Clearance: All Electrical Must Go!

The mall’s electrical service, located in the basement and installed in 1957, was graded as heavy industrial, with two 25-kilovolt (kV) utility services with two 35-kV, 1,200-ampere (A) oil circuit breakers, which served two 7,500-kilovolt-ampere (kVA) transformers that distributed 4,160 volts (V) to 23 unit substations, ranging in size from 150 to 750 kVA. As time went on, the electrical distribution system served the two anchor stores as well as new transformers and equipment installed during the remodels in 1986 and 2000. Those transformers then provided 120/208V, 277/480V and 4,160V power to tenants and Mayfair Mall equipment. In addition, the nearby Mayfair Bank Tower building has been fed power from each of the mall’s two 4,160V systems through underground feeders.

By 1965, Lemberg Electric Co., Inc., had been in business for 37 years when it first began work at the mall. Founder and sole proprietor Bill Lemberg provided electrical wiring and appliance repair services, and within a few decades, the company had evolved to serve the electrical construction needs of the community. When Lemberg recommended a friend to be the mall’s property manager in 1965, he could not have known that the relationship would lead to his company becoming the mall’s electrical installation and service contractor, a position Lamberg Electric still holds to this day. 

In addition to retail clients such as the Mayfair Mall, Lemberg Electric also serves the commercial, healthcare, industrial, institutional and multitenant residential markets by providing construction, design/build, sign and lighting, service, data communication, automated controls and PLCs, energy technologies, and hazardous environments wiring services. 

“Our goal is to provide innovative solutions and to ensure that each project is outfitted with the skills and equipment required to meet the customer’s goals,” said Dave Washebek, Lemberg Electric’s president.

By 2008, it had become apparent to Washebek—who began his career with Lemberg Electric in 1978 working at the mall as an apprentice electrician—that an upgrade to the electrical system was necessary because replacement parts were getting harder to find. At times, repairs even required custom-made equipment. 

“The mall had grown to twice its original size, and the electrical service had already begun to show signs of stress by the early 1990s,” he said.

Concerned for the safety of the mall, Lemberg Electric submitted an electrical systems report to the current owner, General Growth Properties (GGP). The report described the primary electrical system and how it operated at the time, system reliability, probability of failure, and recommendations to replace the entire service. 

“It was determined that the existing electrical distribution system had an 80 percent probability of failure of any given portion of the system at any given time and that its replacement would avert severe and unexpected downtime and costly repair and replacement,” Washebek said. 

GGP agreed with Lemberg Electric’s findings and authorized the project. 

“Lemberg Electric has an incredible amount of history with the facility and brought not only its vast knowledge to the table when working with the design consultants during the prebid process, but also valuable proprietary value engineering suggestions to the bid itself. We felt Lemberg was the best schooled in the project’s intent and had the ability to implement its goals,” said Mark Keleher, construction manager for GGP.

A massive undertaking

Before work even began on preparing the bid, Lemberg spent two months creating updated computer-aided design drawings of the existing system. Then, in preparing the bid, Lemberg worked with EDG Engineering, GGP’s electrical engineering firm for its malls, on the potential structural changes that would be required for the new electrical services and the optimal locations for the new electrical distribution rooms. 

“Lemberg was extremely helpful in providing recommendations for improvement. There were only rough as-builts available of the physical layout of the basement with little to no documentation for the various changes made throughout the years. Without Lemberg’s involvement and input, the project would have been delayed with various field verification tasks and extensive documentation revisions,” said David J. Mantone, P.E., principal of EDG.

The contract was awarded in September 2012, and completion of the $7 million electrical portion is scheduled for December 2013. Lemberg Electric is actually the general contractor for the project with general construction, plumbing, HVAC and fire protection under its contract.

The complete electrical system replacement includes the installation of 16 sections of 25-kV switchgear with two 600A main switches, one tie switch, two metering sections, two corner sections, nine feeder 600A switch sections and 18 tandem loop switches installed in the nine new electrical distribution rooms built by Hunzinger Construction Co., Brookfield, Wis. 

“There are also two 14-section 600A, 5-kV switchboards with tie break switches included in the installation,” said Steve Mueller, Lemberg’s project manager. 

Lemberg and Hunzinger have worked successfully together on a variety of different jobs over the years. 

“With its knowledge of both the existing and replacement systems and a staff that has been working in the mall for years, Lemberg Electric is integral to delivering a successful project and properly ensuring minimal disruption for the client,” said Joe Hildebrand, senior project manager for Hunzinger.

The list of electrical equipment that makes up the new electrical distribution system includes 13 25-kV transformers that use environmentally friendly FR3 fluid, four low-voltage step-up transformers for outdoor and parking lot lighting, new metering devices to help the mall reconcile energy usage with the utility bill, and two 300-kilowatt (kW) diesel generators (one for each adjacent office building tower) to provide backup power for the fire pumps and life safety system. 

“When completed, the installation will use 6,000 feet of 4-inch galvanized rigid conduit, 4,500 feet of 3-inch galvanized rigid conduit, and 26,000 feet of 25-kV cabling,” Mueller said.

A project of such magnitude has challenges. One of the first was finding space to install such large pieces of equipment and avoid moving any of the concrete load-bearing columns or performing any major structural changes.

Lemberg’s project team worked closely with EDG to lay out the plans for the equipment and to develop the necessary drawings. 

“A few unexpected challenges presented themselves, but Lemberg came to the table with solutions that were not only workable, but didn’t result in added construction cost or affect the quality of the design or installation,” Mantone said.

Being the GC is its own challenge, Mueller said. 

“When you’re the subcontractor, you focus primarily on that scope. As the general contractor, you must incorporate the needs of the rest of the project team in managing the scope,” he said. 

Lemberg has adjusted to its expanded role by ensuring that the overall construction schedule is maintained, holding weekly progress meetings with its subcontractors and monthly meetings with the owners, documenting the results and ensuring that solutions to problems are being implemented. 

“Lemberg Electric’s due diligence in the early phases of the project and the company’s preplanning and forethought have been instrumental in keeping the project on schedule,” Keleher said.

Perhaps the biggest challenge, however, has been keeping the mall fully operational while the new service is being installed. Of course, during the cutover to the new service, every tenant will inevitably experience some sort of an outage. 

“Scheduling these outages and coordinating with the tenant to minimize disruption will be extremely challenging,” Washebek said. 

In the end

Despite its long-term relationship with the mall and its owner, the company still had to competitively bid the project. However, the fact that the plans (developed with EDG) were based partly on Lemberg’s experience with the existing equipment meant that Lemberg had an advantage going into the bid. 

“It’s unique for any business to maintain a customer for almost 50 years through multiple owners,” Washebek said. And for him, this job was more personal than any other. “I have grown along with this customer from apprentice electrician to president of a company that has earned the responsibility of maintaining the mall’s electrical systems for all those years and to ultimately perform such a major equipment replacement project.”

I n the 1950s, the economy was booming, the suburbs were growing and shopping malls were just beginning to gain traction. Milwaukee’s Mayfair Mall was built in 1956 as an open-concept shopping center. It had an unusual inclusion: a full basement, which held multiple loading docks and was designed to serve as a fallout shelter in case of atomic attack. By 1973, the mall had been enclosed, and subsequent remodels in 1986 and 2000 added a second floor and increased its size to 1.1 million square feet. Today, the below-grade lower level still includes loading docks and a quarter-mile loop for trucks to make daily deliveries.

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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