“How cool would that be to walk a wire across Niagara Falls!” Those were the thoughts of a young Nik Wallenda the first time he visited the Falls with his family while his parents were performing in Buffalo. Nik admits that might sound strange to most people, but being part of the seventh generation of Wallendas who continue in the family tradition, “It’s sort of in the blood,” he says.
Fast forward about 25 years. To make his longtime dream a reality, serious lobbying of US and Canadian officials began twenty months before the walk actually took place. The New York State Assembly passed a bill that granted a onetime anti-stunting law exemption early on in the process, however Ontario Canada’s Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) didn’t grant their approval until four months before the event.
On June 15, 2012, Nik Wallenda became the first person to perform a tightrope skywalk over Niagara Falls since 1896. His successful crossing was performed in front of nearly 200,000 spectators and millions of television viewers across the world. “All my attention is focused right there on that wire and nothing else,” Nik stated. “It’s me and that wire in our own world.”
A key factor in Wallenda’s success rested on finding the right contractor to install the cable: experts who possessed the resources and equipment to rig and stabilize an 1800-foot span of wire rope without the use of guy-wires. He found what he was looking for in NECA Contractor O’Connell Electric and the IBEW Local 1249 tradesmen who work for them.
O’Connell was selected to install Wallenda’s custom made wire rope from among several qualified contractors in the region.
To perform the installation, O’Connell assembled a crew of ten men who were divided into two teams, one on either side of the border. Four days prior to the event, they mobilized and began staging equipment at strategically placed anchor points where micropiles had been drilled and mortared into bedrock.
Wallenda’s 2-inch diameter custom wire rope weighed over seven pounds per linear foot, more than eight tons in all. Too heavy for a helicopter to carry across the gorge, a synthetic rope was used instead. The rope was flown from Table Rock in Canada to Terrapin Point in the US where it was secured to the pulling end of the cable. A swivel fitting allowed the cable to spin freely as it was being fed off the tensioner and keep it from becoming damaged while a turnblock provided the two-part purchase that enabled the rope to meet pulling tensions of around 30,000 pounds.
Pulling of the cable was managed through continual communications between the operator of a large tensioner on the US side, the operator of a puller anchored to the Canadian side, and several spotters who were their eyes for everything in between.
The cable made the Canadian side at 3:30 a.m. Once through the crane pulley, grips were attached to the lead end of the cable so it could be disengaged from the puller and secured in an aligned position with the anchor yoke. Four grips were then attached further back on the cable to make up the rest of the distance. By 8:40 a.m. the anchor pin was set and the cable was secure. Final cable tensioning to 65,000 pounds was achieved between the cranes on either side of the gorge. After crews finished securing the two sites, a 27-hour shift had come to a close.
After a brief rest, crews were back on the job that evening to stabilize the cable. Two by two they journeyed out onto the cable in custom-made baskets from both locations; the very path Nik would take two nights later. Working their way along the wire and out over the Falls, they inspected the cable and secured pendulum anchors every 150 feet to counteract rolling and bouncing of the wire. A small weather station was attached in the center of the wire to monitor the unpredictable micro weather conditions generated by the Falls.
During the walk itself, two O’Connell crews were staged in bucket trucks at each end of the wire. They were prepared to rush to Nik’s aid as first responders in the O’Connell baskets, if necessary. Proving to be the professional athlete that he is, no aid was required. Nik made his 25-minute trek between countries look easy. Within an hour of Nik presenting papers to Canadian customs officials, O’Connell had begun the cable dismantling process. Within 24 hours, O’Connell crews had the cable coiled back onto the truck and their equipment off of both sites, leaving no evidence that they had ever been there.
Nik has aptly stated in numerous interviews that his dream would have never been realized apart from the dedication and expertise of O’Connell Electric and the IBEW Local 1249 tradesmen. We are grateful to have had the privilege to contribute to this historic event.
Next stop, the Grand Canyon.
A month before the walk, O’Connell installed a practice cable at the Seneca Niagara Casino that was identical to the one pulled across the Niagara River gorge for the big event, only slightly shorter. Open to the public, Nik practiced for eleven days, just a block away from the American Falls. To help simulate conditions he might encounter over the Falls, he incorporated a large, high-powered fan and fire hose spray into his daily workouts.
Turning Stone Resort & Casino, a top-five tourist destination in New York State, recently embarked on a $308 million expansion project. The project included three new structures featuring a twenty-story, 200,000 square foot, 287 room casino hotel, a 5000-seat multipurpose event center, and a 22,000 square foot Winter Garden entry way connecting the two structures.
Our long standing relationship with the Oneida Indian Nation and Turning Stone dates back to completion of the casino’s opening in 1993. For this expansion project, O’Connell Electric provided full electrical construction for the three facilities under a $9.2 million subcontract with Hunt Construction Group.
Scope of work incorporated all primary and secondary power, emergency power systems, conventional as well as specialty interior and exterior lighting, theater sound systems, telephone, data and fire alarm systems, lightning protection, and UPS system. Key materials and equipment installed included 13.2 kV primary and 480/277 secondary service, one 1000 kVA and two 2500 kVA transformers, and a 500 kW standby generator. O’Connell’s innovative approach to construction management yielded productivity enhancements at the job site and helped work crews stay ahead of construction schedules.
With a student enrollment of nearly 29,000, the University at Buffalo (UB) is the largest public university in the Northeastern United States. As a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the school hosts home football and soccer games as well as track and field events at UB Stadium. Current televising of NCAA football games in High Definition (HD) required greater illumination of the playing field than the original stadium lights could deliver necessitating the rental of additional lights. Concerned about energy efficiency and operating costs of the existing lighting system, UB approved a permanent lighting upgrade for the stadium. In addition to facilitating HD television broadcasts the new eco-friendly stadium lighting system is reported to be saving the university $70,000 in energy costs annually. This aligns with the school’s energy conservation and green building goals outlined under the UB Green initiative.
Under an $860,000 contract from the University at Buffalo, in conjunction with the New York Power Authority, O’Connell was hired as prime contractor to upgrade the lighting systems at UB Stadium. Project scope involved the construction of eight new stadium light structures, demolition of the four existing structures, trenching for new conduit, cable, and wire, and energizing the new lights by tying into the stadium’s existing power supply.
O’Connell subcontracted the eight new concrete foundations, each over twenty-feet deep, as well as the crane work for both setting and demolishing the light towers. The new light structures were installed, aligned, and powered-up in pairs prior to their single-tower counterparts being decommissioned and dismantled. The four existing light structures were cut apart and lowered to the ground where O’Connell technicians systematically disassembled each of the 108 light fixtures for proper recycling and disposal of their electronics, ballasts, lamps, and glass. The eight new light towers carried only 35 light fixtures each (totaling 152 fewer overall than the four original towers) while providing greater illumination at much higher energy efficiency ratings.
O’Connell executed its project work around active field and stadium events, coordinating the clearing of office personnel and athletes from the UB Stadium buildings and field during scheduled pole lifts. O’Connell and its subcontractors met all project obligations with zero reported safety incidents, beating our deadline to have the new lights up and operational for the first televised NCAA college football game of the season.
Vernon Downs race track first opened its doors for the harness racing season of 1953. The track holds a prestigious place in the rich history of the sport, known for competitiveness and its fast miles, once coined “Home of the Miracle Mile” after the legendary, Adios Harry, set a world-record time at the track that stood for 18 years. More recently Vernon Downs has expanded its offerings to include hotel accommodations with a casino as well as event center operations to offset the slow decline in racing and to become more competitive in the region. Now coined a “racino”, this latest endeavor undertaken was an $8.1 million renovation and expansion project to upgrade and enlarge the complex’s event center.
Under a contract to VIP Structures of Syracuse, O’Connell Electric was hired to complete all electrical construction for the new 16,000-square-foot multi-purpose event center. The expansion project included alterations affecting two floors of the existing hotel and casino along with construction of a new 70-seat simulcast area to view racing. The main floor of the existing facility was connected to new common areas and ballrooms, receiving and pre-function areas, meeting rooms, a new bar and lounge, and restaurant with kitchen that featured walk-in coolers and freezers. Renovations to the second and third floors of the hotel involved addition of a new mechanical room and the conversion of several hotel rooms into offices for operations and administrative personnel.
We provided the new building’s underground electrical service, designed to back-feed existing electrical distribution equipment, as well as the emergency power distribution system which featured a 500KW Packaged Engine Generator to ensure continual facilities operation. O’Connell installed all branch wiring and feeders for the new distribution power system, interior and exterior lighting with related dimming and control systems, fire and building safety systems, as well as all hook-ups for mechanical equipment.
The casino and hotel operate on a twenty four-hour, seven-day-a-week schedule. To facilitate continued operations during intermittent power outages, O’Connell installed and managed a temporary onsite generator to keep all systems live and facilities operational. The size and nature of the expansion necessitated a larger-scale power shutdown that required advanced planning and sign-off from both Vernon Downs management and the local utility. O’Connell drafted the plan and managed execution of the outage/re-energization process which was carried out flawlessly.
O’Connell employees executed all work responsibly, providing sound resolutions to issues that arose, maintaining professionalism at all times, as well as meeting and exceeding all schedule obligations for this fast-track project.