing the sound coming from the stage,” he said. 


Electrical and audiovisual systems were concealed in cable tray on back of the catwalk areas, creating a cabling highway for the performers’ technicians.


One of the steps Westlake Reed Leskosky took to expedite the project related to aisle lighting, which has to be on during a performance.


“Instead of placing the lights in the seats and running the conduit under the slab, which would have had to be coordinated with the slab pour, we hung two sets of downlights from the ceiling rafters, up in the depth of the trusses,” Parker said.


They chose distributed framing fixtures, which provide a very precise direction of light. The overhead pavilion lighting was installed underneath the canopy that covers the 5,000 seats, requiring crews to work from boom lifts at various heights. 


O’Connell Electric prefabricated many of the light assemblies. Rigid LED pendants 11 and 15 feet in length were premade and prewired in the O’Connell Electric shop, then delivered to the site, numbered and marked for location. 


Under the pavilion canopy, there are 10 miles of wire, 1,400 feet of basket tray and 285 general lighting fixtures. The canopy also houses fire protection, A/V, emergency and normal power distribution systems. 


The amphitheater’s main building contains dressing rooms, backstage activity areas, control rooms and event function areas. The scope of work included electrical utility service, lighting, convenience power, normal and emergency power distribution systems, communications, fire alarm, A/V technology systems and security. The building distribution system was sized to 4,000A at 480 volt (V), three-phase, 4-wire that serves multiple 500 kVA transformers. These reduced the voltage down to 208/120V to supply the sound equipment and portable stage lighting through company switches mounted in the stage area. 


In the main electric room, O’Connell Electric began preplanning, layering and positioning electrical metallic tubing and PVC conduits that filled the overhead and under-slab area.


Right on schedule


The amphitheater was completed according to plan, on time and within its $50 million budget. 


“O’Connell Electric was a true partner … and an integral member who ensured that we were providing value recommendations for installation and materials,” said Matthew Simone, project manager, Gilbane Building Co. “I personally appreciated their dedication from the top down with regards to safety, workmanship and schedule. Their on-site labor workforce was fantastic and worked within the whole collective team on a challenging project that was completed in a very short time frame that required multiple shifts and extensive coordination. O’Connell was always a team member that strove to produce the best quality product.”