Operation: Power Transfer

Northside Electric relocates power service without disrupting hospital business

As the only academic medical center in central Virginia, the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System (VCUHS) is a regional teaching institution that provides patients with access to some of the most advanced state-of-the-art treatments and technologies available. The VCUHS comprises nearly 200 specialty areas with centers for cancer, cardiology, neurosurgery and transplantation. In November 2005, it broke ground for a 15-level, $192 million, 367,000-square-foot Critical Care Hospital. Scheduled to open fall 2008, the hospital will feature expanded intensive care units for surgical trauma, neonatal, cardiac, neuroscience, medical respiratory and burn patients. It will also include a medical surgical unit with 28 private rooms for oncology patients, new operating rooms, 232 private rooms and a greatly expanded emergency department.

This new facility will be directly connected to the north side of the existing VCUHS main hospital building. Because of this, the 12,000-amp electrical service for the existing hospital had to be relocated before ground could be broken.

“It was standing right in the way of where the new building—which is to have its own electrical service—would be built,” said J.B. “Chuck” Guedri III, president of Northside Electric Co., the Richmond-based contractor chosen for the project.

Phase I

The general contractor chosen for the electrical service relocation part of the project was McCarthy Building Co. Inc., St. Louis. The company approached Northside and asked for a proposal.

“Our long-term relationship with the university and with the general contractor for Phase II of the project, Newport News-based W.M. Jordan Co., led to our being on the short list of preapproved companies invited to bid,” Guedri said.

Actually, Northside has performed work on a number of electrical construction projects for the university, including the central dining facility, the fine arts building, two parking decks, the engineering school and the Massey Cancer Center; it has also partnered with Jordan on a project for the university’s engineering school.

As part of the bid process, Northside devised a detailed schedule designed to accomplish the owner’s goals of relocating the electrical service for the main hospital in preparation of building a new facility without disrupting hospital operations or patient care. The company’s intensive preplanning, its competitive price and its long-term relationship with the owner led to the contract for the $15 million electrical construction portion on both construction phases.

Work began on the power relocation in March 2005 and ended six months later, just in time for work to begin on Phase II. Although Phase I was neither design/build nor design/assist, Northside would make suggestions to the project’s electrical engineering firm, ccrd partners, on how construction could be more efficiently performed.

Before the 20 to 30 Northside electricians could begin working on moving the 12,000-amp existing electrical service without disrupting hospital operations, the company’s project managers and engineers had to trace the existing feeders and figure out what hospital functions would be affected when they were switched. They also had to minimize the amount of shut-down time for each electrical system as the transfers occurred.

“We worked with the hospital’s maintenance staff and plant engineers to determine that 35 different outages had to be scheduled, with priority given to mission-critical systems,” said Mike Gentry, project foreman.

While the outage schedule was being formulated, new switchgear was being delivered and the new electrical service building was being constructed and prepared to receive the transfer of power from the existing switchgear. The new electrical service is also 12,000 amps and consists of three 4,000-amp switchboards interlocked and fed with 4,000-amp bus duct from three utility transformers.

Northside electricians ran new circuits through bus duct from the new service to the new, off-site, 5-kilovolt emergency power generation unit substations, where power is transformed to 480 volts. All of the bus duct was non-standard in size and had to be field measured with lasers so that the supplier could fabricate each customized section.

“The customized bus duct was then routed through the twists and turns of the existing mechanical equipment area,” said Charlie Stillman, superintendent.

After the installation of the new switchgear, bus duct and circuitry, the power had to be transferred from the old system to the new. But first, Northside and the hospital’s plant engineering staff had to find alternative power sources for the most critical loads so there would be no outages for them.

“We ended up renting a portable generator to provide power for those critical systems while the power was being transferred,” said Guedri.

Then, over the course of an entire month, all of the other hospital systems were transferred to the new service.

“It took that long because we could only transfer one or two systems a day, per the prearranged plan that took into account the schedules of each department in the facility,” said Guedri.

Phase II

For the construction of the new Critical Care Hospital, Northside Electric will be working with ccrd partners as the engineer of record in a design/assist capacity to monitor the budget and suggest cost-saving measures that do not compromise quality.

“We will be meeting regularly with the engineers to discuss and review the design progress and to provide cost analyses and intermediate estimates for any additions to the scope of work,” said Walter Hazelgrove, project manager.

The company will also provide design suggestions that relate more closely to the realities of the job site. Hospital employees also contributed to the design of the patient rooms and treatment areas. Mockups of rooms will be constructed for employees to offer input for improvements. Healing colors such as blues, greens and tans, as well as natural lighting, will be used to create a more soothing environment for patients and their families.

The company’s scope of work for Phase II will be the installation of all of the electrical work, including power distribution, lighting, mechanical equipment wiring, and coordinating with the hospital’s low-voltage contractor for the rough-in installation of the fire alarm and nurse-call systems. The power distribution system will be a 6,000-amp service and include the same style substations for emergency backup power that were included in Phase I.

As of April, the company had already provided some underground conduit rough-in for the main electrical service.

“We have been primarily focusing, however, on helping to complete the final electrical design and only anticipate really beginning electrical construction in the late summer of 2006,” Guedri said.

If all goes according to plan, the company will require an average of 50 electricians on-site to complete the work on time and on budget.

One of the most important issues that Northside had to face for Phase I of this project was making the work force fully understand and appreciate that any errors, unscheduled outages or loss of power to critical systems in the hospital would affect real people’s lives.

“Neither us nor the hospital, for example, could afford for power to an operating room to be cut off during someone’s surgery,” Guedri said.

To ensure that its electricians truly understood the gravity of any mistakes, weekly meetings were held with field personnel, hospital plant engineers, hospital maintenance staff and a representative from VCUHS to fine-tune the outage schedule. The plan was to shorten the outage duration and make the transfer of power from the existing to the new electrical service more efficient.

Very rarely does an electrical contractor have to relocate the entire power distribution system for a hospital while it stays in operation and cares for patients, Guedri said. But all of the power outages were completed within the times allotted by the schedule, and no existing equipment in the hospital failed during the power transfer.

According to Grant Guerri, project manager for the general contractor for Phase I, the constant communication between the team members was vital to the success of the project and to a flawless execution that was relatively painless for the hospital, its staff and its patients.  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 darbremer@comcast.net.


NORTHSIDE ELECTRIC was founded in 1937 by Chuck Guedri’s grandfather, Joseph B. Guedri, and his partner, A.L. Green. With about six employees, the young company specialized in residential electrical installations. After World War II, J.B. “Boots” Guedri Jr., joined the firm, and Northside began branching out into the commercial and industrial markets. After partnering with Dupont in the early 1950s to provide electricians for the plants it was building throughout the United States, the company refocused its efforts on central Virginia and has enjoyed reliable growth. Today, Northside has annual sales of about $12 million and has about 100 electricians in the field and 10 people in the office to provide design, administrative, accounting, estimating and project management support.

“Northside specializes in providing traditional electrical, fire alarm and sound system installations in the commercial, industrial, institutional, high-end custom residential and healthcare markets,” Guedri said. “Our goal is to provide the customer with a reasonably priced electrical installation that meets or exceeds its expectations and that fulfills the vision of the architect, engineers and owner.”


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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