Two for the Price of One

Wheeler Electric Inc.
Wheeler Electric Inc.

Wheeler Electric Inc., Idaho Falls, Idaho, recently completed electrical work on two new buildings at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) also in Idaho Falls.

The Cybercore Integration Center is a research, education and training facility for cybersecurity work. The state-of-the-art collaboration site brings together federal, state, academic and private industry representatives to jointly design and develop resilient infrastructure that can withstand current and future threats.

The Collaborative Computing Center is the new home of INL’s Falcon and Lemhi supercomputers. Later this year, Sawtooth will arrive. It is projected to be one of the most powerful supercomputers in the Pacific Northwest.

Wheeler Electric was the electrical contractor for both buildings. Each had very tight timelines, and much of the installation work was started concurrently with the submittal process.

Wheeler Electric Vice President Josh Wheeler summarized the scope of the company’s work in each building.

In the Cybercore Integration Center, Wheeler Electric completed rough-in and trim-out of electrical gear and devices in many labs, the mechanical room, conference rooms and office spaces. Gear included multisection unit mount-style substations, I-line panels and a multitude of disconnects and smaller panels.

Power distribution units and uniterruptible power supply (UPS) systems were installed to support future lab equipment. Fire alarms, including a VESDA system in the labs, were installed throughout the building. Work in the labs was done under access flooring and necessitated tight coordination with other trades. A large portion of the interior work was installed in surface-­mounted conduits and raceways, which is an unusual approach for new construction.

Most of the work for the Collaborative Computing Center was similar to what was done at the Cybercore Integration Center. The company performed rough-in and trim-out in both buildings and workers used similar gear, including the power distribution units, VESDA fire alarm systems and UPS systems. Two 1,200-kilovolt-­ampere UPS systems with lithium-ion batteries were installed as part of power options for existing and future computer equipment.

In addition, a 3,250-kilowatt generator was installed and configured with the ability to switch from utility to UPS to generator powers depending on the facility’s needs.

“Over 380,000 feet of copper and aluminum wire was installed in the two structures,” Wheeler said.

Local and national work levels at the time had a measurable effect on Wheeler’s manpower pool for these projects.

“More than 60 full-time electricians participated on the projects working simultaneously in both buildings,” he said.

“Handling labor issues required constant communication and cooperation with our IBEW partners in addition to working with other regional NECA/IBEW contractors to supplement the manpower during particularly pressing times,” Wheeler said. “In addition, the issue with the compressed schedule was exacerbated when some gear manufacturers could not meet the original delivery dates needed for a smooth installation,” he said.

To address this, the Wheeler Electric team developed a plan to trim out all devices and smaller panels to essentially build backward to be prepared when larger pieces of gear arrived. This minimized the amount of labor remaining to be performed when the substations and panels did arrive.

Wheeler Electric is an OSHA partner, and, as such, safety is always a top priority. On the INL projects, the company’s safety practices were executed with the careful preparation of a job-safety analysis for both buildings. Daily prejob safety plans were reviewed by every foreman with their crews, and a weekly toolbox talk kept crews focused on safety.

“Lifting large components—especially the generators—required special safety steps,” Wheeler said. “We partnered with Mountain West crane, who produced an excellent lifting plan, and made the lift and installation without incident. Other large lifts on the project followed a similar pattern. Our team produced thorough lifting plans, executed our company’s prejob planning each day a large lift occurred, and made all lifts without incident. In some of the tighter spaces, we employed the use of a spider crane to set pieces of substations and panels in the electrical room.”

Wheeler Electric set a company record for man-hours worked in a single project without an OSHA recordable incident—more than 100,000.

Reflecting on the projects’ success, Wheeler cited employees’ commitment and dedication and a willingness to work long hours and weekends. The highly skilled project managers and superintendents also had to coordinate multiple crews of all parties involved.

About the Author

Jeff Griffin

Freelance Writer

Jeff Griffin, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at up-front@cox.net.

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