Arcade Electric Illuminates Capitol Dome Despite Cold Conditions

The job was to upgrade exterior lighting at the Minnesota State Capitol dome, without disrupting daily traffic (pedestrian and vehicular) and without any disruption to the current lighting system. A winter deadline that was plagued with a cold climate, early snow, and a labor shortage did not deter this Minnesota-based firm from installing superior lighting. That was the situation a small contractor faced last summer, when the company was awarded a $625,000 contract—excluding the cost of most of the fixtures and poles—for renovating the facade lighting at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota. For Arcade Electric, a family-owned business that specializes in outdoor lighting (including site lighting, sports lighting, and outdoor utility work), the project appeared to be a good, high- profile opportunity, albeit one fraught with potential weather-related snags. Not only did the job specifications note that the project, which had been scheduled for a September 2000 start, was to be completed by December 22, just a few weeks before the next legislative session was to begin (this past January 5), but also the work was to be performed during the normal work day, in a way that did not jeopardize the comings and goings of state employees and citizens conducting their business at the Capitol, or disturb the landscape around the nearby Minnesota Vietnam War Memorial. “It certainly was a challenge for a company our size to undertake what was a big job, by our standards, especially when faced with possible wintry weather constraints,” said Edward W. McCumber, president of Arcade Electric, a company he started with his wife about 27 years ago. (In a four-person office, he does the estimating for new work, which includes a fair number of both municipal and private projects, while his wife, LaVonne, who is the secretary/treasurer, takes care of the accounting and other financial considerations.) “Our first concern—which gave us some pause during the bidding process—was the knowledge that, because of the booming construction economy in the Twin Cities area and an extremely tight labor pool, particularly during cold weather months, it might be difficult to get a full crew to work the job.” “We received the notice to proceed in late August (2000). To meet our projected deadline of late December, we would need a crew of eight electricians plus a foreman, to start, which meant we had to hire three additional field personnel,” McCumber said. “But a fair proportion of the local labor pool prefers not to work outdoors during the cold weather. Electricians in our area are often reluctant to sign on to work outside with winter coming. So we were concerned that we could get a full crew,” he acknowledged. But he did. With a full crew aboard, Arcade started the job on time, aiming to finish all the digging and get in the concrete footings before too much inclement weather made that task more difficult, or even impossible. The Capitol Complex Security Lighting project-designed to improve safety and color rendering and provide energy savings-initially entailed installing all new walkway lighting in the Capitol grounds area, which encompasses about six square blocks. However, Arcade was also awarded a last-minute add-on to the contract, for removing the existing lighting of the facade on the Capitol and the upper dome and then re-lighting the whole building. Circumventing any distributors and buying directly from the manufacturers (Holophane and Sun Valley), the state provided all the facade lighting fixtures for the original part of the job. (The practice of the state providing the fixtures for a project is increasingly common in Minnesota and, in particular, in St. Paul, McCumber said.) But, because the state did not have its own storage to hold them until the job was ready to receive them, “we had to rent a warehouse to receive the fixtures and store them until we were ready to truck them to the job,” McCumber added. “We were responsible, however, for all the fixtures to light the upper dome, as well as any other fixtures that could come up in change orders,” McCumber explained. For example, the dome lighting called for state-specified Bega fixtures, which were imported from Germany. “In April, a representative from Bega came to the site and did a preliminary mock-up of the lighting, using a mix of high-pressure sodium and metal halide lamps. The mock-up was then included in the bid specifications,” he said. The security lighting aspect of the project consisted of installing 156 14-foot-high decorative poles with 70-watt HPS globe fixtures with concrete foundations; 18 17-foot-high decorative poles with 150-watt HPS lantern-style fixtures with concrete foundations; 19 100-watt metal halide ground lights with concrete foundations; four 18-foot poles with 400-watt metal halide fixtures, for statue and flag illumination; and five 30-foot twinarm poles with 400-watt HPS fixtures. The specifications also called for removal of 28 100-watt roadway fixtures and replacing them with new 150-watt HPS fixtures. The project also included retrofitting 32 18-foot lantern-style poles that had held 70-watt HPS with 150-watt HPS. “While we can set poles in the winter, we can’t pour concrete, so we were concerned that we would be able to complete all 205 concrete foundations and put in all the underground conduit before sustained frost and heavy snow really set in,” McCumber said. Re-sodding and seeding of the land is slated for spring. All groundwork, in fact, had to be completed before frost. Arcade, in total, installed 14,000 feet of PVC conduit in the project area. In installing the new concrete bases and the underground conduit for the fixtures, the crew unearthed not only soil and rocks, but also remnants of the old apartment buildings that had previously occupied the site and that had been bulldozed when the grounds around the Capitol were prepared for the Mall area and park that were constructed many years ago. This unexpected time-consuming process created debris that required off-site disposal, McCumber said. The engineer for the project opted for a whole new system of conduit and wire, because that would be, ultimately, easier for maintenance by the state. To save on restoration after the new poles and wires were installed, Arcade decided that, instead of proceeding with open trenching, the crew would use a combination of plowing the pipe in (stitching the pipe in as the crew moved along) and directional boring. In directional boring, which uses 1-inch diameter rods, a Vermeer Boring Machine drills a hole in the ground. The operator, using an electronic locator, controls the boring head from a distance that can range 700 to 900 feet. In the Arcade project the distance ranged from 60 to 300 feet. Using a two-way radio for confirmation, the operator proceeds to bore and then, when he draws the rod back, pulls the conduit with it. Arcade also used a mini-boring machine, called a Portamole, which was, McCumber recalled, “an absolute time saver for this project.” While the tool is not new to the market, it was new to St. Paul, he believed. “I think we were the first in our area to use it, and it worked very well for our application.” The facade lighting aspect of the project included removing 14 20-foot poles with three 1,000-watt fixtures and replaced them with new 16-foot poles with two 250-watt HPS fixtures and two 400-watt metal halide fixtures on each pole. There were eight ground locations with two 1,500-watt mercury vapor fixtures each, which were replaced with one 400-watt HPS fixture and one 400-watt metal halide fixture. The crew also had to remove two concrete bunkers with eight 1,500-watt mercury vapor and metal halide fixtures in each bunker. “This lighting was replaced with two new facade poles with two 400-watt metal halide fixtures and one 400-watt HPS fixture,” McCumber said. While the light was purposefully improved, the removal of the bunkers also helped improve the aesthetics of the immediate grounds. Overall, energy savings were significant. The old facade lighting required 63,000 watts, while the new fixtures require only 22,500 watts. McCumber is never too happy to take on change orders on government projects. “They are time consuming because all the work has to be itemized and then reviewed for approval by various parties.” The job nevertheless included a significant change order, for changing the lighting on the upper dome of the Capitol. The work for that change order (for which Arcade was given a deadline of January 26, 2001) included hoisting all tools, storage boxes, and material and replacement fixtures to the lower roof in two locations, 150 feet above the street level. The upper dome fixtures were hoisted the rest of the way—an additional 275 feet—by diagonal rigging. To reach this area to perform the work, crew members had to wend their way up through the center of the dome on two separate spiral staircases. In this section of the job, Arcade removed 86 fixtures with a total wattage of 55,000 watts and installed 74 fixtures, using only 25,250 watts. Upon completion of the work in that relatively rarefied atmosphere, all equipment and all old fixtures were hoisted down. Between the two aspects of the project—the facade lighting and upper dome lighting (which together totaled just under $900,000 in contracts)—Arcade removed about 118,000 watts of lighting and replaced them with about 47,750 watts. “Yet,” noted McCumber, “the new lighting has resulted, as intended, in greatly improved color and substantial energy savings.” The FELDMANS provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers, and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at or (914) 238-6272.

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.