Fancy Footwork: McDonald Electrical Corp. Helps Renovate Converse’s Boston HQ

As part of Boston’s waterfront renaissance, American shoe company Converse has opened its new headquarters in a facility that housed manufacturing and storage for most of its almost century-long life. The building may be state-of-the-art in terms of energy efficiency and aesthetic design, but it also harkens back to its industrial roots along the Charles River. The renovation, with electrical installation by McDonald Electrical Corp. (MEC) of Hingham, Mass., showcases both the building’s history and the latest in corporate meeting spaces. Founded in 1999, MEC includes a utility division and a telecommunications and security division.

The 214,000-square-foot Hoffman Building sits at 160 North Washington Street. It maintains an open space that once accommodated heavy equipment and stacks of pallets but now features offices and cubicles designed to be modern and active.

MEC provided the light-emitting diode (LED) and fluorescent lighting in open ceilings, power drops to individual work stations, and lighting controls. The renovation also includes a public-use recording studio for local musicians with a sound system and lighting, and a 3,500-square-foot flagship retail store.

For all of these features, MEC ran the new electrical distribution system and branch circuitry. It also installed the uninterruptible power supply and fire alarm system, said Mike Lawlor, MEC project executive and project manager.

Waterfront renovation

The renovation is part of the city’s redevelopment plan to attract businesses and the public to the historic waterfront. The city replaced the existing wharf in ¾-acre sections. Today, retail spaces and offices supplant warehouses, workshops and storage yards.

The project consisted of redeveloping existing buildings that housed goods as early as 1909 when the wharf was constructed. The ­Hoffman Building—once a warehouse for candy company Schrafft’s—had sat unoccupied for several years and was becoming run down.

In turning the aging building into a 21st-century office space, Converse focused on maintaining the historic architecture while making it energy efficient and appealing to workers and members of the public. 

Staying active

The office portion of the building adheres to modern trends by encouraging its tenants to be active and engaged, with a gym for employees.

The lobby ceiling boasts a Chuck Taylor sneaker chandelier with hundreds of LED-illuminated Converse shoes.

For contractors, including MEC, the project came as a fast-track tenant fit-out. General contractor Shawmut Design and Construction, Boston, needed the project completed for early 2015. Converse planned to have employees show up for work in the spring of that year. MEC arrived on-site in September 2014.

When MEC started work, the building’s core and shell were ready for wiring. One unique feature for the subcontractors was the building’s open space. The renovation was designed to have an airy feeling, with office space divided by cubicles. By design, ceilings were specified to either be absent or exposed. For MEC, that meant the usual luxury of hiding cable trays and cable wasn’t an option. In addition, the corporate office spaces required power drops and lighting for the cubicles and offices.

Working without ceilings

“The biggest challenge I saw was that 75–80 percent of the building had no physical ceiling,” said Ralph DeVito Jr., executive principal and group leader at RDK Engineers.

While ceiling coordination is important in any project, in this case, everything that was done there would be on display.

“A lot of people don’t realize that taking out a ceiling can end up costing more money,” DeVito said.

That comes from the added effort to coordinate the space, how it is managed with subcontractors and how it will ultimately look. MEC used building information modeling (BIM) to collaborate with the other contractors.

“As part of the project, we had the contractor build a mock-up so the customer could preapprove the layout,” DeVito said.

That meant MEC created a model in one portion of the building for Converse staff to ensure the appearance would meet their needs, including how power runs would appear. DeVito said looking at a drawing is one thing, but in this case, it was important for the customer to see the real thing. The cable and duct work then had to be coordinated with the sprinkler system.

Rubber Tracks recording studio

The building’s recording studio, Rubber Tracks, is a two-story, stand-alone space overlooking the Charles River. Organizations and bands can borrow the space and the power to record music.

MEC wired in a power transfer box, known as the “company switch,” that acts as a power distribution center in the studio. It enables the sound system and stage lighting.

On the roof, MEC installed the feed for lighting and electrical power so that bands could perform public concerts and make recordings. MEC also installed the automatic transfer switch for the generator.

The executive office space on the top floor includes showrooms where athletes make appearances and shoes are displayed for marketing purposes. The high ceilings required MEC to use lifts to access the 16–18-foot level above the floor. Michael McDonald, MEC president, said there were no injuries during the project. The company held weekly safety meetings to limit risks for the work on such installations.

MEC’s electricians also reworked the existing fire alarm backbone for a new, state-of-the-art Simplex fire alarm system.

A wooden stairway that flows through the center of the open space had to be accommodated. MEC ran the electrical system around it. All circuitry, cable tray and lighting had to be routed around the center core where the stairwell was to be cut out later in the construction project, after the electrical system was installed.

By the time the project was finished, MEC had installed more than 3,200 lighting fixtures throughout the facility and a Lutron lighting control system, which Lutron Electronics Corp. also programmed.

Altogether, MEC ran more than 250,000 feet of cable, Lawlor said. Despite the short time frame and challenges in the open ceiling, he said it “flowed pretty well.”

The subcontractors had to coordinate their work in specific areas, leaving space for those following up. If anyone had fallen behind, the whole project could have been delayed. Fortunately, that never happened.

At the project’s peak, MEC’s team consisted of 26 electricians led by Lawlor and foreman Dave McDonald.

More than 400 employees are now working in the Hoffman Building since it opened in April 2015. The building has capacity for twice that.

“[The building] looks great,” DeVito said. “I think everyone is extremely happy.”

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