Cherry City Electric

Go-to Team for Oregon Convention Center

This lead electrical contractor goes with the flow to accomplish massive makeover and expansion of Portland facility

Located in the city of Portland, the Oregon Convention Center recently underwent an expansion that doubled the size of the facility, providing an additional 450,000 square feet that consists of two floors of underground parking, eight ballrooms, 20 meeting rooms, three new exhibit halls, staff offices and VIP rooms for viewing exhibits in progress.

The expanded facility would require Cherry City Electric of Salem, Ore., to install new power distribution, telephony, lighting and controls, and security and fire alarm systems as well as upgrade the security and fire alarm in the existing part of the center. Work began on the $116 million expansion project in December 2001, and included an $11.7 million budget for both the high- and low-voltage systems by the time the work was completed in August 2003. Cherry City Electric had an average of 35 electricians and technicians on site, with a peak force of 80 workers for approximately six months.

The job was competitively bid, although only four electrical contractors in total were invited to submit plans to the general contractor, Hoffman Construction Co. of Oregon.

“The invitation to bid was based on our previous working relationship with Hoffman,” said Ray Ellis, vice president and general manager at Cherry City.

The two companies have worked together for about a decade on projects and have formed an excellent working relationship.

“Cherry City was invited to bid on the expansion project because of their experience working on similar types of projects and their relevant skills and experience,” said Dave Garske, project executive for Hoffman. Cherry City Electric has worked on similar projects including Portland’s Rose Garden Arena, the Portland Expo Hall and the Arrowhead Arena in Anaheim, Calif.

Other team members included CBG Consulting Engineer, Portland, which designed the electrical system; Sparling Electrical and Technology Consulting, Seattle, which designed the telecommunication and security systems; NBBJ, also from Seattle and designer of the lighting systems; and the architectural firm of Zimmer Gunsul Frasca (ZGF) Partnership, Portland.

“Other than working previously with Sparling over the past few years—mostly in medical facilities—and with Hoffman Construction on previous projects, we had not worked before with the other members of the team. It was an excellent opportunity to forge new relationships for the future,” said Ellis.

From the beginning

The work was not without challenges along the way. Before any other work could begin, the two-floor underground parking facility had to be constructed. Once that was completed, the shell for the new facility could be built, and Cherry City could commence its operations. “The first two months of the project included retrofitting the existing facility with a new fire alarm system,” said Mike Guinn, Cherry City’s project director. The company’s technicians had to remove and reinstall all existing fire alarm pull stations, duct detectors, smoke detectors and strobes to ensure that the devices would interface with the new control and monitoring system. After getting the system up and running, field personnel began the installation of the fire alarm devices in the new parking facility.

During the process, many dampers were discovered that were not on the electrical drawings. For the next year, new fire alarm components were added to the system until it grew to contain more than 1,200 devices.

“Additional devices included duct detectors and relays to de-energize the power to the dampers in case of smoke,” Guinn said.

At the same time, a new 750kW replacement generator was being installed by Cherry City electricians and tied into the facility’s existing switchgear.

“The larger unit was necessary to handle the increased load of the expansion’s systems [and] was necessary in case of power loss,” explained Guinn. This was in addition to a second new generator that was added to the parking structure.

In summer of 2002, work began on the security system, including card access control devices, door contacts, closed circuit television surveillance (CCTV) cameras and electric locks, all of which had to be integrated with the devices in the existing building before being terminated at the main security control room. The job required Cherry City technicians to install 30 cameras in the expansion and upgrade another 30 in the existing part of the facility. “The system was also prewired to accommodate future growth of up to 100 additional cameras,” Guinn said. In total, about one dozen access control devices, more than 100 door contacts and some 40 electric door locks were installed.

Another part of the project was the installation of the main backbone system for new power distribution. First, the local utility installed a transformer in the newly constructed vault in the parking structure. Then, the transformer fed power to the main electrical room, which provided the facility with a 5,000A, 480/277V service. From that point, Cherry City electricians ran the conduit and wires into the expanded convention center shell and then to the various satellite electric rooms and panelboards. From the panelboards, power was delivered to the individual receptacles, pieces of equipment, mechanical equipment and devices located in the offices, ballrooms, exhibit halls and meeting rooms.

Bright lights of Broadway

The lighting for the project consisted of more than 100 different types of light fixtures and lamp sources, including HID, fluorescent, architectural, customized fixtures for the ballroom, sconces, landscape lighting, and security and emergency egress lighting —6,300 fixtures in all. “The 16 customized fixtures for the ballroom were constructed based on the architect’s conceptual drawings and cost over $120,000,” Guinn said. Lighting controls included programmable dimming racks to control light levels for special events and exhibits. Cherry City electricians installed up to 700 different relays and lighting controls throughout the new facility. The lighting system was also integrated with the security and fire alarm systems.

Finally, more than 500 telephone outlets were installed by Cherry City technicians in the offices and meetings rooms, along with 450 fiber optic drops, and 2,600 Cat 6 drops to provide complete data services connectivity throughout the facility. A total of 132 special floor vaults were installed in the expansion, which contained custom electrical panels and communication devices to allow convention personnel to adapt the lighting and communication capabilities for each event.

Meeting the challenge

Many of the fire alarm devices that were found in the existing facility were not on the drawings and, since the company used the existing wiring for the new devices, these old ones could not be “read” by the new system, according to Guinn. “We had to physically walk throughout the building and locate the devices that weren’t accounted for on the drawings,” he said. Once located, the device was either replaced and rewired so that it could be located by the new system or it was removed entirely.

In addition, it was discovered late in summer 2002 that the door hardware system, including door holders, emergency door blow-outs, power for the door hardware system and the interfaces of the hardware with the security and fire alarm systems had not been designed. “Our project superintendent, Craig Moelhman, along with our project engineers, immediately began working on designing the door hardware system and the wiring for its integration,” said Guinn. Company personnel formulated dozens of required drawings even as construction commenced so the project could remain on schedule.

The more than 500 revisions to the building’s plans created their own set of difficulties. It became necessary for Cherry City to have an on-site CAD operator to continually update the drawings for the electricians.

“We were able to rely on the experience and technical expertise of our field personnel to quickly assimilate the changes and adjust the construction schedules accordingly,” Guinn recalled. As far as logistics overall, the company used a crew of five people dedicated entirely to scheduling material delivery and transporting the necessary tools, equipment and supplies around the site, he added.

Involvement with project details and great flexibility in managing crews and scheduling work enabled the team to deliver a successful project, according to Garske.

“Cherry City helped us to look ahead and plan ways to overcome obstacles before they occurred. They did everything asked of them and more,” he 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.

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.