Published In September 2000
Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, has always had a passion for Jimi Hendrix’s music. His interest first led him to amass the world’s largest personal collection of Hendrix memorabilia, then to share it with the public. Allen’s passion sparked a dream––a one-of-a-kind interactive music museum dedicated to the creative and innovative expression that defines American popular music––that Evergreen was instrumental in bringing to life. The 140,000-square-feet interactive EMP museum includes a vast amount of low-voltage, computer network, and other audio, video, and fiber optic cable work that makes the exhibits come alive. The data cable, installed in the building by the end of March (four months before the scheduled opening), could already wrap once around the Earth. And Evergreen Technologies, one of three companies under the Evergreen umbrella, is the one that was awarded the contract to perform this extensive voice/data/video (VDV) work. “We acquired the project through our previous relationship with EMP when we performed both the traditional electric and the voice/data/video installations at the company’s headquarters facility,” explained Peter LaBarge, Evergreen’s project engineer, who joined Evergreen in 1993. Vulcan Ventures is a venture capital company, started by Paul Allen, which makes the investments that promote his vision of a wired world. In February 1999, Allen asked Evergreen to bid on the $2 million telecommunications project. Two months later, the contract was awarded. The company’s first day on-site was May 1, 1999, and throughout the project there have been 12 to 15 technicians on site, with a peak number of 24. LaBarge said technicians planned to be onsite for the museum’s June 23 opening, as well, to ensure smooth operations of the technical systems. In April, the general contractor, Hoffman Construction, Seattle, Wash., presented Evergreen with the drawings for the museum’s telecommunications infrastructure. “We first brought the drawings to the facility and walked through the museum, deciding what needed to be done and how to map out the project,” LaBarge explained. Discussions were then held with the customer to determine its initial requirements of the infrastructure. “For example, one branch equipment center and the main equipment center were already built and ready to be roughed-in immediately,” James Flores, project foreman, said. Flores, who joined Evergreen in 1997, has worked as an installer technician and foreman for various telecommunications contractors. The main equipment center (MEC) is the backbone and brains of the entire museum. Approximately 13 branch equipment centers (BECs) in the museum serve as distribution points. Flores and LaBarge determined the necessary levels of materials and manpower, based on the drawings. Next, they presented their plan of attack to the customer, before beginning actual work. Evergreen Technologies has installed telecommunications infrastructures in baseball stadiums and other sporting venues, as well as in office and industrial facilities. “We’ve been installing new telecommunication technologies for a decade in just about every kind of commercial building you can think of,” LaBarge said. In total, Evergreen was responsible for furnishing, installing, testing, and placing in full operating condition all of the equipment and devices necessary for a complete telecommunications system inside the museum. “We approached the work with an awareness of the inherent challenges that come with such a high-profile project,” said LaBarge. A dedicated crew was assigned to the site that focused solely on the project. “The learning curve was decreased dramatically by not moving electricians to and from jobs,” stated Flores. The project’s basic scope of work is divided into three phases. *Communication, audio, and video wiring installation from the MEC to the 13 BECs. As Hoffman Construction completed each BEC, Evergreen technicians roughed-in the telecommunication infrastructure. The whole process took 10 months. *Floor box installation. Each floor box is a 2-foot by 2-foot concrete tile that houses both the electrical and VDV fiber optic wiring that runs underneath the flooring. “From each of the 13 BECs, wiring is run to the approximately 80 floor boxes, which support the exhibits that are spread throughout the museum,” Flores explained. *Telecommunications wiring from various BECs to certain dedicated wall locations. These locations are spread in various parts of the facility such as individual exhibits, retail shops, ticket offices, etc. In addition, all the wiring is designed to accommodate future growth and technological changes. After each phase of the telecommunication system was installed, it was tested, then detailed documentation was provided to the owner. Through a rare, and technologically advanced, journey through the power of music, visitors to the museum will view nearly 80,000 artifacts that have shaped musical history. The exhibits include musical instruments, from one of the first electrical guitars to the those used by artists such as Bob Dylan, Bo Diddley, Muddy Water, and Kurt Cobain. The museum also includes an extensive sound archive, films, photographs, fan magazines, stage costumes, and hand-written song lyrics and rare song sheets. The project’s size is difficult to imagine. There is almost exactly as much steel and concrete in the EMP museum as in a 20-story office building of normal proportions, and there is enough air moving through the building to fill a Goodyear blimp every minute. Conditions during construction were crowded, to say the least. “During the 10-month construction phase, the four-story building accommodated 20 trades with a total of 300 to 400 workers,” LaBarge recalled. Rising to the challenge The numerous trades on-site, each with its own timelines and contract requirements, sometimes made life difficult for the Evergreen crew. The Skychurch exhibit, a concert venue containing the largest concentration of technical equipment, presented a particular challenge. Evergreen was tasked with installing the sound, audio, and video equipment for the display, which consists of state-of-the-art speakers, video, and plasma screens, along with a DJ booth and access to interactive technology applications. Technicians often worked four stories high on open catwalks and high-lifts to install equipment. The relatively small area of the exhibit was a challenge to work in, given the high concentration of floor boxes (five) in one area. The aspect of laying a high volume of cable in a short time with so many other trades competing for the same space seemed to be a prescription for disaster. State-of-the-art equipment could be dropped, cable could be crushed or broken, deadlines could be missed, or the crew could be injured. Evergreen’s crew, through concentrated effort, careful planning, and extensive daily communications with the other trades onsite, was able to execute this piece of EMP without incident due to the concentrated effort of the crew, careful planning, and extensive communication with the other trades on site on a daily basis. “The amount of coordination necessary to pull this off has been incredible,” Flores said. He met with the other trades’ representatives daily, sometimes more than once, to discuss the day’s scheduled work, the overall progress of the project, and how to solve any technical problems that had arisen. Scheduling was another challenge. Some of the project materials, such as the pre-bundled fiber optic assemblies for the BECs, required long lead-times. Yet, Evergreen technicians were only able to measure the exact square footages of the cable pathways after they were put in place. At the same time, they needed to be ready to run wire into those pathways immediately upon their completion. So the project management team used the approximate distance from the MEC to each BEC and the project timeline, developed by Hoffman Construction, to schedule ordering the fiber optic assemblies. “It forced us to plan very carefully and to ensure months ahead of time that the material would arrive when it was needed,” Flores said. The museum’s telecommunications system is a large, involved, and intricate web of information transfer. “This project has given us an opportunity to improve and develop our communications skills and procedures between the office, the field staff, vendors, and other trades,” LaBarge said. The 10-month schedule meant that all project staff, from the manager and foreman to each individual technician, had to be committed and dedicated to ensuring that it was completed on time. Electrical work as well In addition to the extensive VDV work performed, Evergreen also competitively bid for the electrical work on the Artist Journey portion of the EMP project and was ultimately awarded the electrical scope on a GMAX contract. “Our work scope was to furnish and install lighting, power, fire alarm, and control cables for what was referred to as Elements 6 and 7 of the project,” John McBride, Evergreen Electrical Contractors vice president, said. Element 6 work took place in the area beneath the existing Seattle center monorail and contains retail, video walls, and sound production to prestage the patrons for the ride. Element 7 is split into Act I and Act II. Act I is a circular stair that houses an oculus that can be lowered into the stair area and set up for different show presentations. Act II is the ride portion of the show and contains a motion base platform with project booth and sound production equipment. “EEC was responsible for hard wiring the different systems and assisting the owners design team in integrating the system,” McBride said. “The latter stage of the project was a 24 x 7 responsibility that followed a critical path schedule from start to finish.” Making it work Evergreen was founded in 1979 by Jim Mackey, president, and Keith Anderson, who remained as co-owner before he retired in 1990. Before starting the company, Mackey spent nine years working for various electrical contractors as an engineer, project manager, and estimator. In just 21 years, Evergreen has grown into a company with average annual sales of more than $50 million. The company provides engineering and design services, with most projects being design-build. “It really just evolved that way,” Mackey said. “Providing design/build projects adds more value to our services and sets us apart from our competitors.” Evergreen is actually divided into three separate companies, all of which service clients nationwide. *The original company, Evergreen Electrical Contractors, Inc., performs traditional electrical work in the commercial and industrial markets. With an average of 125 to 150 electricians, the company has annual sales of approximately $25 million. *Evergreen Technologies, Inc., which performed the telecommunications work for the EMP, provides structured cabling for computer and fiber optic systems for the commercial and industrial markets. The company was founded in 1990 to satisfy the need for a Seattle-area company that could provide the VDV services customers were demanding. This company was co-founded by Geoff Newman, president and has an average of 150 technicians and approximately $25 million in annual sales. *Evergreen Computer Services, Inc., performs systems integration work for network systems, and provides local area networks (LANs) for commercial and industrial businesses. It was founded in 1995 to fill the needs of smaller businesses in establishing computer networks and has 10 technicians and $3 million in annual sales. “The company also provides wireless solutions for computer networks,” Mackey added. Corporate philosophies The company’s goal is to give its clients the best value possible, while ensuring that the quality of work is unsurpassed. To reach that goal, Evergreen attempts to find and retain the most qualified employees. “A company is only as strong as its weakest link,” Mackey observed. Evergreen’s VDV technicians are divided into small groups in which they learn about new products, techniques and methods, and technologies in almost-weekly training sessions. “We try to provide an atmosphere in which employees feel valued and in which strong long-term relationships can be established,” Mackey explained. For the customer, Evergreen provides true value and not just the lowest price. “We give customers options that allow for network flexibility and future system growth,” said Mackey. The company provides a full range of services and works to ensure that each customer realizes that it is extremely vital to the company. Future plans Evergreen continually examines its present state and then develops a vision of where it wants to go. “To succeed in today’s changing industry, an electrical contractor must be willing to embrace new technologies and to evolve with the industry,” Mackey stated. Evergreen recently merged with seven other companies located throughout the country to form NetVersant Solutions, Inc., Houston, Texas, which provides network solutions for an e-world. This new corporation’s focus is on systems integration and structured cabling solutions. “The electrical industry today is relatively fragmented with many small companies providing varied services,” Mackey explained. “We feel that there is a need in the industry for a company with a national presence that can provide customers that have operations throughout the country with voice/data/video services.” With its participation in NetVersant, the company can continue to grow and increase its presence in more U.S. cities. “NetVersant will help Evergreen be positioned to better take advantage of the expected, continued, customer demand for increasingly complex computer and network systems and structured cabling environments,” Mackey added. BREMER, is a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md. She can be reached at (410) 394-6966 or by e-mail at email@example.com.