Renovation Remedies

Hudson County, N.J., is taking an icon of the past—the old Block Drug Headquarters in Jersey City—and resurrecting it as the county’s new administrative building for 1,100 employees. The $50 million, two-year project, scheduled for completion at the end of 2008, will transform what was a utilitarian pharmaceutical manufacturing facility into a state-of-the-art center for county business that is designed to welcome the community. To bring it to fruition, Sal Electric Co. Inc., Jersey City, is providing the electrical restoration and expansion for the project.

The Block Drug building has a long history. The structure was built 80 years ago as a manufacturing site. Block Drug moved into the building in the 1950s, making it the company’s national headquarters. Block Drug researched, developed and manufactured pharmaceutical and household products there, including Gold Bond powder and Sensodyne toothpaste.

In 2001, GlaxoSmithKline, a U.K. pharmaceutical company, bought Block Drug and the Jersey City building that came with it. In 2004, Hudson County—New Jersey’s most densely populated county—purchased the Block Drug building from GlaxoSmithKline for approximately $15 million.

Until construction began in 2007, it stood vacant, while the county retained several employees from the Block Drug facility to maintain the interior and exterior of the building. Those building services included maintenance for safety and freezing conditions.

When work is completed, the cost of the upgrades and changes will be approximately $36 million. The seven-story, 340,000-square-foot building will house 14 Hudson County departments, such as the Department of Health and Human Services. Other floors will hold the County Clerk, Superintendent of Elections, the Board of Elections and the Sheriff’s Department, which will be responsible for the 24-hour security for the building. The building will have several sheriff’s department holding cells and the Hudson County 911 call center, but the court administration and courtrooms are located elsewhere.

In addition, the building will include a new county-operated chest clinic that previously was located in the Jersey City Medical Center. Because staff members at the old clinic had to leave their current location by the end of 2007, they were the first to begin occupying the new administrative plaza.

When finished, the building will bear little resemblance to its former self. The structure will have new entrances, two new elevators, new lighting fixtures and a new air conditioning system for the clinic.

The property includes 16 acres, much of which now is paved with 600 parking spaces. A second nearby parcel is nearly three acres. Construction crews will upgrade grounds, adding a small public park and landscaping, widening the sidewalks and building new bus stops.

Sundry systems

Sal Electric Co. Inc., founded in 1963, is one of the largest NECA-IBEW electrical contractors in New Jersey. The company’s crew provides electrical and voice/data/video construction on everything from offices and educational facilities to government buildings, healthcare and data centers. The company was able to exercise much of its various systems expertise in this project.

Sal Electric is providing all electrical and low-voltage work with a contract of more than $7 million, said Sal Electric’s project manager Gregory Inguanti. The bulk of the wiring installation includes new distribution, new branch circuits, the addition of special systems and a new emergency system.

Sal Electric’s men first got on the site on June 1, 2007. “[At that point,] the building had not been occupied for several years,” Inguanti said.

Building renovation began early in 2007 with asbestos abatement, some interior wall demolition and plans for expansion.

“Certain walls were to remain, and others were replaced,” Inguanti said. “Most of the installation was run in stairwells and storage closets or electrical/mechanical spaces.”

With the renovation, Sal Electric is installing a new secondary distribution system. The company found that portions of the existing system could be salvaged, and the salvaged sections will tie into the new distribution system. The new distribution system requires all new wiring for panels and transformers salvaged from the existing distribution panels. On the other hand, the branch circuitry is all new.

“Most of the existing distribution was and continues to be a three-phase distribution grid with 240 volts,” Inguanti said, adding that this requires 240/120/208-volt transformers to derive receptacle and lighting fixture voltages.

Sal Electric will install the power wiring to new units in the heating, ventilating and air conditioning system and power wiring for the new elevator. The company also is building in a new uninterruptible power supply system with a Liebert UPS 50 kVa/40 kW unit. Sal Electric also installed a new emergency power generator. Workers brought in 500 kW for building services and 150 kW for the 911 call center.

Throughout the facility, the company is running a new lightning protection system. The system is a design/build project for Sal Electric, which the team designed to comply with standard requirements for LPI 175, NFPA 780 and UL 96A. The system includes counterpoise grounding, air terminals, down conductors and ground rods. In addition, the system will be designed to receive UL Master Label certification.

The company also is installing new lighting fixtures throughout the facility. All told, roughly 5,300 fixtures will be installed for interior lighting. Fixture types will include exits, emergency wallpacks, lay-in fixtures and pendants. In addition, Sal Electric is installing some decorative fixtures in conference rooms and the main lobby. Workers also are running new site lighting.

Outside the building, parking lots were renovated, and Sal Electric is installing site lighting, which amounted to standard pole lights. It also is installing limited decorative lighting fixtures around a new fountain area.

On the security side, Sal Electric is installing the new security and surveillance system as well as a new X-ray and metal detection system for entry to the building.

Sal Electric also will install a Johnson Controls state-of-the-art, Internet-protocol-based video surveillance system throughout the building and a doorway access control system. These IP-based solutions allow video and access control to be integrated with the customers’ existing IP infrastructure. In the numerous surrounding parking lots, Sal Electric installed barrier gate operators that restrict unauthorized entrance into the parking areas.

The fire alarm system will be upgraded from the former one. Sal Electric is putting in a new Simplex fire alarm system, while keeping only small portions of the existing fire system, Inguanti said.

While the fire alarm system originally was designed to incorporate parts of the existing system, that proved not to be cost effective. After the project was awarded, it became evident, Inguanti said, that to piece meal the existing system would not only be expensive but would not meet current codes. As a result, the fire alarm system Sal Electric constructed is basically new with only limited use of existing components.

“The same applies to the teledata wiring,” Inguanti said. The original scope of this system consisted of horizontal wiring only and use of existing backbone and teledata closets. However, once they got on the site, Sal Electric determined that new closets and new backbone wiring would better serve the current and future needs of the county.

Workers ran new teledata wiring, including 15,000 feet of 100-pr Category 3 plenum voice cable, 750,000 feet of Superior Essex Category 6e plenum rated cable, and 6,000 feet of 12 MM/12 SM hybrid armor jacket-clad 50-micron fiber. They also installed 50 48-port high-density patch panels, 58 horizontal wire management panels and 45 12-port fiber panels. When finished, Sal Electric will have installed nearly 800,000 feet of data cable.

Prescription for success

“This project, more than any other project we have completed in recent history, has demanded an extreme amount of coordination, attention and efficient execution by all Sal Electric team players,” said Philip Chianetta, Sal Electric CEO and president.

That coordination began with the estimating stages between Sal Electric senior estimator, Cary Borg, and Chianetta and continued throughout the project. Details about job-specific conditions needed to be identified and addressed accordingly.

“Once the contract was awarded, the proper team needed to be assembled to work with the various personalities for the next two years,” Chianetta said. “The corporate structure assembled for this project—from project manager, to purchasing agent, the general foreman, foreman and down to all journeyman and apprentices—is essential.”

As the renovation project nears completion, Sal Electric will have 25 to 30 men on the job site. Work is expected to be finished by late 2008.

The Sal Electric team, he said, created a professional environment that allowed excellence in “performing a renovation project of this magnitude to be completed on time and on budget while maintaining a high level of productivity.”

“This project, more than any other, defines the meaning of team work,” Chianetta said.

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at


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