The electrical contracting industry is changing, shifting toward design-build and design-assist, integrated delivery. Now, a contractor must be more than a singular trade specialist, but an all-around solutions provider to be competitive. Fortunately for Zenith Systems, a Cleveland-based full-service electrical firm, the market is shifting in its favor.
Positioned for full integration
“Projects are now more about teaming efforts and in that sense, Zenith is ahead because we’ve been engaged in this way since the beginning,” tells Mike Joyce, CEO of Zenith. “The company I was previously at was engaged in design build and I was trained in it. We thought it was a strategic need we could fill, providing a competitive edge. We’ve always been a go-to guy in that arena, even now as the whole industry shifts to integrated project delivery.”
From its work at the $50 million Cleveland Convention Center renovation to the $15 million Cleveland Browns stadium and numerous major facilities, Zenith is well positioned to fill any complex electrical design-assist role. With offices in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, Zenith has built a nationwide reputation as a total solutions provider with decades of experience in electrical and technologies contracting.
From installing the world’s largest outdoor chandelier to delivering and powering the digital displays and software that allow information to flow at top universities, hospitals, health care centers, sports and entertainment venues to solar panel installation, complex alarm systems and interactive display walls, Zenith is well versed in many facets of electrical design and service.
Meeting the need for manpower
As a National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) member, affiliated with the Greater Cleveland Chapter, Zenith deploys highly skilled, union tradespeople. These men and women have expertise in the delivery of electrical, technology, engineering, audio-video voice and data networks, security and fire alarm systems, as well as energy management and building automation systems.
Joyce, who’s been active in NECA for more than 20 years, also served as president of NECA for 13 years. “Zenith has approximately 800 field tradespeople and 150 in the office,” details Joyce. “Our IBEW union contractors uphold the highest standard in the electrical industry through the NECA code of excellence.”
Joyce explains, however, that today’s market is not the same as boom times of the past. Zenith has been one of the NECA firms throughout the country to deploy a new class of labor; the non-union Construction Wireman/Construction Electrician (CW/CE) as a means to gain market share.
“When things we’re booming we weren’t going after strip malls or smaller commercial projects, but now, in some markets, such as Florida, CW/CEs dominate our method of maintaining a workforce,” says Joyce. “Currently we have about 20 CW/CEs in the major jurisdictions we reside in. You won’t really see this method at work in downtown Cleveland or Chicago, but in smaller markets it’s going to be a foundation in the future to meet the manpower shortage.”
Design to completion at the Cleveland Convention Center
In addition to NECA journeymen and a handful of CW/CEs, Zenith has several professional engineers on staff, with PE stamps throughout the country. “We always have an engineer in the field to assist in the design-build of any project,” details Joyce. “We’ve been ahead in this sense from the beginning and now more people are doing it. When we’re asked to take a large hospital from 100 percent design to design-construction documents or even a stadium or convention center – we do it, from design to completion.”
One of the largest design assist jobs under Zenith’s belt is the $50 million Cleveland Medical Mart & Convention Center, completed in May 2013. Zenith completed the convention center building and renovation project, including the Global Center for Health Innovation, public auditorium and mall.
“This is a four-story medical building with the convention center and associated meeting rooms,” tells Joyce. “This $50 million scope was design assist in every facet; from basic electrical all the way to high-end AV work.”
As the design-build partner, Zenith fabricated all systems, including: electrical, audio/visual and tele data, lighting and integrated temperature control, convention center air-sampling and fire alarms, building automation control system, shade integration, point of sale, security, sewer and water. The center includes 225,000 square feet of Class A, fully-automated exhibit space, 35 state-of-the-art meeting rooms, an outdoor even space on the building’s 12-acre roof and a 32,000-square-foot column-free ballroom with spectacular views of Cleveland’s lakefront to boot.
For Zenith, this massive undertaking included 120 union contractors, working more than 300,000 collective man hours – the largest electrical contract for a building in Cleveland’s history. “We used a program called Trimble to create a fabrication center in our warehouse, allowing us to fabricate 25 percent of the project components off site,” tells Joyce. “Using models, we installed anchors and conduits and every foreman on this job had an iPad in hand so they could all access the same model. What we did at the convention center is light years ahead of what other convention centers nationwide are doing in terms of systems integration and automation.”
For a project of such magnitude, Zenith completed the design-assist job in just two-and-a-half years; three months ahead of the proposed schedule and under budget. However, Joyce says it’s just all in a day’s work for Zenith Systems, as the company has been paving the way in electrical design and delivery since day one.
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