Team Effort Pays Off

Known as a city of high winds and equally blustery politicians, Chicago and its surrounding suburbs are also hailed as a nucleus of distinguished healthcare institutions. At Northwestern Memorial Hospital (NMH) in downtown Chicago, the teamwork approach by contractors resulted in an access-control based installation that raised the bar of integrated security to its highest levels ever. One of the reasons it reached that level was due to a concerted effort by a team of integrators, electrical contractors and many others who worked together to successfully complete the massive new construction project and bring the hospital into the 21st century and beyond.

Though the NMH Redevelopment Project was completed several years ago, it still serves as a valid example of what happens when professional contractors put their heads together and pool resources for the benefit of the industry and the end user. It was teamwork—rooted in a formal joint venture, which resulted in the deployment of the latest safety and security technology at the Chicago landmark hospital.

Whether camaraderie or karma, or a little of both, the multi-million-dollar installation came together quite well for the hospital: on time and within budget. A nationally recognized, 720-bed healthcare institution known throughout the nation for its innovative practices and comprehensive research, the facility was massive by design and in square footage.

The huge facility boasts about 2 million square feet, and includes the 17-story Feinberg Inpatient Pavilion with private rooms and the 22-floor Galter Outpatient Pavilion, which share an eight-floor base of public areas and diagnostic and therapeutic services. Additional facilities include a conference center, auditorium, high-tech learning laboratories, a health learning center, museum and retail space for patients and the general public.

Since the installation and for three years in a row, Northwestern Memorial Hospital was cited as one of the most high-tech hospitals in the country, according to a recent ranking of the nations’ 100 “Most Wired” by Hospitals & Health Networks, the journal of the American Hospital Association.

Integrated system installation

According to Dan Dahmen, CPP, CHSP, Director of Security Services at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, on the must-have list was “an integrated security system that would meet access control, CCTV, monitoring and alarm response needs in a user-friendly package that complemented the healthcare environment.” Dahmen was the key person at the hospital overseeing the security system portion of the project, which also included construction of a state-of-the-art command center for NMH’s in-house security staff.

A major piece of the new construction project, according to Dahmen, was to meet the security needs of the new facility, but also to integrate the other major building’s security systems campuswide into the command center, and into the system.

Key to any successful project is planning, and systems integrator Advent Systems Inc., Elmhurst, Ill., based its bid on a thorough analysis of the customer’s requirements, specifying the equipment that could satisfy its parameters now and in the future.

“We suggested an integrated solutions package for the hospital, based on a sophisticated access control platform,” said Michael Walsdorf, president of Advent Systems Inc., a nine-year-old firm located in the western Chicago suburbs. “Pre-planning was critical to the success of the project.”

Walsdorf continued: “The campus environment included 11 buildings, but the first step was the new, main hospital building. Based on a design by Sako & Associates, Arlington Heights, Ill., and project security consultant, we installed total access control and security monitoring systems, which included over 600 proximity card readers and about 300 cameras in a complete CCTV system, including a graphical user interface. Later phases of the work extended similar systems to the other ten buildings,” said Walsdorf, and all were integrated into one “user-friendly system.”

A joint venture consisting of Power Construction, Chicago and Jacobs Engineering, St. Louis, provided construction management for the total hospital project. To perform Advent’s portion of the work, Walsdorf formed an entity called the ABC Joint Venture, with electrical contractors Bonaparte Corporation, Chicago, and Cable Communications Inc., also in Chicago. Both are capable minority business enterprises with whom the company had a previous and successful relationship, so Walsdorf knew he could rely on their proven track record and expertise to meet the installation and design-engineering challenges. “We’ve worked with both Bonaparte and Cable Communications before and again, they proved that they are terrific partners,” said Walsdorf. “It was a good match. We worked closely with everyone involved, meeting often and regularly,” he said.

Advent was the lead contractor on the job, providing the engineering and equipment specification—including security, access control and CCTV, along with a complete software-based systems integration package from a powerful head end control system. Working with Sako, Advent also designed and engineered the security command center.

Of course, system planning was critical to the success of the job at NMH, said Walsdorf. The hospital wanted “substantial control capability in viewing and recording images and also the ability to access video at remote sites as well,” he added. From off-site locations, to pedestrian bridges to parking facilities, the hospital wanted to cover all of the bases in providing a safe and secure operation and having centralized control, he said.

The project, which came in at about $3 million and took nearly two years to complete, was an impressive CCTV specification with hundreds of 1/3- and 1/2-inch CCD color digital signal processing cameras. Some cameras are in domes, some with powered enclosures, depending on the location and system needs. Recording is done to videocassette recorders, but that is changing as digital video recording technology reaches further saturation.

Essential partners

Bonaparte Corporation of Chicago provided supervision and installation labor as part of the joint venture, according to Jason Bonaparte, director of corporate communications. Bonaparte is a full-service electrical and communications contractor, with William Bonaparte Jr., president/CEO, at the helm and other family members in key positions. Bonaparte also sits on the executive committee of NECA.

“It was a great partnership, and we played off each others’ strengths,” said Jason Bonaparte. “It’s so important to network and develop relationships such as this. Similar joint-venture relationships have positioned our company into landing jobs such as: maintaining Chicago’s 911 Emergency System for two years; installing Gothic lighting fixtures throughout the city; and wiring several DC sub-stations for the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line Rehabilitation Project. To say the least, our company has greatly benefited from joint-venture relationships,” he added.

The third party in the joint venture was Cable Communications Inc., a contracting firm run by Susan Hurley, president and owner.

“We definitely worked as a team—like one organization,” said Hurley. “We supplied labor for a variety of tasks,” she said, based on Advent’s specifications. Hurley said formal arrangements, such as the ABC Joint Venture, as well as informal networking among different specialty contractors, is the way to achieve success. Cable Communications continues to work with NECA and other contractors on a variety of high-profile jobs in and around the city, including the renovation of Soldier Field at the lakefront.

Walsdorf concurred with the other joint-venture partners on the value of networking and working together. He added that specialty contractors are extremely important to NECA and electrical contracting trades.

“Some may not think of specialty contractors as traditional NECA members, but that’s a misconception. I’m a board member of the Electrical Contractors Association of Chicago and a trustee of the IBEW Local 134 Health and Welfare and Pension Plans, so I’m very much involved in professional electrical contracting. Through the efforts of far-sighted people in our Chapter and others, NECA has embraced specialty contractors such as me, which makes coordination and cooperation between the trades so much easier. Being a knowledgeable and quality specialty contractor has led to profitable relationships with traditional power and lighting contractors,” he said.

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or


About the Author

Deborah L. O'Mara

Freelance Writer
Deborah L. O’Mara is a journalist with more than two decades experience writing about security, life safety and systems integration, and she is the managing director of DLO Communications in Chicago. She can be reached at

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