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Rebirth of a station: electricians rewire Kansas City's Union Station

The giant clock ticked in the Grand Hall archway as a silent reminder of the train station's history."I can always remember as a young man that it was always a big thing to go see the clock," said Jack Oberndorfer, an O'Neal Electric project manager, who grew up a few miles from Union Station. "It's the station to me."Obendorfer and three other electrical contractors have teamed up with Capital Electric,

The giant clock ticked in the Grand Hall archway as a silent reminder of the train station's history.

"I can always remember as a young man that it was always a big thing to go see the clock," said Jack Oberndorfer, an O'Neal Electric project manager, who grew up a few miles from Union Station. "It's the station to me."

Obendorfer and three other electrical contractors have teamed up with Capital Electric, the lead electrical contractor, to wrap up the electrical installation for one of Kansas City's largest restoration projects-Union Station.

"I told all my guys to take it as a one-time opportunity because this will be the only time that they'll be involved in any reconstruction of this magnitude," Oberndorfer said. It's a prideful thing to be a part of it and come back years from now and say that you actually worked on it."

The Union Station, the second largest train station in the United States next to New York's Grand Central Station, was built in 1914. Eighty years after its dedication, soot stained the limestone walls, plaster from the ceiling crackled to the floor and the leaking roof rusted the steel support beams. (Continued on page 18)

The giant clock is now ticking in the Grand Hall archway, the limestone walls are shining in the sunlight and the chandeliers are illuminating a brightly painted ceiling. Trainsno longer rumble through the tracks, but Union Station now houses Science City, a hands-on children's science museum nestled in an industrial-style "train shed" behind the station.

Of course, this transformation didn't happen overnight.

Hundreds of electricians and construction workers spent two years renovating and rewiring the train station for the 21st century.

Starting from scratch At 9 a.m., Edward Downey, the project manager for Capital Electric of Kansas City, Mo., was still at work after pulling an all-nighter. Capital Electric, the lead electrical contractor, has a $15.5 million contract and has been on site since the beginning of the electrical construction project. Relaxing in a chair in his job-site office, Downey reflected on the day he first set eyes on the dilapidated train station in January of 1998.

"I came in through an old door that was half broken down through the back of the building," Downey said. "The outside was very impressive and I was excited to be on the project. But at that time, the building was pretty much gutted. It was an empty shell of a building."

Seven months later, O'Neal Electric arrived on the job to begin wiring some small shops and the planetarium. They also started constructing a link between the Union Station and a nearby hotel. Oberndorfer said Union Station's Grand Hall was fully scaffolded at that time.

"You had a complete floor at 92-ft high," Oberndorfer said. "It was so high that they had portable johns up there so the guys didn't have to come back down to use them. That's how bad it was."

The scaffolding was constructed so Capital Electric could work on the lights and help repair the ceiling, which had been heavily damaged by the leaking roof. Eric Floyd, project manager for J.E. Dunn Construction Co., said water from the leaking roof rusted the steel beams, caused the concrete to freeze thaw and disintegrate, stained the limestone walls and destroyed the wood floor. The areas that did not get wet, however, were in perfect condition, he said.

"Water was the biggest enemy to the building itself," Floyd said. "The roof was leaking in multiple spots for many years." When Union Station was still used as a train station, Amtrak built an inflatable dome in the Grand Hall to avoid spending millions of dollars to repair the roof, Floyd said.

"They didn't want to bother with making the whole area dry and temperature controlled," Floyd said.

Union Station was completely open to the elements when Floyd and his team arrived on the project in January 1998.

"There were holes in the roof, the windows were open and the doors were open. Whatever could be open was open. In terms of heating, ventilating and air conditioning, there was nothing," Floyd said. "It was like an icebox in January, and of course in the summer, it got excruciatingly hot. Whatever the temperature was outside, that was the temperature inside."

Floyd said the leaking roof caused a majority of the problems with Union Station. "Buildings need to be maintained year-round," Floyd said. "If you let something go, it's going to get worse and worse and that's what happened."

Conus of Capital Electric said they opted for a complete gut renovation because of the age and condition of the wiring.

"Every piece of wiring in here is new," Conus said.

Union Station and Science City: mostly restoration or new construction? With Union Station, Downey said the electrical contractors had an unusual challenge on their hands. Union Station was an old train station built in 1914. Behind it, however, was a modern science museum. Was the project more of a new construction or a renovation project? Downey said it was a little bit of both. "The exhibits are all brand-new construction and the rest of the building is all renovation," Downey said.

Science City, with its many interactive exhibits, posed both challenges and learning opportunities for electricians.Obendorfer said he got updated on the new laser technology when his team helped install a starball in the planetarium. Dick Smith of Rodriguez Electric said the Science City project gave him the opportunity to provide lighting and power to a theater for the first time. "It was rather exhilirating to work on something that we had not worked on before," Smith said.

From illuminating the planetarium to lighting exhibits such as the "archeological cave," the electricians were all faced with many different types of lighting. Downey of Capital Electric said they hired four different lighting consultants and used more than 300 different types of light fixtures. He said a third of Capital Electric's $15.5 million contract was spent on lighting. "We have every kind of lighting," Downey said.

As he walked through the Union Station to Science City, Downey stopped to open the door of a dimmer room. "The dimmer room is kind of impressive," he said. He pointed out that the dimmer room has 500 circuits, feeds all the lighting on the exhibit first floor, and has a custom-made junction box, which holds the conduits.

"Once you get down below, they branch out into 100-in. conduits and they go out to every various exhibit throughout the place," he said. Lighting posed the major challenge for Science City, but Downey said routing was an obstacle in wiring Union Station. "We had to try to find a route through it to get to all the electrical rooms from the concourse level. We had a full-time general foreman just to figure out routing."

To ensure the quickest and easiest routes, the engineers on the project recommended the use of aluminum MC cable feeders. Downey estimated that it saved them about 6,500 man-hours.

"If we would have had to do it pipe and wire, we would have had to put junction boxes everywhere," Downey said. "The runs were 800 ft and 900 ft and are going 10 or 20 90-deg angles by going that distance."

The MC cable not only saved time, but also helped the electricians conceal wiring when they were going from the old parts to the new parts of the building because of its flexibility.

"The aesthetic value was always the first thing of consideration," said Oberndorfer of O'Neal Electric. "Trying to hide electrical conduit is always a challenge."

U.S. Electric faced similar challenges with the energy management controls. Because Union Station was on the National Register of Historic Places, the company had to follow certain historical preservation guidelines. "The controls come second nature to us," said Rick "Mac" McEvoy, project manager for U.S. Electric. "But because of the architectural structure of the building, we had to find unique methods to do our job without damaging the original building structure."

For example, to avoid having to drill marble, U.S. Electric put some sensors on the air handling units rather than out in the field.

"The return-air duct pulls all of the air back to the air handling unit," McEvoy said. "That is the same temperature as what's in space, so we just put sensors at the units instead of out in the field."

Stacks of change orders challenge electrical contractors Because it was such a historical building, Conus said there were a lot of unknowns, which posed a challenge for all the contractors. "On the drawings, it shows conduit wire going up a floor and through a wall and then when you get there, there's a beam in the way or there's clay tiles that you didn't even know about," Conus said.

These unknowns have resulted in stacks of change orders, Downey said. He estimated that by the end of the project, the general contractor would have handed him 700 change orders.

"It's ever-changing," Downey said. "I've still got a stack of change orders on my desk. Some we've already worked on and finished, and some of them we haven't gotten to yet." But over the course of the project, Downey said the number of change orders is slowing down. "Now it's only two change orders a week," Downey said. "It was getting to be 10 or 20. Some of them were major changes and were for over $250,000. There were way too many changes."

Along with the number of change orders, the scope of the orders has also changed, Downey said. "In the beginning, it was all structural-when they started chipping away at the concrete to get to the beams that were underneath, they found out they were rotten," Downey said. "There was a lot of change orders because of that kind of work."

Lately, Downey said the change orders have all been for cosmetic reasons such as the location of light fixtures or receptacles.

"Those are mainly just people not thinking far ahead enough," Downey said. "They wait until it's installed and say, 'that's not going to work for me.' It's very frustrating. You do things twice."

One change order, however, made a real difference in the appearance of Union Station, Downey said. The three chandeliers in the Grand Hall were originally contracted to just be power-washed, rewired and put back up because the project was so tight on budget.

Gary Behm, president of St. Louis Lighting, St. Louis, Mo., said the chandeliers looked like piles of scrap iron when he first saw them.

"Between the smoke from the trains and the coal-burning furnaces and the cigar smoke, there was no color left," Behm said. "Everything was brown and rusty looking."

Behm, Capital Electric and J.E. Dunn rallied for a change order to get the chandeliers restored the way they were originally finished (see sidebar). "I told them that they couldn't afford not to do this," Behm said. Downey agreed.

"We fought for months on it, and it put us way behind, but it was the right thing to do," Downey said. Can you imagine having a rusty light fixture hanging from the ceiling?" Along with the three chandeliers in the Grand Hall, the clock hanging from the archway was also an important key to preserving the station's past, Oberndorfer said. Electric Time Co. of Medfield, Mass., a subcontractor of Capital Electric, originally made and later restored the clock.

"There was never a question in my mind that it was something that had to be done no matter the cost," Oberndorfer said.

Electricians wrap up electrical installation during final hectic weeks With the giant clock once again ticking in the archway, Union Station reopened its doors to the public in November 1999. On a sunny afternoon, dignitaries from Kansas and Missouri announced that the project was a year ahead of schedule to a roar of applause. Meanwhile, electricians were feverishly working behind the scenes to wrap up the electrical portion of the Science City project before its Nov. 20 official opening date. They were carrying bundles of wire through the "Old Town" section of themuseum and wiring an interactive fountain at the museum's entrance. Downey of Capital Electric said his team wired the fountain. "There are little motion detectors that sense when people come through there, and shut the water off so you don't get wet," Downey said. "We installed the fiber-optic lighting that can change colors."

RF Fisher Electric wired the inside of a giant "human body" for a medical imaging exhibit. Randy Wilson, project manager for the informational systems division, said the time frame of the project made the final weeks hectic, but the cooperation between the trades was well coordinated. "The body exhibit was one of the last ones that could be started, but it had to be up and running by the time they opened the doors," Wilson said. "They had an army full of people in those little areas. We had about 200 people working in a 10 x 10 room."

A few days after the museum's grand opening, electricians were still on the job, but they were hidden from the public during Science City's business hours. Some were working the 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. shift, while the night owls opted for the 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift.

"We work before the museum is opened, and we take those guys and move them in other parts of the building that still need to be finished that you can't see," Conus said. "They're here all day."

The future of the limestone "Great Gateway to the West" Visitors are now flowing in the doors of the Union Station to gaze up at the chandeliers, reminice about the big clock and explore Science City. Meanwhile, electricians are still working behind the scenes to prepare tenant spaces for local businesses.

"The building is very large and it's kind of like a mall in that there's a lot of little tenant spaces all over the place," Floyd of J.E. Dunn said. "In the future, as tenants become interested in the building, and they want to lease space, there's a possibility we may be doing more work. As of right now, things are really starting to wind down."

Oberndorfer said his company has a lot of ongoing projects with Union Station and Science City. "We plan to stay on site and be as much available as we can to the work that's going on down there," Oberndorfer said.

Even after the building's grand opening, Conus said he still had his hands full. "We're trying to get our paperwork done, answer questions for the guys and go to numerous meetings throughout the day," Conus said, before he had to leave his job-site office for another meeting. Downey was ready to get some shuteye.

"I've pulled a few all-nighters and have stayed up until 2 or 3 in the morning a few times, but that's about it. I can't handle much more," he said. Standing on the balcony and looking down at the giant clock hanging in the archway, the old, decrepit train station seemed like a distant, fading memory. Smith of Rodriguez Electrical said Union Station looked just like it did in 1960 when he piled into the back of a train with other recruits on the way to boot camp. He said everyone did a wonderful job.

"There's quite a history that goes with Union Station and it's something that everyone's proud of," he said. "It was a great experience for us."

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