I was recently reminded how important it is to be creative in today’s competitive bidding climate. One of my longtime clients called to let me know that the high-voltage switchgear at One Exchange Place in Jersey City, N.J., had finally been powered up. The road to this accomplishment had been long, with several detours.

Early in 2013, an electrical contractor in New Jersey asked me to start working on preliminary estimates for the rehabilitation of an old building for Hyatt Hotels. 

Here’s a little history of the building before I got involved: When the EC started working in the building, it found the existing service switchgear in the second sub-basement level. A large marble switchgear lineup was also found in the third sub-basement, and no one knew it was still activated. The marble switchgear powered two motor generators, which provided direct current (DC) power for two elevators.

The EC was directed to refeed the elevators from the newer switchgear, and DC rectifiers were installed to replace the motor generators. Shortly after the work was completed, Hurricane Sandy submerged all of the basement levels, leaving the project under water for three weeks. 

The first set of plans I received had a great-looking single line with all new switchgear. They did not, however, show where the power was coming from. The plans showed there were three main switchboards powered by two utility transformers. The switchboards included a 2,000-ampere (A), 480-volt (V) house service; a 2,000A, 480V tenant service; and a 1,200A, 480V retail service. The primary feeders for the utility transformers were not shown. 

This was not unexpected; almost every project I get these days does not show where the power is coming from. The problems started when I began looking for the utility source.

My first inquiry was in regard to several underground vaults that were adjacent to the building. The utility, PSE&G, advised us that there was no space in the existing vaults for the transformers needed to feed this building’s new power requirements. We also were advised that there was no room in the street for a new vault.

The next set of plans indicated a new vault on the hotel property, with a new PSG&E busroom in the existing basement. There were many problems with this approach. First, the only available location for the vault was all the way across the site from the utility source, making the primary feeders very long. The secondary feeders would be run into the new busroom.

However, there was a bigger problem—it was below sea level, and Jersey City was not going to allow that after Hurricane Sandy. The cost to build waterproof substation and electrical rooms in the basement was astronomical, and the utility fees for this approach were almost $2 million. Also, this service location was on the opposite side of the building from where most of the power was needed. The additional feeders and bus duct runs were going to cost at least $250,000 more than the original design. The owner asked the EC to come up with an alternative.

It was at this time the EC asked me if I had any ideas for a better location for the substation. I remembered that the retail space on the first floor had very high ceilings and suggested that we build a mezzanine for the substation. 

What followed was described by the EC as a series of incredible meetings. The EC came up with a conceptual design and presented it to the owner. The owner was interested, so we prepared the first budget. Once the budget was approved, it was time to meet with the city. The city said it would go along with the concept if the utility company was OK with it. That led to several meetings with the utility, most of which were concerned with the location of the main disconnect switch. Once that was approved, we prepared a final budget for the owner. When the budget was approved, the work started.

This is just one example of how creative thinking, along with a persistent and talented team, can solve a problem and create profit for everyone involved. The EC made my idea work by collaborating for hours with the owner, the switchgear manufacturer, the city and the utility company.

This also demonstrates the importance of relationships. Estimators and their employers must do everything they can to create and maintain relationships with their customers and vendors. Think about this. The EC and I just saved the customer millions of dollars on this project. Who do you think the customer is going to call for the next project?