NYC Courthouse Gets a Lift

An involved criminal or civil court case can take a toll on the individuals involved. Similarly, the thousands of people involved annually in such court cases, be they jurists, lawyers or bailiffs, can equally cause wear and tear on a building and its systems. Such was the case with the 40-year-old Manhattan Civil Court Building at 111 Centre Street.

By Keith Fitzpatrick, P.E., Vice President and Mike Giunta, Associate, Syska Hennessy Group, New York April 1, 2004

An involved criminal or civil court case can take a toll on the individuals involved. Similarly, the thousands of people involved annually in such court cases, be they jurists, lawyers or bailiffs, can equally cause wear and tear on a building and its systems. Such was the case with the 40-year-old Manhattan Civil Court Building at 111 Centre Street. One of the busiest courthouses in the city, the facility handles 8,000 criminal cases, 75,000 civil cases and 86,000 tenant/landlord disputes each year. Not only was the 12-story, 240,000-sq.-ft. limestone and granite courthouse sorely in need of renovation, a complete electrical infrastructure renewal was also necessary given the technological needs of modern justice facilities.

The building’s many deficiencies included the need for a new security system/command center, appropriate building-wide emergency power and life-safety measures, and a proper and more robust housing for the facility’s data center operation. Underlying all of these systems, of course, was the need to completely upgrade the electrical infrastructure.

All relies on electrical

A short-circuit study of the building’s emergency power distribution system, for example, revealed that the existing switchgear and motor control centers (MCCs) did not meet the current available short circuit. Over the years, the available short circuit from the utility had increased as a result of the city expanding the generating capacity of its network.

The building’s 40-year-old panelboards were also in need of replacement. Fortunately, this issue was removed from the scope of work for this particular contract as the New York City Dept. of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), which maintains the majority of New York City-owned buildings, was already in the process of upgrading the courthouse’s elevator controllers, which, of course, required new panelboards. An explanatory note here is helpful. The entire renovation was a complex job that actually involved multiple, independent subprojects. For example, the Syska Hennessey Group (SHG) was commissioned by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) in 1999 to validate the conditions the organization identified in a needs-assessment study of the courthouse the year before. DASNY, for those keeping score, is the state agency that provides construction funding and construction management services to state and city agencies. Said agencies, including the New York City Court System, petition for funding, and through a need-assessment process, receive funding and assistance. Besides confirming the assessment report, the DASNY contract also charged SHG with identifying new building system upgrade requirements, preparing construction documents and developing a budget.

As noted, DCAS was already working on a portion of this overall electrical upgrade when SHG became involved. This allowed the SHG project team to concentrate on the main switchgear and MCCs. In fact, the panelboard replacement was completed just as the SHG project began.For the record, DCAS replaced all of the existing 40-year-old feeders throughout the building. Panels were mounted directly across from their predecessors. Loads were transferred using new wireways and pull boxes that extended the branch circuit wiring.

But while SHG was fortunate to have this task removed from its plate, it was not as lucky regarding the situation it would face in having to transfer power loads for its portion of the electrical work. The fact remained that civil court had to remain operational throughout construction. Besides phasing work into subprojects, this also meant limiting noise during trials, maintaining barriers between court personnel and the public and coordinating prisoner transport.

There were thoughts to shift all construction activity to an after-hours schedule, but such overtime construction could not be accomplished without sacrificing scope. Coordination with the judges and other court personnel, including security, became paramount. But after-hours work couldn’t be avoided completely, notably due to heavy demolition and power shutdowns.

On the subject of the latter, the power switch for the new switchgear and MCCs required the installation of a temporary switchboard. The main switchboard, consisting of two 4,000-amp, 208-volt switchboards, was connected with a tie switch. A nearby office was chosen to house a 4,000-amp temporary switchboard for individually migrating loads from each existing switchboard.

The actual switchovers took place over a weekend, as did much of the installation work for the new electrical equipment. The MCCs were installed in spare space adjacent to the existing MCCs, and both pieces of equipment were braced to handle the available short circuit. Their smaller size also allowed for the inclusion of spare switches.

Of course, much of this complicated scheduling couldn’t be accomplished without the assistance of the electrical contractor, Interconnection Electric, which provided excellent communication with the local utility. Furthermore, although installation planning was well thought out during design, when it came to how the feeders would be temporarily fed, it took several site meetings and mock-ups before both designers and installers agreed on the safest and most reliable method. Space constraints were the biggest obstacle, because the temporary feeders needed to be placed in such a way so as not to impede the removal of existing switchgear or the installation of the new equipment.

Power from above

Another key electrical subproject was the installation of the 1,250-kW emergency generator on the roof. As the building never had one, its installation was a priority for both the city and the state, particularly in the wake of 9/11 and a city-mandated security assessment of all municipal buildings. With the addition of the generator, the safety and security of the building would be greatly improved as emergency lighting, security systems and other critical systems could operate a full 24 hours after power loss. Life-safety equipment upgrades were also incorporated as part of this package, including a new fire-alarm system, new sump and ejector pumps, house pumps, supplemental fire pumps and elevators. The generator would also back up security equipment, the building’s data center and a new building automation system.

Storing fuel for the generator was also a new experience and presented many difficulties, among them, limited parking spaces. The basement of the building houses the central plant for the courthouse as well as parking for judges and court personnel. The new fuel storage and fuel pump room was originally planned for construction in a corner of the garage. Taking away a judge’s parking space can be dubious, so the team had to be creative. But finding space for a 1,000-gallon tank was not so easily accomplished. Parking in downtown Manhattan is at a premium, and losing parking spaces, even for a critical item such as a generator, can be contentious. In the end, the tank and associated pump were shoehorned into an existing storage area, and three-hour firewalls were constructed around the tank and its associated equipment.

On the subject of displacement, room on the first floor had to be found for a maintenance office that the building’s new security control room would displace. Despite its humble origins, the latter is certainly a more high-tech operation than before that includes flat-screen security camera monitoring capabilities and a new access-control system that yields better control between public and private portions of the courthouse. Using Category 6 cable, 33 cameras were networked to communicate images through the existing data network. In addition to being able to view images at the new command center, the new system allows the building to be remotely monitored, which will eventually give the city the ability to view all of its downtown courthouses from a single location.

As far as the camera system itself, power for pan, tilt and zoom functions, depending upon the distance from the data switch, is also transmitted over the single Cat 6 cable. In addition, the cameras have an option for alarm monitoring that is tied to the magnetic contacts of the door being viewed. The camera also has an audio module to allow for intercom voice over IP at select locations.

Of course, installing new cable and conduit in a 40-year-old building presented concerns about asbestos, which had to be properly abated. But a greater challenge was preserving as much ceiling tile as possible as the budget didn’t allow for a wholesale ceiling replacement. As a result, the general contractor took special care in performing the ceiling work.

Data center gets its day

The other critical center constructed within the building was the courthouse’s data center operation. Its main computer and switching equipment had been located in an open office area because the original 40-year-old building program, of course, never included space for data equipment. Having such critical information in an open area, however, presented multiple problems ranging from equipment protection to security. As a result, existing equipment was enclosed within new fire-rated walls that included a secure entry. To further protect the operation, a preaction sprinkler system, a new UPS, redundant mechanical systems and generator backup were installed. As with the MCCs and switchgear, this subproject required a power-down so equipment could be switched over to the new UPS. However, since the new UPS was separately fed from the current power source, the new electrical infrastructure could be built and tested parallel to the current electrical distribution, allowing the power switchover from existing power receptacles to the new panelboards. This work was also done during weekends.

HVAC and other work

Along with the electrical upgrades, other improvements in the building included replacing the small claims court chiller plant with new 45-ton chillers and new multi-zone units. Additional work included cleaning the existing ductwork; repairing ground water penetration in the basement; installing a new building automation system; providing a new condenser water filtration system; replacing the existing lobby air-handling unit; making bathrooms ADA-compliant; providing variable-frequency drives on chiller water pumps; repairing domestic water heaters; replacing existing house pumps and controllers; replacing exterior lighting; and replacing lighting in the building’s main lobbies.

Of this work, the ductwork cleaning proved the most complicated. The Manhattan Civil Court is located approximately one mile from where the World Trade Center towers stood, so indoor air quality was, understandably, a major concern. The problem was that cleaning the ductwork didn’t become a priority until after 9/11, well after the job was designed and bid.

As a result, environmental testing was performed before and after the ductwork was cleaned. Tests were performed for lead, asbestos, metals, dioxins and PCPs to ensure that the ducts were clear and clean. The work itself involved wet wire brush cleaning, which was videotaped. It was performed after-hours and on weekends, and the results were shared with the building tenants. Occasionally, post-cleaning required a re-cleaning, which was performed immediately.

Non-M/E/P building upgrades included adding ADA ramps, cleaning terrazzo and marble in the building’s lobbies and fa%%CBOTTMDT%%ade and roof repairs.

Verdict: ready now and in the future

Like its durable granite veneer, the courthouse’s new electrical infrastructure is ready to handle any shocks New York’s turbulent power landscape may throw at it. Equally important, it will also be able to accommodate future power changes, be it from internal churn or changes to operational loads, as the existing service demand is approximately 65% of the system’s capacity. And in further aiding the building’s original short-circuit concerns, many of the smaller breakers—400 amps and less—were moved to a new 1,600-amp distribution switchboard downstream from the main switchboards. That being said, to keep the wheels of justice turning, some loads may still need to be shed, despite the fact that the two main service switches are connected with a tie breaker if one of the incoming service feeds is lost.

Ultimately, the courthouse’s overall improvement, be it better HVAC control, security or emergency preparedness, can squarely be laid upon the shoulders of its new power infrastructure.

Project Planning Key

Key elements to phasing the project were pre-planning and effective communication involving the entire project team. Early inclusion at the design development stage of the LiRo Group—the construction manager—and DASNY’s project manager enabled design review and a greater “buy-in” to the approach and decisions being made during design.

In fact, during the entire design process, the design team incorporated a constructability consultant, J.T. Magen, an experienced general contractor with construction experience in the city. Both design team and consultant provided valuable comments and input to the design drawings from design development to construction.

Early involvement of the LiRo Group allowed for the design team’s cost estimates to be checked and then reconciled against LiRo’s cost estimate. From the design development stage to actual bidding, the construction climate in New York City changed dramatically. Construction had slowed tremendously, and the contractor bids were well below the budgeted estimates—after scope review with the contractors allowed for many additions and/or alternates to be included in the project. Still, there were several compromises and some recommended upgrades that could not be afforded.

During the design stages, both the design team’s cost estimator, Accucost, and the construction manager formatted the estimates so that the entire project could be viewed in terms of subprojects. The team needed to know how much each individual upgrade would cost with all trades included. For example, how much were the bathroom upgrades worth with regard to all trades? The estimates were eventually reformatted to CSI format by trade. This meant more work for the estimators, but this type of breakdown was necessary to make informed budget decisions and enable the project to buy the most important upgrades with the money allotted. Much of the success of this project can also be attributed to the project team’s ability to communicate the project goals to the tenants and respect for the people in the building and the work that they do.

After several meetings explaining the project, providing additional information, exploring alternatives and incorporating new ideas, the project team began with a kickoff meeting with tenant representatives. Tenant representatives attended the construction meeting each week and provided invaluable assistance in helping to schedule, smooth over minor mishaps and communicate the project to the other tenants.

One example of complications was the building’s sole freight elevator, which is used for prisoner transport. Construction activities had to be scheduled around the prisoner transport schedule, and special precautions were taken to ensure that contractors’ tools were not left in public areas or in the path of prisoner traffic.

Despite the complexities and challenges of the project, it was successfully completed on time and within budget in March of 2004.