Helix Electric Inc.

High transparency in how California obtains and supplies electricity will be provided –literally – by the Cali­fornia Independent System Operator (ISO) Center headquarters – its operation will be visible from a viewing room with glass walls open to the public. Be­sides this public wing and a cafeteria, gym and exer­cise facilities for emp­loy­ees, the building also will house the approximately 7,000-square-foot operations center, the 7,000-square-foot data center and central plant facilities to support the entire facility.

“The data center can never go down – it controls the power coming in and out of the state of California,” explains Walt Ouimette, Helix Electric foreman. “One of the purposes is that when we generate extra power within the state of California, we sell it. When they need more power, they buy it. So they are monitoring our consumption and regulating the power coming in and out of our state.”

“They have 14 full-time operators watching what the power grid for the state of California is doing,” adds General Superintendent Mark Fichtler. “They have a dozen power companies they pull power from, and they purchase that power for the lowest cost.”

Huge Power Demands

Helix Electric is providing all the electrical system work for the 278,000-square-foot facility for the California ISO. The public agency is supported by the state’s utility companies to monitor and handle any data required for the electrical grid in California. “The data center has huge power demands, and the design, detail and coordination that go into these types of systems are very involved and complicated and require a tremendous amount of coop­er­ation among all the stakeholders,” Helix Electric Executive Vice President Dan Zupp points out.

The electrical contract for the project totals $30 million. The construction cost of the building is $115 million. Construction started in spring 2009 and is due for completion by spring 2011. It is located on 30 acres and surrounded by high levels of physical security – fences, access control, CCTV and guards – and cyber security, such as firewalls.

“It has a very elaborate security system, and of course, fire detection,” according to Zupp. “If it goes down, you’ve got real problems as far as the grid goes.”

To prevent that, extensive backup systems are designed into the building. Two 2,500-kilowatt diesel generators and 12,000-volt switch gear provide duplicate backup.

Additionally, the facility receives two feeds from separate areas of the grid and has double dual uninterruptible power supply backup. “So if one part of the grid goes down, the other feed kicks in and vice versa,” Ouimette relates. “So it is redundant twice – two separate feeds from the utilities plus you’ve got the two generators.”


Aiming for LEED Gold certification, the California ISO facility will feature an under-floor air distribution system, highly reflective window glass, energy-efficient building orientation, high levels of daylighting and five different bins to separate waste construction materials. The floor is raised 18 inches in the office building and 30 inches in the data center to allow cabling, power supplies and other equipment underneath.

The facility also has approximately six acres of photovoltaic panels used as a supplemental electrical source that provides 400 amps of power. “It’s a substantial system – much more than you would have on your house – but it’s nothing compared to their load,” Fichtler maintains. “We’re operating on a potential of 16,000 amps.”

Organized into three wings, the building’s two-story public wing is con­structed of a structural steel frame with glass and metal panels on the ex­terior. It will house training rooms, an educational center and support facilities. The data center, mechanical and electrical utility systems and the mission control room are in the mission-critical wing, which has a structural steel frame with precast concrete walls.

The three-story office wing has exposed structural precast concrete beams with a façade of glass and metal panels and will house many of California ISO’s more than 500 employees in an open office environment. The decks are ribbed steel with poured concrete, and one floor of the structure is underground.

Accelerated Schedule

“One of the ways our design/build team won the job was that we presented an accelerated schedule to build it in two years, which includes design,” says Brian Jordan, executive vice president. “The most exciting thing about this job is that it’s a huge data center that we constructed using design/build/delivery and that it was done all using BIM,” Fichtler says.

“We couldn’t have done the accelerated schedule without tight coordination between us and our team members, Clark Design/Build of California Inc. [part of Clark Construction Group LLC] and Frank M. Booth Design Build Co. [the HVAC contractor], Granite Bay, Calif.,” Ouimette asserts. “It was such a fast track, it was very difficult for the design to keep up with the construction,” Fichtler points out.

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