A Congressional Experience

When a facility such as the Edward M. Kennedy Institute (EMKI) opens its doors to the public, the collaboration that made it a reality isn’t apparent. Of course, the state-of-the-art lighting, automation and room to grow are obvious and impressive, but behind the story of the institute for learning and lifelike Senate experience is a general contractor and host of subcontractors that worked together for several years to ensure the building met its deadlines and offered all of the cutting-edge features.

The EMKI showcases the 47-year career of the late Massachusetts senator, Edward “Ted” Kennedy, as well as the history and functions of the U.S. Senate. With that in mind, the building, located on the campus of the University of Massachusetts (UMass), Boston, features an exact likeness of the U.S. Senate chamber, provides information about senators from every state, and has classroom space. It also features a replica of Kennedy’s Washington, D.C., office.

This $57 million project required the collaboration of contractors, including electrical contractor Lynnwell Associates, which provided primary electrical construction; J.M. Electrical Co. Inc., which installed the building automation controls; an architect, engineers and designers; and Kennedy’s wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, who helped design the institute’s concept.

Other electrical contractors included Boston Lightning Rod Co. of Dedham, Mass., for the lightning-protection system and LAN-TEL Communications Inc., Norwood, Mass., for the tele-data installations. The 68,000-square-foot building was designed by architect Rafael Viñoly and is located adjacent to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum at the UMass Boston campus on the Columbia Point waterfront.

The building’s centerpiece is the full-scale Senate Chamber, and it also includes a lobby, three large classrooms and an exhibition area. The public, UMass students and faculty members can view dramatic recreations of significant moments in U.S. Senate history inside a large amphitheater that can replicate the current Senate chamber or the one from 1810–1859.

Lynnwell won the $5.1 million contract for electrical work in January 2013. It installed the primary and emergency power distribution systems as well as all interior and outdoor lighting, according to Larry Mahoney, Lynnwell vice president and project executive. On the low-voltage side, the company also installed the Lutron lighting controls, an Electrosonic audiovisual (AV) system and Siemens fire alarm system.

A Boston-based contractor since 1981, Lynnwell Associates Inc., has completed hundreds of projects for commercial, industrial and institutional clients. In addition to services throughout the Northeast, Lynnwell has provided electrical construction for the White House Communications Agency, the White House Press Corps and the U.S. Secret Service. The contractor’s management team and many of the employees have worked together for 25 years or more, Mahoney said.

The EMKI offered the kind of challenge the company is used to. The project came with limited space and a short time frame, which is where the close collaboration came in. Sharing space with the multiple subcontractors on-site required weekly coordination meetings and hours of planning in advance of each installation.

For example, Lynnwell and J.M. Electrical worked closely to accomplish the disconnection, transporting and subsequent rewiring of a chiller plant to feed both the EMKI and the neighboring JFK Library.

Lighting and Senate chamber

The institute features 50 granite bollards (vertical posts) at the entrance, each engraved with a state name and the date it was established, which are lit by in-ground light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures installed by Lynnwell.

Within the Senate chamber, the ceiling lighting had to match its Washington, D.C., counterpart exactly; the dome has fluorescent and incandescent lighting, and wall sconces have bi-pin fluorescent lights. All electrical work on that dome ceiling was done with nothing more than a 50-foot ladder, since lift equipment could not be brought inside due to the stepped floor, Mahoney said.

In the replica of the late senator’s office, Lynnwell installed the same lighting as the D.C. office with lamps, wall sconces and a chandelier—­all with incandescent fixtures.

Under the leadership of Lynnwell’s low-voltage project manager, Herb Buchine, the company installed the Lutron lighting system, the computer connections, AV floor boxes throughout, and projectors and an audio system for the exhibits. AV wiring included 26,000 feet of speaker cable, 28,000 feet of Cat 6 cable, 18,000 feet of multimode four-strand, 2,000 feet of antenna cable, and 8,000 feet of camera cable.

The company installed 40 electrical panels in nine different locations, including a main switchgear room and three mechanical rooms. Some panels were located in the back-of-house corridors and closets. In addition, the contractor installed three main switchboards, nine dry-type transformers and six large enclosed circuit breakers.

For backup power, Lynnwell installed a 400-kilowatt generator.

The institute includes a utility tunnel used by the electrical and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) contractors to house ductwork and feeders that run services into the building. When the project started, the tunnel stood 7 feet high, 20 feet wide and 70 feet long. 

“Once all of the duct and conduits were installed, it turned into a crawl space,” Mahoney said. 

Within that space, the utility corridor served as a way to deliver all of the needed systems up through the building, but, most important, it allowed the only access to the area under the raised floor in the Senate chamber for electric wiring.

“We had to do a lot of coordination,” Mahoney said, adding that this included drawing out each plan in a 3-D building information model.

Space for equipment and materials was also confined from day one. Because the EMKI site is on the UMass campus, contractors were limited to a strict no-parking policy and had small staging areas. All of the larger equipment was staged off-site, and deliveries had to be scheduled.

Contractors faced hiring challenges, as well. The project required 50 percent of the electricians to be Boston-area residents, 10 percent to be female and 25 percent to be minority. Mahoney said that the company has similar requirements on many of its jobs, so the contractor is used to accommodating those guidelines and meeting the challenge.

At peak, Lynnwell had 43 electricians and four low-voltage technicians on the job.

Building controls

J.M. Electrical provided the controls for the HVAC contractor. One task was moving the existing chiller from a freestanding structure where it served the JFK Library, then installing a new chiller alongside it with a new control system. The chiller pumps, valves, actuators and frequency drives had to be integrated onto one system. 

“We really required military precision for that process,” said Niall Black, J.M. Electrical Co. project manager.

It required disconnection from the JFK Library system, then refeeding it to both JFK Library and the EMKI.

Because the chiller would be disconnected until a parallel temporary unit could be connected, moving it depended on the weather. In the summer of 2014, the chiller was dismantled, moved and rebuilt with rewiring completed in about two weeks, Black said.

“It has to happen flawlessly,” he said. “Once we say go, there’s no turning back.”

J.M. Electrical completed the work with one foreman and four electricians who were highly specialized in the automation field.

With the EMKI system, J.M. Electrical managed the relocation and connection of the chillers and built all HVAC controls for the HVAC contractor.

As with any installation, climate control is critical. It is particularly true in the EMKI, where the automation system conserves energy and protects the wood in the Senate Chamber, Black said.

J.M. Electrical has been providing controls; heating; cooling; medical and wastewater treatment instrumentation; retrofits for pumps, boilers and chillers; and security systems for 30 years, said Matthew Guarracino, J.M. Electrical’s business development manager. This project was not foreign to the company.


LAN-TEL installed the telecommunications cabling system for the institute. That task consisted of running 85,000 feet of Cat 6 cable that brought power to workstation outlets. The contractor also installed wireless access points—27 on the first floor and eight on the second floor.

The tele-data system included a main distribution frame (MDF) on the second floor (where balconies are located) with the necessary telecom racks and four intermediate distribution frames (IDFs) on the first floor. These IDFs were installed in large wall openings rather than in rooms dedicated for their storage. This was necessary to save space on the first floor, said David Stevenson, LAN-TEL project manager.

The system needed to follow a 295-foot limit for cable length between the MDF and IDFs and the owner wanted flexibility to expand fiber connectivity in the future. For that reason, LAN-TEL installed air-blown fiber optic cable between the MDF and each IDF. LAN-TEL used 24-strand multimode fiber specially designed for that purpose. In the future, if EMKI needs to increase its fiber optic capacity, more fiber can be blown into the conduit.

“The tubing itself takes just as much time to install as running any cable,” Stevenson said, adding that it actually just takes a matter of minutes to blow fiber in, which will make future expansion easier.

Boston Lightning Rod provided the engineering and design as well as installation of a full lightning-protection system on the facility’s exterior.

When the project was complete, members of the Kennedy family met with contractors, and Mahoney recalls his conversation with Victoria Kennedy, who indicated that the building would be a source of pride for the family and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

“I think EMKI serves as another jewel in the crown of the Kennedy family and Massachusetts,” Black said. “To take the Senate floor and make a replica, that’s a real achievement.”

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