Breathing New Life Into History

Designed by Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia State Capitol was constructed between 1785 and 1798. Until recently, the building had undergone only two major renovations. The first was between 1904 and 1906, when the east and west wings were added for the House of Delegates Chamber and the Senate Chamber, and the second between 1962 and 1964, when the Capitol was modernized to include an updated electrical system and air conditioning.

In 2005, Virginia began a $104.5 million exterior and interior renovation to protect this piece of American history. Renovation efforts have included new mechanical and electrical systems, protection against moisture penetration, architectural and historical renovations, and a new underground extension on the south side to create a visitor’s center.

The massive south portico of the Capitol has been described as more than just an architectural element that frames and decorates the main door, but as the “frontispiece” to all Virginia. The new entrance at the portico for the underground extension is designed to enhance the visitor’s experience by providing the best view of the building from the south, as intended by Jefferson. Extending the Capitol complex underground provides much needed space for visitors and government employees without obscuring views and includes the visitors’ center, exhibition space, handicapped access, multi-purpose rooms, legislature workspace, improved media facilities, and a connection to other visitor and tourist areas downtown.

Winning the contract

Truland Systems Corp., Richmond, was chosen for the $5.2 million electrical portion of the contract (not including countless change orders over the course of the April 2005 to April 2007 construction schedule), based on its competitive bid.

“Our Richmond office had been tracking the potential of this project for some time, having identified it early as an important and desirable opportunity,” said Alan Linder, vice president. The path to Truland’s securing this prestigious award involved a number of important factors, including both price and the company’s long-term, strong relationship with the Providence, R.I.-based Gilbane Building Co., one member of the construction management Gilbane Christman Associates’ joint venture.

“The combination of a valuable relationship, excellent scope coverage for the prime contractor and a competitive price resulted in the award for Truland,” Linder said.

According to Drew Micco, project manger for Gilbane, Truland was selected for the Capitol renovation project based on its ability to cover the scope of work, combined with the bid amount.

“We’ve had previous first-hand experience with Truland’s ability to work well on a large-scale, complex renovation project,” Micco said. Although the Capitol project is the first time Truland has been on the same team as Michigan-headquartered Christman Co., the other half of the joint venture, the company is eager to springboard this initial experience into another valuable relationship. Others on the project team included the Virginia Department of General Services, Hillier Architecture, and the clerks of the Virginia House and Senate.

Protecting history through teamwork

Any historic renovation project is delicate, but it takes even more special care to protect the integrity, viability and dignity of a building designed by Thomas Jefferson.

“Intensive coordination between Truland and the mechanical and plumbing contractors was essential for integrating the new systems without impacting the historic aspects of the building,” said Darren Salyards, Truland’s senior project manager. Fitting all power feeders and conduit with new mechanical equipment and plumbing required considerable coordination among the trades, as the building was not designed to house modern power and mechanical equipment.

“All the trades met at least once a week to review the project and overlay any reviewed drawings to ensure that all of the measurements were correct and that we could fit the equipment inside,” said Wayne King, general foreman.

The best-laid plans

The plans called for a complete new electrical system for the building, along with a new fire alarm installation, lighting and rough-ins for the security, telecommunication and audiovisual systems. Although the project was meant to be fully designed, it fell to Truland to offer suggestions and solutions to the unforeseen conditions that were frequently uncovered during the renovation.

“In those instances, we worked with the construction manager and engineers to formulate solutions, which were then incorporated into the project,” Salyards said.

For the telecommunications, audiovisual and security system devices, Truland installed the necessary raceways for a complete system as well as the spare raceways needed to ensure future system growth. Telecommunications conduits and innerducts also were required for cross-campus interconnections to other state-owned facilities, including the General Assembly Building, the Governor’s Mansion and the Virginia State Library. Security system devices, however, were installed by other contractors or by the Department of General Services.

Life safety protection of the historic building required state-of-the-art fire alarm and detection systems. Truland installed a series of three fire alarm panels in the new extension and five panels in the attic of the Capitol. Wiring for all of the devices, which included pull stations, concealed horn strobes, smoke detectors in the extension and an air-sampling very early smoke detection apparatus (VESDA) system in the Capitol, duct and heat detectors, door releases and automatic openers, flow and tamper switches, and one annunciator were run to the eight panels and then networked between the two buildings. Monitoring of the system is done at another state facility.

“The VESDA system, which samples air regularly through a tube to determine the presence of smoke in the building, was chosen because it provides the earliest possible warning of a fire and because it can be more easily concealed,” Salyards said.

No lights without power

Lighting was a major issue for the renovation portion of the project. Each light fixture had its own specification detail as to how it should be built. Many of the fixtures, according to Salyards, were custom built and intended to replicate the originals in order to maintain the building’s architectural integrity.

“The general contractor, however, was responsible for removing and restoring original sconces and chandeliers before we reinstalled them,” he said. Light sources were primarily incandescent and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), along with metal halide for down- and cove-lighting. To promote energy efficiency, fixtures are controlled by a Lutron dimming and switching system, which is programmable to allow building managers to use multiple scenes in the General Assembly chambers or for guided tours.

“The system also includes motion and occupancy sensors in offices to help conserve energy,” King said.

For the electrical installation, Truland electricians brought in 4,000-amp, 120/208-volt power from the utility into each of two 4,000-amp switchboards, routed it through two 1,200-amp distribution boards, and then finally through a host of panelboards throughout the building. Power from the utility, according to Salyards, was also routed for use in the new extension.

“Large chases had to be cut into the Capitol’s walls to run the wiring throughout the building to power equipment, receptacles and switches,” Salyards said.

The biggest challenge for Truland with all the systems the company installed was to keep all electrical and mechanical components out of sight.

“The architect wanted the look of undisturbed plaster walls, which meant we had to ensure that the design and installation of the conduit remained behind walls, above ceilings and under floors,” Salyards said.

Drawings, according to Micco, were helpful in this regard but only to a limited extent.

“Truland worked closely and effectively with the rest of the team to identify architectural solutions and ensure that the intent of the design was met,” he said. For example, what seemed like short conduit runs on old drawings sometimes turned out to be quite circuitous; electricians found themselves having to route conduit through open channels in hallways and rooms to get around the solid 4-foot-thick brick-and-mortar walls.

“Truland’s field people worked hard to identify solutions to such problems and devised innovative ways to route electrical system components without damaging the building,” Micco said.

In the end, with all subcontractors working closely together, unforeseen problems were met head-on.

“Every time we got past one of the design challenges, it was considered a triumph. Sometimes it took daily meetings, sometimes more than one per day, to overcome the most critical issues of the week. But in the end, the project was finished on time,” Linder said.

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or



About the Author

Darlene Bremer

Freelance Writer
Darlene Bremer, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributed frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR until the end of 2015.

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