Federal Express has built its success on understanding that its customers require that their packages be delivered on time and to the right location. As part of its dedication to customer service, the company recently built a 270,000-square-foot Custom Critical Division Call Center and corporate headquarters in Uniontown, Ohio.

Speelman Electric Inc., headquartered in Tallmadge, Ohio, is a full-service electrical contracting firm dedicated to providing expert quality service for the commercial, residential, industrial, institutional, maintenance and voice/data/video (VDV) markets. In the spring of 2001, the company was approached by the general contracting firm of Warmus Builders Inc., to discuss the possibility of Speelman working with them on this large, time-sensitive project.

“Warmus came to us because we have worked with them on more than 25 projects during our 15-year relationship, including installing and maintaining traditional electrical and low-voltage systems in the commercial market throughout the area,” recalled Dick Speelman, president.

In addition, the FedEx Custom Critical Call Center was to be a design-build project, and Warmus needed an electrical contractor with whom it was comfortable working with so closely. “All of the projects we have performed with Warmus Builders have been design-build,” Speelman added.

Getting started

Long before construction was to begin, Speelman Electric worked with Warmus Builders to develop the budgets that were used when negotiating with FedEx. Because of the size and nature of the facility, which is much larger than most commercial-type buildings, Speelman consulted with a local electrical engineer that the company had worked with before on other design-build projects. “We felt it necessary to ensure that the budget being developed would sustain the proposed scope of work,” Speelman explained.

The company took the process a step further and also consulted with Berwick Electric Inc., another electrical contractor and peer group member that has performed work on a similar facility in Colorado, to further ensure the budget would satisfy the customer’s needs. The two electrical contractors have partnered before on other projects and have established a long-term relationship of mutually beneficial cooperation.

Warmus incorporated Speelman Electric’s budget for the electrical and low-voltage systems the facility would require into its proposal, and FedEx awarded the contract. Due to its pre-construction work, the Speelman Electric was awarded the electrical portion of the project, worth $4 million. Over a very short period of time, Speelman chose an electrical engineer to come on board to help engineer and design the electrical and low-voltage systems. “The process began with the design of the basic electrical infrastructure for the $24 million facility and as construction progressed, the other systems, such as the telecommunications, computer network, lighting, security, life safety, critical power and UPS [uninterrupted power supply] systems were designed,” Speelman stated.

Under construction

The project was divided into separate phases and construction proceeded on the first of the facility’s three sections in February 2002. The center section of the three-wing facility would house the electrical infrastructure and the east and west wings would be staffed by corporate and call center personnel. The schedule called for Speelman Electric to focus on installing the major power systems in the center section of the facility while simultaneously working on the other two wings, as FedEx required that personnel move in and begin work even while construction was still under way on the center section.

The facility required two power distribution systems; one to service its heating and air conditioning requirements and the other for normal power needs, such as lighting, computers and the like. The 5,000 and 3,000A services are each metered separately to take advantage of lowered utility rate structures for environmental uses, according to Speelman. In addition, the company installed a 150kW generator to power the facility’s life safety systems, such as exit signs, egress lighting and the security and fire alarm systems.

A 2,000kW critical backup power generator was also installed to ensure that the facility stays in operation constantly. “One hundred percent operations is essential to the company’s profitability, making it critical that no power outage is ever experienced,” said Speelman. The next step toward ensuring that the facility has as little downtime as possible was the installation of a state-of-the-art parallel UPS system.

“The two UPS units run parallel to each other, ensuring that at least one is always available,” Speelman explained. The UPS systems called for the use of “flywheel” technology, which stores kinetic energy in a constantly spinning, quiet, low-friction steel disk. Compared to traditional battery systems, flywheel systems require less space, have fewer temperature restrictions and have lowered maintenance costs, while improving UPS system reliability.

Meeting the challenge

Although Speelman Electric has a great deal of experience in providing its customers with complete design-build services, each such project presents its own unique set of challenges that must be met and overcome. “In this case, the facility was designed as it was being built,” Speelman recalled. Each week, the designers and engineers provided field personnel with the blueprints for the next phase of the installation. Meetings were held weekly with the electrical engineer and owner to discuss the new plans, how they impacted the schedule, and the best methodologies for implementation. “Our job was to ensure that the engineer’s plans would be installed in the field efficiently and cost effectively,” he added.

The fast-track schedule was another challenge that the team had to overcome to successfully complete the project. “We maintained a regular meeting schedule with the building owner, FedEx, the electrical engineer and the materials suppliers as each phase of the project was designed and installed,” Speelman explained. The process required that all members of the team maintain open communication and an abiding trust in the long-term relationships. For their part, all of the major suppliers took on the responsibility for solving problems through zoned storage areas and just-in-time deliveries. “The project required that the suppliers become an integral part of the partnership and adapt and change their timetables to ensure that the project stayed on its fast track completion schedule.”

Project logistics were also difficult since the first phase of construction had to be completed while the second phase was already underway. “The first phase of the facility had to be complete so that people could move in and perform their critical mission even while construction continued in the center area on the main and back-up power systems,” said Speelman. That meant that the power, fire alarm, UPS and critical power systems for the offices had to constantly be maintained even while work continued on other parts of the building. This type of project schedule demanded that the necessary manpower and material for each phase of the installation be in place at the right time or the entire project would crumble like a house of cards. “Our success depended on material distribution, scheduling and the receipt of major equipment being managed in a just-in-time environment,” Speelman added.

Fifteen months after construction began, the project was completed on time and on budget. EC

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.