Got to Get Down to Bean Town

Boston: It’s a city with historic buildings from the 1700s and 1800s that have become defining public spaces. It’s a city of skyscrapers, a complicated infrastructure, and an exciting new development along its shoreline, the Seaport District. Also, it’s a town with a wide variety of projects for electrical contractors.

Quincy Market

Faneuil Hall’s Quincy Market is a 530-foot-long brick and granite structure built in 1824. It is wildly popular with tourists. The basement level houses restaurants and retail. Food vendors and pushcarts fill the first floor, and an Irish pub on the upper floor doubles as a nightclub on the weekends.

When a new tenant performed a $7 million build-out and needed to upgrade the fire alarm system, R J Koning Electric Inc. of Carlisle, Mass., was contracted to replace the existing fire alarm system and install a voice annunciation system. For the contract—estimated to be in excess of $1 million and to take 10 months—R J Koning Electric partnered with AFA Protective Systems Inc., a Syosset, N.Y.-based company that designs, installs, monitors, inspects and services fire alarm systems. The company started the original upgrade with the installation of a new fire alarm command center and new risers with fire alarm terminal cabinets on each floor.

“It was challenging because 90 percent of the installation is in EMT conduit, and every 25–30 feet in the basement, there is a 14-inch-thick brick wall that we needed to core-drill through in order to do our installation,” said Rob Koning, president of R J Koning Electric. “While we mostly redundantly installed the pull stations, audiovisuals and smoke detectors, the waterflow and tamper switches—as well as fire suppression, lighting and sound systems—needed to be cut over from the old to the new, one at a time. In addition, we were confined to the third shift, starting at 9 p.m. because of the heavy daytime activity on-site.”

Old South Church

At another iconic Boston building—the Old South Church, built in 1875—J & M Brown Co. Inc. (JMB), based in Jamaica Plain, Mass., completed a comprehensive, multiphase electrical systems renovation in 2014. The company teamed up with general contractor Consigli Construction Co. Inc. of Boston and electrical engineering firm Syska Hennessy Group of Cambridge, Mass., to ensure the historic building’s structural integrity and interior finishes were protected during construction.

“The Old South Church renovation was atypical of historic renovations in that the institution had to remain open at all times,” said Steve Cabral, senior project manager at JMB. “The church’s day care center was in full operation and was off-limits for everyday work, which was confined to only one section of the church at a time. Infrastructure work was extensive, and we maintained a parallel electric service while the building’s new switchgear was installed. The project also required penetrating 3-foot granite walls in order to bring in conduit.”

JMB restored 18 historic chandeliers dating to the turn of the 20th century. Along with Cabral, general foreman Tom Campbell headed the JMB team of 10 electricians and technicians. Spectrum Integrated Technologies, JMB’s low-­voltage division, provided telecommunications and security system installations.

“We are pleased to have met the scheduling requirements in working with the church facilities’ personnel and general contractor, Consigli Construction, to ensure there was minimal disruption to the church while keeping the project on schedule,” Cabral said.

Deer Island

A five-year renovation project of another sort took place on Deer Island, a 185-acre peninsula that is home to the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area and the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Deer Island Waste Water Treatment Plant, one of the largest sewage treatment plants in the United States.

J F White Contracting’s Electrical Division, Framingham, Mass., served as both general contractor and prime electrical contractor on the Deer Island North Main Pump Station variable frequency drive (VFD) and motor replacement, a five-year project that began in 2011 and was completed in March 2016. The division replaced 10 3,500-horsepower/4,160-volt vertical shaft pump motors and corresponding “smart” VFDs that pump raw wastewater from incoming sewer lines located 140 feet beneath the building through the plant for treatment. Installation of advanced smart VFD technology with the facility’s 20-year-old control systems and wiring will result in more reliable and energy-efficient pump station operation.

Careful coordination was required for the receipt and delivery of the 10 44,000-pound motors, which had to be transported from an off-site storage facility to Deer Island.

“Gerry Case, the initial and senior J F White project manager, did a great job laying down the ground work for the successful project,” said Kevin Gaulin, project manager, J F White Contracting.

Prior to the acceptance of each drive/motor combination, the equipment had to complete a 48-hour integrated system field test to ensure 100 percent reliability, then pass a 10-day operational availability demonstration in which the equipment had to be online and ready for pumping operations with 99.7 percent reliability.

“In addition, upon completion of the first two drive/motor combinations, there was a 90-day demonstration period in which the owner evaluated the reliability and performance of the new equipment,” Gaulin said. “During that time, we weren’t able to commence with replacement of the remaining drives/motors. Greatly adding to the success of the project was the fact that, when the installation of the existing equipment took place 20 years ago, our present site superintendent, Kevin Crampton, worked on the project. His knowledge and experience were invaluable, as was the work of Dan Comoletti, foreman, and our crew of journeymen and apprentices.”

Seaport District

Boston’s ECs also left their mark on the transformation of the Seaport District, an area that was once abandoned waterfront property but is now home to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, the Institute of Contemporary Art, a host of restaurants with harbor views, the Harborwalk, a public walkway edging piers, wharves, beaches and the shoreline around Boston Harbor. It is the site of multiple ongoing hotel and mixed-use projects.

McDonald Electrical Corp. (MEC), based in Hingham, Mass., is providing ground-up electrical construction and fit-out, using a crew of 55 at peak construction, for two new hotels: the six-story Starwood Element Hotel, with its 180 guest suites, and the 330-room boutique Starwood Aloft Hotel. 

The wood-framed Element Hotel’s project scope includes electrical distribution, lighting and lighting control, life safety systems, security wiring installations, and complete telecommunications and cable TV installations.

Meanwhile, the structural-concrete Aloft Hotel project includes installation of electrical distribution, lighting and a lighting control system, fire alarm, and exterior-facade and rooftop-accent lighting. 

The company is also providing installation of street lighting for both hotels.

“Both the Element and Aloft Hotel projects were built concurrent with an aggressive 18-month schedule,” said Michael P. McDonald, president, MEC. “This schedule had to be maintained despite a record-breaking [120 inches] snowfall in the winter of 2014–2015.”

In addition to the Old South Church, JMB is serving as the primary electrical contractor on One Seaport Square, the district’s largest new mixed-use project. The scope entails core and shell electrical and fire alarm installations for the Seaport parcels B&C project, which includes two 22-story towers that will house 850 apartments and more than 300,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space. 

JMB is installing a complete fire alarm system throughout the One Seaport Square complex.

To accomplish the phased turnover, the main fire alarm control panels for both buildings have to be fully operational and tested along with all system devices that cover areas open to the public or maintenance personnel. 

“The location of the emergency life-safety generators makes their installation and tie-in demanding. The design team is utilizing the roof areas of the complex as amenity space for the residents. To reduce the overall footprint of the emergency life-safety generators, the design team positioned both generators on the ninth-floor roof of Building C. The only connection between both towers is the underground parking garage. In order to provide emergency life-safety power, we must run two-hour, fire-rated cable over 1,000 feet, from the ninth floor of Building C, across the parking garage and up to the fourth floor of Building B,” said Michael Booker, JMB senior project manager.

State Electric Corp., Bedford, Mass., is providing the fit-out of the apartments. The company is furnishing a complete electrical and power distribution to each of the 832 luxury units, residential metering equipment installations on each residential floor and lighting controls for the fourth-floor amenities. 

In modifying the distribution equipment, State Electric coordinated its efforts with general contractor John Moriarty & Associates of Winchester, Mass.; with JMB; with the distributor, Graybar, based in St. Louis; and with the manufacturer, Square D, based in Andover, Mass.

“In our prefab shop, we assembled and labeled the equipment and created a very specific schedule for just-in-time deliveries from the prefabrication shop to specific work areas on different floors, which greatly reduced both storage fees and our footprint on the project,” said Luke Rebisz, project manager for State Electric. “On another part of the project, we reviewed the outdoor outlets on the balconies and realized they didn’t have the ability to keep the curtain-wall waterproofing intact. In response, we again worked with the general contractor in creating a prefabricated type of cable, which we shipped to a curtain wall company in Canada that assembled and delivered it on-site.”

These projects involving Boston’s ECs are as varied as the buildings and developments of this vibrant and historic city.

About the Author

Susan Casey

Freelance Writer
Susan Casey, author of "Women Heroes of the American Revolution," "Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors," and "Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World," can be reached at or www.susancaseybooks...

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