J.A. Lee Electric

JA LeeNearing the end of its work on one of New York’s most anticipated projects, J.A. Lee Electric plans to keep the tri-state area connected.

By Janice Hoppe

As the go-to telecommunication and data infrastructure contractor in the New York tri-state area, J.A. Lee Electric is installing what it believes to be the largest distributed antennae system (DAS) in New York City. The Grand Central Terminal and Park Avenue Tunnel Project is the largest job in company history and was made possible after a substantial change in its capital structure.

John Lee founded the New York- and New Jersey-based company in 1999 after running his own electrical contracting business in Long Island, N.Y. In the beginning, J.A. Lee Electric specialized in performing small commercial electric jobs and quickly expanded into the cellular industry.JA Lee Info Box

Today, J.A. Lee Electric is a fast-growing provider of commercial electrical and wireless infrastructure services in New York’s tri-state area that includes New Jersey and Connecticut. “We work with most of the country’s leading wireless carriers, neutral hosts and network integrators, providing a broad range of design, build and maintenance services,” the company says. “We specialize in DAS, small cell networks, first-responder systems and traditional cell sites, including building rooftops in the city.”

J.A. Lee Electric has successfully installed large DAS systems in a number of high-profile buildings over the past few years, including the MetLife Building, Javits Center, Barclays Center, Horseshoe Casino and numerous malls. The company has also done wireless infrastructure and/or fiber work in The Museum of Natural History, Newark Airport and most of the New York City tunnels. “Maintaining a reputation as a good company that completes projects on time and within budget is the key to being invited to bids,” President and CFO Keith Maddox says. “We see continuous opportunity in the tri-state area and will focus on our core market while growing in the wireless infrastructure space.”

Strong Investment

Maddox joined J.A. Lee Electric nearly two years ago and brought with him Gerber Finance, a New York-based investment firm that funded a multi-million dollar line of credit to the company. “John built a very good contracting business, but he recognized two years ago that he needed a financial partner to grow and an infusion of capital,” Maddox remembers. “I put a big chunk of my personal money in and brought in investors to create a platform for the company to take off.”

The recapitalization of J.A. Lee Electric increased the company’s equity, introduced a larger line of credit and more working capital, and restructured its debt to make it more affordable. “It means we can take on bigger projects,” Maddox explains. “With most large projects, contractors don’t get much money upfront and we have to incur a lot of costs to get the job stared, including purchasing materials and making payroll. For a company to grow, it must be capitalized properly to take on bigger projects. We now have the right kind of credit in place for the company.”

J.A. Lee Electric is now also better able to provide provide its employees – in advance of a project – with the right tools and materials to be successful because of its recapitalization. The company works hard to develop and maintain its vendor relationships, which results in better pricing and faster delivery of materials. “We are focused on doing a better job with procurement and logistics,” Maddox notes. “Some of the challenges we previously had were not having the right systems and experienced people in the right places. Recapitalization and putting more experienced people in place has made a big difference in the company.”

The company has positioned itself to better tackle changes in the industry, which most recently includes wireless carriers requesting more DAS systems in large office buildings and public facilities. “Because of the cost of real estate in New York, a lot more carriers installing DAS systems are using remote head-end rooms (HER),” Maddox explains. “This allows the owners of DAS systems to utilize less expensive real estate for the HER, which is the DAS system equivalent of the server room. This trend has our company doing much more fiber work to connect the DAS systems to the remote HERs. We are also seeing that a lot of the new systems require fiber all the way to the edge of the network.”

The increase in fiber work requires more training for technicians, which is provided mostly by fiber vendors and the union, but also by J.A. Lee Electric in-house. “It’s an important part of what we do,” Maddox says. “Clients want to be sure we have the skill sets in-house to perform the job.

“We are one of the very few International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers [IBEW] union shops that has a core group of radio frequency [RF] technicians,” he continues. “RF technicians install complex telecommunication systems that provide cellular, wi-fi and first-responder systems, all of which operate on different frequencies and typically come from different vendors.”

Total Connectivity

J.A. Lee Electric is working with Metro-North Railroad and a consortium of wireless carriers to install the wireless network inside New York’s Grand Central Terminal [GCT] and the Park Avenue Tunnels. “This is one of the largest DAS systems that has ever been installed in the city and definitely the largest project in our company’s history,” Maddox says. “We are installing both a DAS and wi-fi system.”

Covering all of GCT and two-and-a-half miles of the Park Avenue Tunnels from 42nd to 94th streets, the company expects to have installed more than 630 antennas, 120,000 feet of conduit, 18,000 Radiax and 70,000 Coax.

J.A. Lee Electric is more than 90 percent complete with the project after commencing work in May 2015. The company currently has 70 technicians on site on both day and night shifts to complete the project by the end of the year.

“When the system goes live, which we expect no later than the end of this year, the DAS system will allow subway riders to have connectivity where they have never had it,” Maddox says. “They will be able to make phone calls and surf the web with high-speed connections whether on the Metro-North train or platform, or eating in the basement of GCT.”

“This deal will provide significant improvements in customer service, railroad operations and emergency management in Grand Central Terminal, all at no cost to MTA or Metro-North,” Metro-North President Howard Permut said in a press release. “This network will improve radio communication for our operating department employees, the MTA police and other first responders.”

The carriers will provide a system that includes a separate fiber and radio communications network for the railroad, police and emergency responders.

J.A. Lee Electric’s technicians are running pipe, installing wire and antennas in the GCT Complex, including its track areas and tunnels, which is why safety has been of the utmost concern. Crews are working day and night to complete the project while not disrupting the movement of Metro-North’s nearly 700 daily trains. “We have many layers of safety and Metro-North has a safety inspector who comes by frequently to make sure the crews are working carefully,” Maddox says. “I’m happy to say that we have had zero incidents since we started the project.”

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