Huen's Hired

Television shows do not usually pave the way for construction. However, the first season of Donald Trump’s reality show, “The Apprentice,” did just that. The winner became the project manager for the construction of Trump International Hotel and Tower in downtown Chicago. The 92-story building, the world’s tallest residence, encompasses 2.6 million square feet and stands more than 1,300 feet tall. Just about any contractor would covet such a high-profile project.

That honor went to Chicago-based Huen Electric Inc. through its relationship with construction company Bovis Lend Lease (BLL).

“They selected us because of our capability and our long history with BLL,” said Jack Dougherty, Huen Electric’s chief operating officer (COO). “They had negotiated the project directly with the Trump organization. Everyone knew that this project was coming since it was such a highly publicized one.”

Dougherty said his company was a good fit for the project.

“We have a focus on design/build and also design/assist. Those skills played a significant role in the selection process for this project,” he said.

Huen Electric’s understanding of the building logistics and the planned phased occupancy of the project also was instrumental in the selection process.

Systems throughout

Many building systems are contained within such a massive building. Dougherty said most of the specific system choices were made well in advance and that the Trump organization had interviewed various manufacturers in order to make selections.

“We installed the full spectrum of systems in the building,” he said.

Understanding the scope and breadth of the project is complicated, as different systems were used for different sections of the building.

Peter L. Stanish, RCDD, vice president, Huen Electric, explained how the project was divided up. The fire alarm system is one system that was installed throughout the entire building. According to Stanish, the SimplexGrinnell system was a full design/build project, with more than 750,000 feet of cable and 400 smoke/heat detectors, 800 speakers, 50 fire phones and 32 transponders.

Another life safety system installed throughout the whole building was the area of rescue assistance system, which allows two-way communication between a building occupant and an emergency responder from a predetermined location in the event of an emergency. With 220 remote stations, one master station and 160,000 feet of Category 5e cabling, this system was another that the Huen Electric team was able to successfully install and deploy. Stanish said the controllers, which allow for the expansion of the communication system and its large number of remote stations, were interconnected using fiber optic cable.

Systems work in the hotel area

Since the building is multiuse and multipurpose, special consideration needed to be given to each system in each area. Many were specific to a location and intended use.

The five-star hotel rests on floors 16 through 27M (mezzanine) and has 286 guest rooms. In addition to the hotel, there are 53 overnight spa units, each having all of the same technical amenities as the hotel units. Stanish said the rooms were thoroughly designed, further supporting the system-heavy infrastructure within this building.

Each guest room was cabled for voice, data and video with three Category 5e, two RG6 coax and two strand fiber feeds. In addition, multimedia residential panels were installed in each guestroom, which houses electronics and cable terminations for such systems as voice/data and television signal distribution and are capable of future technology expansion. This ensured that each room was well equipped for multimedia in various forms. All Cat 5e and coax were terminated on all ends while the fiber was left dark (unterminated).

In addition to the wired voice/data/video (VDV) systems, a wireless system was installed, as well. More than six access points (AP) were used on each floor to ensure system functionality at a level expected in a building of this nature.

The keyed access system for all hotel floors was a Saflok system. It included eight to 10 access points on each floor to ensure system reliability.

One unique subsystem was the cellular-distributed antenna system (DAS) that included 10–12 antennas per floor. A complete single-mode fiber optic riser distribution system was used for the DAS, so each floor could have a distribution point. This system enables guests and visitors throughout the building to have strong and reliable cellular access. The same system also was used for the contractors and construction workers but in a different format.

“That was needed to maintain connectivity for cellular phone access on the working deck for safety reasons,” Stanish said.

Phased occupancy … not a contractor’s best friend

Due to the unique construction schedule and planned completion of this project, the building had been slated for phased occupancy. It required some work-arounds on the job site.

“Even though guests started to occupy the hotel in January 2008, the concrete for the top floor had not been poured until eight months later,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty said the building was the first in the city that was allowed to open while concrete was still being poured.

Huen Electric also had to deal with a constantly changing fire alarm system.

“The phased occupancy really affected our Technology Group because we needed to have a complete fire alarm system for a shorter building. But as occupancy increased and the building grew, we had to keep changing the system so that it included the new floors above. We followed the same method and installation process for emergency power and electrical distribution, as well,” Dougherty said.

The temporary power had to follow the floors. In standard construction, systems such as the fire alarm and emergency power are designed, installed and turned on. Though that was the case with the Trump Tower, it also was a process that needed to be continually repeated as the building kept growing and changing throughout the course of the project.

Coordination with and subsequent approval by the Chicago Fire Prevention Bureau (CFPB) for phased occupancy was a key project element. To achieve phased occupancy, Huen Electric installed temporary class A loops—a segmented system completed in phases that was repeated after each subsequent section of the building was occupied—providing an intact circuit for the system transponder network.

“This was a critical issue to meet in order to allow the phased occupancy the owner had requested,” Stanish said.


Huen Electric knew that working on a project for the tallest concrete formwork structure in the world would bring new and different challenges.

“We had one engineer who devoted two years of his time and a second who worked on this project for one year doing shop drawings and design just for this project,” Dougherty said.

In addition, the sheer height of the building coupled with its downtown location limited the available space for material staging, which made the project logistically challenging.

“We worked a lot with the suppliers on delivery schedules. We brought material in during off-hours and used phased delivery,” Dougherty said.

Huen Electric successfully managed the cost of materials, one issue that could have become a large problem.

“The cost of materials escalated by almost two to three times what was originally projected. So, we had to work with our suppliers and our own staff to get material early in order to lock in pricing. In fact, we had to take delivery on some material years ahead to keep the pricing in line,” Dougherty said.

However, Huen Electric was confident the reward was worth the risk.

The fact that cranes were used on the roof for the majority of the project created some issues that Huen Electric needed to overcome. Because the project was running during a time when crane construction accidents were in the spotlight, additional inspections and safeguards were put in place. Stanish said his company worked around the concern.

“Working with the Chicago Fire Prevention Bureau to allow this building to open while tower cranes were still in operation was a challenge at times. There were many meetings to discuss this,” he said.

Huen Electric was able to keep up with the fast pace of the project, which spanned three harsh Chicago winters.

“Due to the cold weather, it became necessary to convert a wet fire protection riser into a dry standpipe to maintain the availability of water at the deck levels in the event of a fire,” Stanish said.

In the end, the project was a success. Huen Electric enjoys complex projects that allow the company to highlight its contracting experience.

“We were able to mobilize quickly and execute on time,” Dougherty said.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at

About the Author

Jennifer Leah Stong-Michas

Freelance Writer
Jennifer Leah Stong-Michas is a freelance writer who lives in central Pennsylvania.

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