Sage Electric Proves a Wise Choice for Library Project

In its May 2004 issue, Reader’s Digest listed the Cerritos Library as the Best Public Library in the United States, saying, “It is inside that things get really revolutionary … No musty bookshelves … Roving librarians use wireless headsets and handheld computers. A 15,000-gallon aquarium makes the place a bit like Disneyland. Computers (200) and laptop ports (1,200) bring the world to anyone with a library card.”

Cerritos, Calif., an ambitious and well-heeled city 20 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, was incorporated in 1956 as the City of Dairy Valley. Then it had 400 dairies, population 3,439 plus 100,000 cows and 106,300 chickens. As rising land values made dairy farming uneconomical, the city changed its focus to suburban development. In 1971, it opened the revenue-generating Los Cerritos Center shopping mall and broke ground for the first library construction, a project delayed by the last strawberry harvest. That same year, the city changed its name to Cerritos, a reference to the nearby area of the original Spanish land grant, Rancho Los Cerritos. In the 1980s, the city developed Cerritos Auto Square car dealerships, which generate $8 million a year in sales tax revenue.

In 2002, construction began on a complete remodel of the existing two-story library facility and construction of an additional 82,500-square-foot, three-story building and extensive renovation of the surrounding site areas of the Cerritos Civic Center. The contract for construction of the $22.7 million titanium-clad structure, the first of its kind in the United States, was awarded to C.W. Driver of Irvine, Calif., in January 2000 and completed in March 2002. Sage Electric Co. of Chatsworth, Calif., founded in 1993 and now responsible for projects totaling $22 million annually, won the bid for the electrical work and the fire alarm system.

Collaboration and discovery were integral to the project and Sage was part of that process. “The entire project was a learning experience for all of us working on it,” said Waynn Pearson, Cerritos librarian.

“Sage Electric proved to be an extremely valuable asset and the single largest contributing subcontractor to the success of this project,” said Bruce Curry, the project manager for C.W. Driver.

How did Sage earn that honor? “Our role changed from installers to become part of their design team,” said Sage Electric Executive Project Manager Gene Catanzaro. Don Roseberry was Sage Electric’s on-site general foreman. Architect Charles Walton Associates also acknowledged Sage Electric’s participation in the $3.7 million project, which involved an average of five electricians and 30 at peak times.

“Once the designers gave Sage an idea of what we wanted to do, Sage was an active and important part of making it work,” said CWA architect Jim Nardini. As proof, Sage Electric won a NECA Distinguished Project Award for the job.

“The library was built around the idea of the user having learning experiences,” said Pearson. For instance, Sage Electric helped build an aquarium as a “classroom”by rigging up a microphone system. Once a month when a diver gets into the aquarium, dozens of kids gather to watch and they have a question-and-answer session through the microphone system. And Sage was instrumental in helping realize the themes of each area of the library including an “Old World” room with leather-bound books, chandeliers and Gothic décor, a craftsman-style periodical area and an art deco-style young adult room. In the children’s room, their challenges included problems related to the aquarium, a fiber optic “star field” that replicates the sky above Cerritos, a 20-foot-high banyan tree, a 14-foot-tall lighthouse, a scale model of the space shuttle and a life-size replica of a dinosaur, plus computers situated in boulders and stacks of books.

The 21st-century second floor called for wiring 200 computers for public use. The third floor needed support for a state-of-the-art boardroom with facilities for video conferencing and a lecture room with stadium seating where computers at each seat were linked to a screen by the speaker podium. “Each of the elements contained extensive use of electrical lighting and power support,” said Curry. And dealing with the requirements of that fell to Sage. Don’s knowledge of the systems and willingness to meet off site at numerous specialty fabricators provided the foundation of the project’s success. Behind the scenes, as is frequently the case for project managers, [Catanzaro] supported [Roseberry] as required by the demands of the project,” he added.

Sage’s role went beyond the usual tasks. “There were many problems of making the function of the building work with the aesthetics,” said Roseberry. Such as with conduits. “They wanted computer stations throughout the building, but we couldn’t find raceways to get conduits up to the upper floors,” he said. So he brainstormed with Tom Stapleton of Scenario Design in Los Angeles, the company that created many of the scenic elements in the children’s room. “Sage ran power for us, but also gave us a lot of input in terms of the design for concealing the wiring within the environments,” said Stapleton. The result? Conduits were incorporated as part of the décor of the gantry for the space shuttle. The pipes run up one side of the gantry and appear to be part of the design. In the area of the library being remodeled, Sage used a cable floor system on the second and third floors. “It is 21/2 inches off the original floor, just enough to get a 4-square box bolted down on the floor with a ring,” said Roseberry. “We pulled the data cables through this floor and brought it up wherever it was needed.”

For installation of the star field in the children’s room, Sage had the basic design and wanted to show the constellations in the sky over Cerritos for the four seasons. “We hooked up with a fiber optics supplier,” said Catanzaro, “coordinated the design with them and installed 5,200 individual points of light, 20 miles of cable in a 2-by-2, T-bar acoustical ceiling painted dark blue to simulate the night sky. The area for the star field was initially to be in an eight-foot high ceiling amongst 6-foot-high book stacks. Don said, ‘Let’s move it so you can sit down and look up and see what it is.’ And that’s what happened. That was an area where we put our heads together and figured out how to give the owner a better product,” he said.

While the star field might have been enough ceiling attraction for most libraries, the Cerritos Library children’s room also features another ceiling learning display: a weather dome, an oval-shaped dome painted with pictures of five different types of clouds. Hidden by a lip on the edge of it are three different-colored cold cathode lights. “By using a computerized theatrical lighting system, we were able to raise and lower the color levels of the three lights to simulate sunrise, sunset, the nighttime sky and lightning storms,” said Karl Haas, principal, Gallegos Lighting Design of Northridge, Calif., who oversaw the project. Gallegos did the lighting design for the library’s specialty areas. Visual Terrain of Van Nuys, Calif., provided base-building lighting design. “The timed events were made possible by use of a theatrical lighting system,” said Haas. “The entire building is broken up into rooms and timed events—level settings that happen on an architectural level.

“We used an ETC (Electronic Theater Controls) Unison Processor with an architectural platform and theatrical lighting system. There is a marriage of those two systems. The Unison system can control up to 512 individual DMX addresses, so between the dimmers and the relays, there’s under 512 but close to that,” Haas said.

Catanzaro added: “We nearly ran out of control points.” Roseberry commented, “We had to get creative about how to control blocks so we wouldn’t run out of points.” Gallegos Lighting Design worked closely with Sage Electric. “We found that the close relationship that we developed with Don was essential to the successful execution of the lighting design for this project,” stated Haas, whose company also provided construction administration, aiming and programming direction.

Another challenge for Sage was to hide the HVAC ducts and the solution was a marriage of art and function. In the original library, the air from the underground HVAC ducts was transferred to the ceiling through large wooden columns in the young adult room . The columns looked like they were part of the bookshelves. With the remodel, the bookshelves weren’t in the same spot. In keeping with the art deco décor, four floor-lamp torchieres were placed in the room, rimmed with rings of cold cathode lights of three different colors. Inside one of them are the HVAC ducts.

What about the books? The stacks are all individually lit and tied into the architectural lighting control system. On the second floor, the original concept was to have large lamps shooting light over the stacks. “After photometric studies and calculations, we determined that it wouldn’t provide enough light,” said Haas, “so to provide the up light and light for the stacks, we used small T5 fluorescents. The lens spreads light down and the louvers conceal the glare.” And that’s just one set of stacks.

Throughout the library, all of the 3,000 fixtures—each more stunning than the last—were assigned numbers on a 100-page lighting matrix that listed the name, manufacturer, fixture type and control circuits. “When someone would call and say light fixture No. 2526 had a problem, we could go to the source and discover the type of light, how it is fed voltage, whether it was dimmed, switched via relay panel or wall switch,” said Haas.

Roseberry added: “Most jobs have a fixture schedule. We had a 100-page matrix.”

How about outside night lighting for this titanium-clad structure? “Lighting is part of the library experience, even for the outside areas,” said Nardini. “We had several terraces, so we couldn’t shine the lights onto the titanium from a distance since it might shine in people’s eyes.” Collaboration brought about a creative solution. Sage, the architects and lighting designers met at night and tried out a variety of fixtures.

“We had to bring the lights close to the edge of the building,” said Roseberry, “and when we did that, the light caught the bottom level of the titanium panels so that it looked like glowing lines at night.”

The fixture that created that effect was custom-made by Hevi Lite and used a T6 light. “That’s how this project went,” said Catanzaro. “We all put our heads together and added custom application of materials and had manufacturers making custom fixtures.”

For Roseberry, being part of the team was a rare experience. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had doing a project because the engineers, the architects, the city, and the contractors worked together, adding their creative input to make it what it was. That’s rare. Normally you have an engineer or architect telling you what he wants and, doggone it, that’s what you’re going to do. These guys let us use our expertise to help them create what they wanted. It wasn’t always easy but it was a lot of fun,” he said. “What came out included everybody’s input. Everybody tweaked all the ideas to make it work.”

And the community of Cerritos is the beneficiary. EC

CASEY, author of "Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors" and "Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World," can be reached at or




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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