Courthouse Gleams After $147 M Rehab

Although visitors to the John Adams Courthouse in downtown Boston can hardly help but notice the sparkling new renovation of the building that houses the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and its stunning historic details, most probably give little thought to the electrical system.

But some 250,000 man-hours of painstaking work were required to create the newly efficient heating and air conditioning systems completed in 2005, not to mention basics like lighting, outlets and modern teledata operations to support security and computer operations that today’s judges, lawyers and other courthouse users require, reports Electrical Contractor. The magazine is the official publication of the National Electrical Contractors Association.

In an ordinary rehab, electricians cut into plaster or drywall to put in new piping and other enhancements, and other workers patch the holes or put up new drywall later. But on this job not only did electricians have to take pains to remove historic panels containing handcrafted details as carefully as possible, they had to get permission from the architect every time they put in a new outlet. Thousands were required: It was standard to place outlets 100 feet or even farther apart when the courthouse was constructed in the late 1800s.

Although the result was state-of-the-art, much of the work performed required old-fashioned mechanical expertise and a willingness to work under difficult, dusty conditions. “It’s kind of ironic, the old traditional skills were what we needed most,” says Jonathan Ostrow. He is president of the electrical subcontractor that performed the work, Ostrow Electric Co. Inc., of Worcester, Mass.

Other major improvements also made during the project include new plumbing, new windows, construction of a new courtroom, and restoration of masonry and other surfaces inside and out, including ceiling artwork. The total cost of the three-year rehab of the 385,000-square-foot courthouse was $147.3 million.

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