Noble Reconstruction

HURRICANE RITA, which hit the U.S. Gulf Coast in September 2005 and caused $10 billion in damage, is the fourth-most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, and was the third Category 5 hurricane of the 2005 season.

Rita made landfall on Sept. 24 near the Texas-Louisiana border as a Category 3 storm before continuing on through parts of southeast Texas. The storm surge caused extensive damage along the Louisiana and extreme southeastern Texas coasts and destroyed some coastal communities. The storm killed seven people directly; many others died in evacuations and from indirect effects.

On April 14, 2006, the ABC television network aired its popular “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” program. The episode was about recovery efforts in the town of Sabine Pass, Texas, which was hit hard by Hurricane Rita. The program showed how two electrical contractors, Crown Electric Inc., Beaumont, Texas, and Britain Electric Co., Houston, stepped up to contribute to the town’s recovery.

The Frankie Schexnayder Auditorium

The Frankie Schexnayder Auditorium at Sabine Pass High School is a town focal point; and it serves as the headquarters for the school’s drama club, where students participate in statewide competitions. The 400-seat, 5,600-square-foot auditorium was severely damaged by the storm and needed a completely rebuilt electrical system. Statewide Restoration, Southfield, Mich., has performed four other projects for the television show and, as the general contractor, approached Crown Electric for its help.

“We were working on another storm restoration project in the area and Statewide was pleased with the our progress and felt that Crown had the necessary expertise to execute the Sabine Pass project in the allotted time between Feb. 19 and 23,” said Charlie LeBlanc, vice president, Crown Electric.

Crown Electric knew that it had to volunteer to manage the electrical portion of the project. Fifteen volunteers from Local 479 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) worked 16-hour days and contributed more than 300 man-hours in three days. Four electricians were dedicated to the site and the other 11 worked on the project as they were able.

The renovation of the electrical service for the auditorium included installing a new 400-amp panelboard, from which power was routed to four subpanels in the switchgear room. From the subpanels, wire was run to the theatrical lighting equipment, general illumination lights, and other general use receptacles and plugs.

Power was also run to the sound booth, which was equipped with new controls to provide the auditorium with a state-of-the-art sound system. The volunteer electricians also mounted dimming control equipment and ran the control wiring to the spotlights.

“The dimming system is now PLC-based and controlled from either the sound and light booth or from various wall-mounted remote control stations,” said LeBlanc.

The auditorium’s entryway ceiling now has a new fiber optic lighting system installed on a black, painted ceiling, which provides various lighting effects. Volunteer electricians ran the power wiring to the fiber optic lighting system, which was installed by another volunteer contractor.

“The extremely short time frame meant there was no time for formal plans or for a scope of work to be developed,” he said.

The show’s producers had an idea of what they wanted the installed product to look like, but the general contractor, Crown Electric and all the other trades had to design their responsibilities as construction commenced.

“We had to work closely with the general contractor and the show’s producers to determine what installations, methods, and products were necessary to finish the project in the time allotted,” he said.

And work well together they did. Coordinating the volunteers was not a problem, according to LeBlanc, because the project had all of the manpower required. Volunteers worked for free after regular working hours or they sacrificed paying work in order to ensure the job was completed.

“It made everyone feel good to see people volunteering their time and working hard toward a good cause,” LeBlanc said.

Fire House No. 4 

Rita also severely damaged Sabine Pass’ Fire House No. 4, rendering it unusable in providing emergency services to the community. The 5,500-square-foot station, plus approximate 1,200-square-foot garage, needed to be completely gutted and remodeled, including the site lighting system. Real-time filming of the project for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” took place from Feb. 28 until March 3. The general contractor for this project was The Trevino Group, Houston, which approached Britain Electric to volunteer.

“Britain and Trevino have a long-standing relationship. We have performed work on many projects together in healthcare facilities, and Trevino knew it could rely on our expertise,” said Martin Banks, executive vice president, Britain Electric.

Britain Electric immediately accepted the offer, viewing it as an opportunity to give back to the community and to help its neighbors that had lost so much to the storm. The renovation project required a peak number of 20 IBEW Local 716 volunteers, with an average of 15 on-site.

The first order of business was the removal of the damaged electrical service and the installation of a new 400-amp, 240-volt service. Electricians ran power from the local utility’s equipment to the new distribution panel located in the renovated garage. From the distribution panel, power was dispersed to four subpanels, and from there, power was run through branch circuit EMT conduit to new lighting fixtures, receptacles, switches, two new rooftop heating, ventilating and air conditioning units, telephones, fire alarm system, and other miscellaneous equipment.

The new lighting system required the installation of approximately 100 direct and indirect fixtures, such as recessed 2-by-2 fluorescent fixtures and fluorescent downlights. A local landscape company volunteered their services for the installation of the exterior lighting system. Britain Electric was supplied a full set of drawings from the architect and engineer that designed the renovation for the program.

“The architect and lighting distributor specified and provided the fixtures,” said Mike Teel, senior project manager, Britain Electric.

Time was of the essence because of the television show’s production schedule. Prior to beginning construction, Britain Electric met with local vendors to ask for their participation, listed and ordered all of the necessary products from the donating suppliers, and arranged the delivery schedule. The company also held coordination meetings prior to construction with the general contractor and the show’s producers, along with the rest of the construction team, to create the construction schedule and to determine the necessary sequence of events that would ensure that everything came together in the allotted time.

“Although there were a great number of people on-site, everyone pitched in and coordinated the work to ensure that each trade could complete its responsibility quickly and efficiently,” said Teel.

In addition, according to Banks, all of the volunteers worked closely and well together in a spirit of community and cooperation.

“What made this endeavor the success that it was, was the dedication of the crew, who in many cases, worked 18 to 20 hours a day without an accident or incident,” Banks said. EC

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



R.H. Britain founded Britain Electric Co. in 1947. The company is recognized as one of the largest electrical contractors in the Houston area and has completed numerous electrical construction, service and maintenance projects for its customers in the commercial, institutional, healthcare, publishing and industrial markets. Average annual sales for the company are in the $20 to $25 million range and it employs up to 200 electricians in the field and 20 office staff providing engineering, estimating and administrative support. The Britain Electric team’s goal is to offer its customers expertise in every aspect of electrical construction and maintenance, combined with a commitment to client satisfaction.

Crown Electric Inc. was founded in 1980 by Wayne Brockett and Charlie LeBlanc. Since that time, the company has grown into a firm with about 15 field personnel and three office staff providing estimating, budgeting, accounting and administrative support. The company’s annual sales are about $4 to $5 million and it specializes in providing traditional electrical and low-voltage instillations in the commercial and residential markets. Crown’s overall goal is to ensure that its customers are treated fairly and receive the best value for the project.



Miscellaneous wire and conduit


Conduit, wire, boxes, fittings, receptacles, switches and general electrical products


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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