Gibson Electric Takes Contracting Expertise to the Next Level

The site is part of Chicago history. Former retail giant Montgomery Ward's rise to greatness and eventual demise all took place at the company's former location on the western edge of downtown Chicago. Recently, the site was part of a massive multimillion-dollar electrical contracting project for Bank One's Dearborn Center building, using part of Montgomery Ward's original foundation to support a new tower.

The entire construction project, valued at about $135 million, included some $20 million for electrical power distribution and lighting systems as well as $6.5 million for security, fire alarm, voice/data/video (VDV) and satellite television systems. Gibson Electric & Technology Solutions in Oak Brook, Ill., bid and won the open contract.

“We knew the project was pending and, because of our previous working relationship with both the general contractor, J.T. Magen and Co. Inc., and Bank One, [we] decided to submit a proposal,” said Mike Neswold, vice president of Gibson Electric. The company has a maintenance contract for another one of Bank One's downtown offices and employs about a dozen people on-site for electrical equipment repair and maintenance work. Gibson's bid was submitted in January 2003 and awarded the same month.

The building, designed like a classical column with a heavy base, has a projecting cornice on top and curved walls on each side. Work began in the existing core and shell building in February 2003 and was completed by the end of that year.

Tag team's a winner

The Dearborn Center's electrical system design was completed by the Chicago-based engineering firm Environmental Systems Design (ESD) Inc., in conjunction with Gibson Electric.

While successfully engineering the electrical system, Gibson Electric provided two full-time CAD operators to supply field personnel with the necessary information to perform the installations. In addition, two full-time project managers worked with ESD engineers to ensure the drawings could be transformed into an actual installation.

“Efforts between the field, our main office and ESD engineers were coordinated by the assistant on-site project manager. Maintaining such high levels of communication ensured that construction could continue even while drawings for the electrical and low-voltage systems were being produced,” Neswold said.

Gibson Electric and ESD have a history of successful collaboration. Over the years, the two companies have worked together on other commercial, multitenant build out, hospital, banking and data center projects in and around the Chicago area.

Scope of work

Running an average of 80 electricians and 40 technicians, with a peak work force of 160 electricians and 70 technicians, Gibson Electric held the responsibility of installing power distribution, lighting, fire alarm, security, VDV and satellite television systems for the center. Ten floors were built out, including one floor dedicated to switchgear, generators, uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and mechanical systems. The structure also has 454,000 square feet of office space, two trading floors with 436 workstations, and an 18,800-square-foot data center.

The first step was the installation of two 4,160V feeds by J.T. Magen in the Commonwealth Edison utility vault.

“We were responsible for installing the feeder raceways, monitoring equipment and lighting inside the vault,” said Dennis Ferguson, project manager.

From the transformer situated in the vault, Gibson Electric workers wired the power to high-voltage switches located on the third floor, and from there, the power continued to rise to the high-voltage switchgear located on the 11th floor. Power for the facility was then distributed to all of the receptacles, lighting systems and mechanical system power feeds. In addition to installing the 3,000A critical switchgear, Gibson Electric installed three 2,000kW generators to provide emergency backup power.

“We were also responsible for installing the UPS system, including two 3,000A static bypass switches and six 700kW UPS modules to guarantee 30 minutes of backup power for the building,” Ferguson added.

The lighting installed by Gibson Electric was fluorescent overhead fixtures typical of offices. Also there were cove lights on the trading floor, downlights on the trading floor and in the lobbies and corridors, exit signs, and egress emergency lighting.

In all, around 9,500 fixtures were installed, Neswold said.

Early warning system

The fire alarm system consisted of about 30 devices per floor, including smoke detectors, horns, strobes and separate horn strobes, all of which were tied into the building's early warning smoke detection system.

“This type of system detects smoke extremely early in a possible fire event and communicates with the building's fire alarm system to activate alarms,” said Scott Rowe, vice president.

Early warning of a fire is particularly important for the data center of any financial institution, which could suffer severe and irreparable damage if sprinklers went off prematurely, in error or not at all.

Gibson Electric technicians also pulled and labeled the security system cabling for the card access devices, closed circuit television surveillance cameras and traditional door alarms. The terminations, however, were performed by other subcontractors at the building's central security office location.

The numbers of computers, workstations and the amount of data transfer and storage in a financial institution as large as Bank One is impressive. Gibson technicians installed Category 6 VDV cabling to approximately 440 workstations on the trading floors alone for the traders' computers and telephones.

“We also were responsible for installing quad Cat 6 workstation drops on the other two floors of the building for the computers and telephones of other bank employees,” said Rowe.

The actual networking of the computers, however, was performed by Bank One personnel because of the system's proprietary nature. In addition, Gibson electricians installed more than 60 custom, 100A power panels throughout one of the trading floors. These were designed to fit into individual desks, increasing the number of circuits that the traders could tap into to get power to operate all of the computer equipment at their workstations.

The data center, located on the ninth floor, houses the incoming phone and Internet service as well as the backbone cabling for the entire building. It also contains the hubs and routers required for all of the facility's internal and external data communication. Gibson technicians installed 135 data cabinets and wired the 60 relay racks and managers with copper and fiber optic cabling.

“We made 16,900 Cat 6 drops for the phones and computers, installed 5,000 strands of fiber to supply VDV capabilities and high-speed Internet connectivity, and installed 46 power distribution units for the data center,” said project manager Dave Schroeder.

Finally, Gibson technicians installed about 30 satellite television monitors around the trading pits for traders to monitor market and world news and ran the cabling from each of them to the satellite closet where the provider terminated its signal.

Rising to the challenge

The logistics of delivering materials and supplies to the site and staying on schedule at the same time was one of the greatest challenges of the project, according to Neswold.

“We increased manpower levels as needed and met regularly with the other trades on-site to ensure space availability to receive and store materials and supplies as they arrived,” he said. The vast number of change orders only served to accelerate the logistical problems, and project supervisors and managers had to meet often to redirect manpower and communicate the owner's specification changes to the workers.

The time frame for construction of the trading floors was particularly challenging, Rowe said. “We only had a week per section of each floor to complete the cabling. Often, the carpet installers would begin work while the cable was still coiled on the floor.” Whenever the schedule overlapped in that way, technicians tied up the cabling and hung it from the ceiling to ensure that it would not be cut or otherwise accidentally damaged.

The data center was challenging, as well, since it was still being designed by Bank One and ESD engineers even as construction commenced. Gibson Electric rose to the challenge by working closely with the rest of the team to adjust manpower levels and schedules on a day-to-day basis.

“We held daily meetings with the general contractor to ensure that our technicians had the latest updated drawings so that work could continue without interruption,” said Rowe.

Teamwork and communication ensured that Gibson Electric delivered Bank One a high-tech, state-of-the-art trading and banking facility that would serve its needs into the future.

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or

From family business to Established contractor

Founded in 1912 by Humphrey Gibson Sr., Gibson Electric originally specialized in the manufacturing of electric neon signs. Increasing demand for the technology became the key factor in the company's conversion from production to the electrical contracting market. In 1937, the second generation took over the company and Humphrey Gibson Jr. partnered with Commonwealth Edison in Chicago to be the exclusive contractor to convert residential gas ranges to electric. In 1964, Gibson's grandson Thomas took over and transformed the company into a large commercial contractor. In 1992, Michael M. McInerney became president and CEO of the company. Today, Gibson Electric, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of EMCOR Group Inc., has more than 500 electricians and technicians in the field and an office staff of 75 people to provide design/build services, and estimating, budgeting, purchasing, and administrative support. With the acquisition in 1998 of a technology company then named Communication and Data Services Inc., Gibson Electric was transformed into Gibson Electric and Technology Solutions. The company, with approximately $100 million in annual sales, offers its customers in various markets high-quality, cost-effective, and safe electrical construction, communication data services, and maintenance capabilities.


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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