Transparent in Toledo

Some low-voltage contractors relish the chance to get creative and provide unique installations for signature buildings. These showcase projects often are public places, such as museums, which make a statement about the community, the history of an area, or about what can be found inside.

Toledo, Ohio-based Romanoff Electric and its subsidiary Chapel-Romanoff Technology (CRT)—a security and voice/data/video technology company also in Toledo—share a name and parent company: Quebe Holdings Inc.

In 1927, two unrelated Russian immigrants who shared a last name—Max and Jack Romanoff—opened Romanoff Electric. The company provided residential electrical installations to a growing Toledo population. Today, Romanoff Electric provides industrial, heavy commercial and healthcare electrical construction as well as signature constructions for the public sector.

The Romanoff team’s unique installations can be found throughout the area, each making use of some improvisation. For example, the power and low-voltage work at the University of Toledo’s Center for Visual Arts (CVA) required Romanoff Electric to run cable in the few walls that were available and even in the beams rather than the ceilings.

In 2006, Romanoff Electric provided high- and low-voltage installation for the Toledo Glass Pavilion, part of the Toledo Museum of Art, which had used the company’s services before. The new glass pavilion was built to tell of the city’s history in the glass industry, which dates back to 1895. At that time, the Toledo Glass Co. made light bulbs, and eventually, it moved on to bottles and windows. The art museum planners wanted a postmodern building, connected to the museum’s existing structure, to display the world-renowned glass collection, which includes more than 5,000 pieces of art dating from ancient times to today. The 76,000-square-foot pavilion won Travel + Leisure’s 2007 design award for “Best Museum.”

Romanoff Electric bid on the project in 2004 through Rudolph/Libbe Inc., the general contractor (GC). Rudolph/Libbe broke ground for the pavilion in April of the same year. For Romanoff Electric, it was a $1.9 million project with an additional $68,000 low-voltage contract. Installation of that low-voltage wiring would be unlike that at any other project.

“We have the expertise to do this kind of work,” said Russ Zimmerman, Romanoff Electric president. “But we’ve never worked with a glass building before.”

However, Romanoff Electric had been working with Rudolph /Libbe for 27 years, so the two contractors were comfortable with each other. With the owner, architect and GC, Romanoff Electric formed an electric installation strategy for placement in the basement and ceiling.

Clearly challenging

At the pavilion, all exterior and most interior walls consisted of large panels of curved glass, creating the appearance of transparency and intending to eliminate any separation between interior and exterior space. The 150,000 square feet of 13.5-foot-high panels were designed to bear only their own weight and to fit into channels in the ceiling and floor that were precisely cut to allow for a 2-inch downward deflection of the roof for snow and a 5/8-inch deflection upward for wind.

Because the one-story structure with a basement has such a low-profile design—only 15 feet from the finished ground floor surface to the top of the roof—the roof cavity would be less than 2 feet. That narrow space needed to encompass the drywall ceilings, structural steel, roof insulation and roofing membrane. Other items in the cavity would be heating and cooling coils at the exterior walls of the building, roof drains and, of course, electrical cabling for all the lighting and fans. Fitting everything in that very tight space would be one of Romanoff Electric’s greatest challenges.

“The ceiling was very limited in height from the finished ceiling to the roof deck. It was about 16 inches, including the structural beams,” Zimmerman said.

In that space, workers had to complete the installation

for 929 lighting fixtures as well as run conduit for the rooftop exhaust fans.

“There were very few access points in the finished ceiling, which meant we could not have any j-boxes. All conduits had to go from the device back to an accessible ceiling,” he said.

The other challenge for Romanoff Electric was the glass walls. Category 6 cable and fiber would bring power to the lighting automation, security, telecom and fire alarm systems, but it needed to be done without drywall or even concrete slabs to work with. In this case, the installation would require that contractors and the subcontractors, such as electrical; mechanical; and heating, ventilating and air conditioning, share a small space in the basement and in the aforementioned ceiling.

Seeing it through

Rudolph/Libbe and Kendall Headon, the coordinating architect, held a conference call with the New York-based representatives of Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates Ltd. (SANAA), every other Thursday for which Romanoff Electric provided updates. Pouring the concrete for the 18-inch basement slab began in the summer and continued into the fall. In late fall, Rudolph/Libbe started erecting the steel and then worked on the roofing to have the building sealed before winter. The rubber membrane of the roof was installed to drop down over the side of the structure, providing a weather barrier for the ceiling cavity behind aluminum fascia panels.

For the project’s first phase, Romanoff Electric went to work in the basement on the high- and low-voltage electrical systems, including lighting, security and telecom. In the basement, workers installed the switchgear, chillers and air-handling equipment. The building was divided into 8-foot square grids to manage the limited space—locations for running cable and other mechanical through the concrete slab up into the first story of the one-story museum were precise and limited. This included low-voltage cable that went through very specific locations and then was fed up to the ceiling or directly to the source.

Romanoff Electric ran cable for lighting, exhaust units, and fire alarm and security systems from the basement to the ceiling through the warming kitchen area. Because of the space constraints, the lighting fixtures, sprinkler heads and other fixtures needed to line up perfectly.

When a problem in the steel erection caused a four-month delay, Romanoff Electric was confined to continuing its work only in the basement, Zimmerman said. The return and intake connections went into a slotted grill in the first floor. As there was some concern that too many conduits would weaken the slabs, Zimmerman had to run them directly to the panel rather than putting them in racks in the basement.

Romanoff Electric installed the emergency generator at a separate property to maintain the pristine appearance outside the pavilion. The generator was installed with the cooling towers and pumps and was connected to the pavilion with cable running under a nearby road.

Work on the ground floor began in the spring. The U-shaped stainless steel glass track was fastened to the structural concrete deck by this time, and the topping slab was poured up to the track.

In the summer, Rudolph/Libbe began putting in drywall ceilings. Most of the ground floor rooms have glass walls, including the multipurpose room, the cafe and primary exhibit spaces.

Polishing it off

Because the glass walls wouldn’t allow for mounting,

Romanoff Electric installed many of the temperature and humidity sensors on custom, stainless steel stands placed in the floor. Door openers were recessed into the floor with push-button stands.

Romanoff Electric also ran wires for the security system and installed the cameras—a total of 38 cameras at various locations around the structure’s interior as well as on-site lighting poles on the building’s exterior. The company also installed motion detectors.

Altogether, Romanoff Electric installed 60,000 feet of Cat 6 cable and 38,000 feet of Cat 5 cable for the telecom system and for security, including door locks and motion sensors. The electrical contractor ran the system from a single cable tray, which was divided into four parts: VDV, fire alarm, security and temperature control. The cameras were connected back to the main museum building’s security control room. The control room could allow or deny building access during off hours to the pavilion and also monitor the cameras during business hours. Romanoff Electric also ran 3,500 feet of fiber for the tie between the main museum building and glass pavilion for the voice, data and security.

The building opened about a year late, but the electrical portion was not the cause of the delay. At peak there were 13 to 15 Romanoff Electric men on the job with six to eight of them working on the low-voltage systems.

Two years later, Zimmerman said, he still enjoys seeing the building in operation.

“It definitely was a signature project for Toledo,” he said.

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

About the Author

Claire Swedberg

Freelance Writer
Claire Swedberg is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at .

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