Engineering News-Record

March 19, 2018

Tom Stabile

The government agency overseeing a $1.2- billion expansion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s far West Side took an unconventional route for a major New York City project: It bid its two-city-block-size effort as a design-build job.

The atypical move almost immediately led to major program changes to the four-level truck marshalling facility that makes up half of the 1.2-million-sq-ft expansion, scrapping deeper foundations and switching the superstructure from steel to cast-in-place concrete. Those changes saved time and money compared with the original plan, while also improving key features of the overall project, which was ranks No. 5 on ENR New York’s Top Starts list (see story here).

That was the whole idea, to tap into the collaborative thinking that design-build can afford, says David Thurm, executive vice president and Javits Center project lead at Lehrer, which is serving as owner’s representative for the Convention Center Development Corp.

“This is a perfect example of that kind of creativity,” he says.

The winning design-build team—led by Turner Construction and Lendlease, with TVS Design as lead design partner—mapped its plan on extensive geotechnical testing information in the request for proposals, says Pat Murray, Turner vice president on the project. That data, and a tight project schedule, encouraged ideas to minimize excavation under the truck facility, he says.

“We set our foundations and pressure slabs to minimize the amount of rock chopping necessary,” he says. “We drove our bottom slabs up to the point where we were only about 20 ft down … in relationship to the existing sidewalks—our first level is actually at grade and from 11th to 12th [avenues] the grade slopes down. That allowed us to create a project schedule that was a little bit more predictable coming out of foundations.”

The change also will ease access from the convention hall to a green roof and 1,500-person pavilion atop the truck facility—which wasn’t a feature of the original design, Thurm says.

“It helps the schedule,” he says. “It helps the price. And it had the salutary effect of making the meeting rooms exactly even with the outdoor pavilion and the landscaping. It was a major improvement to the project.”

Swapping out steel for concrete in the truck facility similarly aimed to save time, but it also aided the structural design by allowing lateral loads from the convention space’s steel frame to flow into the truck facility, says Murray. “Having a nice, stiff concrete structure allows us to better conform to the program requirements and the deflection criteria for trucking,” he says.

Switching to separate steel and concrete subcontractors, instead of having an all-steel job, also improved overall project risk management by offering redundancy and schedule flexibility, Murray adds.

Those benefits directly stemmed from the design-build’s team approach, with construction professionals working closely with engineers TVS, Magnusson Klemencic Associates and JBP Engineering, says Kevin Murphy, Lendlease senior vice president and project executive.

“This whole concept of design-build is new to the New York City environment and took some getting used to by the design team and, more so, the construction managers and subcontracting community,” he adds.

Expanded Horizons

The new LEED Silver addition will greatly expand the capacity of what is already the country’s busiest convention hall, which earlier this decade got a $465-million renovation of the original 1986 structure’s signature glass facade, among many improvements. That effort first extended the original four-block-long structure, which ran from 34th to 38th streets, by adding an 111,000-sq-ft temporary exhibit hall and other facilities that reached to 40th St.

Now, following demolition of the temporary structures, the block from 38th to 39th streets will house a 180-ft-tall multilevel building with 90,000 sq ft of new permanent exhibit space, allowing the full convention facility to offer a continuous 500,000-sq-ft hall. The new structure also will have 45,000 sq ft of new meeting room space and a new 55,000-sq-ft ballroom. The next block from 39th to 40th streets will house the four-level truck facility, which will bump up capacity with 27 new loading docks and space for more than 200 trucks, helping to shorten move-in and move-out times and allow the center to hold 20 more days of events than its typical 335 days of bookings per year.

The final product—convention and meeting areas, back of house space and truck marshalling building—will be a 3.3-million-sq-ft facility.

Additions include a new transformer building and yard above grade—work that began in late 2016 and was handled under a different contract managed by AECOM’s Tishman Construction. That work and other elements bring the total tab for the new phase up to $1.5 billion. Tishman is also a co-owner’s rep on the main expansion project with Lehrer.

Work on the design-build expansion effort began last summer with demolition, which lasted about two months, and then foundation work, which is ongoing, says Murphy. The overall target completion date is early 2021, he says.

The new convention space’s exterior will complement the classic glass facade created by I.M. Pei without “slavishly repeating” it, says Thurm, with an atrium that will glow from inside at night. “It doesn’t look like the Crystal Palace, but it has the essence of the Crystal Palace—the openness, light and the movement of people through the space,” he says.

And the expanded truck facility will allow another major benefit: It will take virtually all tractor-trailers for events off the streets, to the likely satisfaction of local residents.

Overall, Javits Center officials have been keeping community groups up to speed with project progress and  listening to residents’ concerns, though future potential noise issues are on the radar,  says Bob Benfatto, president of the Hudson Yards/Hell’s Kitchen Alliance, a business improvement district covering the area directly east of the convention complex. “From our perspective, it’s gone smoothly,” he says.

Traversing the Tunnels

A big element of the current excavation and foundation work entails avoiding a prominent underground feature in the area: the Lincoln Tunnel crossing under the Hudson River. One of the tunnel’s three tubes extends under the existing Javits Center, and the other two are under the footprint of the expansion—the northern one shallower at depths of 6 ft to 30 ft and the center tube deeper, Murray says.

The main challenge for the team, which for this portion includes Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers and E.E. Cruz and Underpinning & Foundation Skanska as excavation subcontractors, is to avoid any impact on the tunnels but also meet Javits Center program requirements.

“We created long-span, cast-in-place concrete beams to span over the top of the north tunnel,” Murray says, and those connect to caissons and structural walls supporting the foundation. The deeper center tunnel has grade beams on caissons spanned by pressure slabs that have been reinforced to support crawler cranes above them for future steel erection, which will avoid the need to place that equipment on regular soil above the Lincoln Tunnel tubes, he adds.

Another big task entails rerouting a thicket of utilities on 39th Street—which “housed everything you would have expected to be in a New York City street: sewer, gas, water, electrical, telecommunications,” Murray says—as well as working around Port Authority of New York and New Jersey tunnel ventilation buildings and other agency infrastructure to the north.

The foundation work will continue through the third quarter of this year, overlapping with the start of steel work on the new convention space, Murray says. The cast-in-place concrete erection for the truck facility will follow afterward, he says.

Long Spans

Erecting the new convention space will bring its own challenges, with the expansion using a bridge-truss design instead of the main Javits Center’s tubular space-frame approach, Murray says. Those trusses will help create spans of 150 ft as well as support massive loads to allow forklifts and other equipment to travel through the building. The expansive 40-ft ceiling heights will also be a big task for mechanical and other utility roughing teams, Murphy says.

But one of the highest hurdles will be conducting all work while allowing the Javits Center to continue normal operations, which are virtually 24/7, says Thurm. There are few blackout periods, but when they occur, “you see us scurrying around doing a lot of work,” he says.

Keeping the center in operation also requires careful logistics to maintain truck access during the construction phase, says Murray. And the project team has had to create new temporary emergency exits and pathways for convention-goers, he adds.

The overall effort has led to bonding between the Turner and Lendlease teams, says Bill Barton, construction executive at Turner. “We’ve taken the best practices and expertise from each firm and used it to our advantage,” he says.

The construction team is extending that collaborative approach to building trades as well, on what is a union job under a project labor agreement. The project team holds daily huddles aiming to not only give subcontractors and site workers up-to-date briefings on progress and goals, but also to seek their input, Murray says. “They’re not just out there to do their job of the day,” he says. “On most jobs, they don’t even know what they’re building.”