Anyone crossing the South Avenue Bridge into downtown Youngstown can see the colorful mural of the Greek god Apollo on the Rica Building on Champion Street. The new owner, Tim Huber, purchased it about two years ago and has been doing renovations ever since.
Finding a reliable, experienced electrician was a top priority for him. Huber says Tri-Area Electric of North Jackson was the perfect fit. The $2 million project is a challenge since the building has been around since the early 1900s.
“I was impressed by the company’s transparency and honesty when it came to budgeting and planning, and if they didn’t have the right information, they would find out for me,” Huber said.
The main level has been home to The SOAP Gallery, but will soon be transitioned to The Apollo Event Center. It will be used for parties and receptions for up to 140 people. In May, Huber says The SOAP Gallery is moving to another location in the area.
Assessing the original system
Joe DeLullo is the project manager on the job for Tri-Area Electric. It took him and senior electricians a couple days to do the initial assessment of the building.
He says plans were then discussed with Huber about how to move forward. One of the problems they first noticed was the inside getting too warm. Since too much heat isn’t good for utilities, they eventually figured out how to better distribute the heat throughout the building.
Another big project is changing out the elevator and its relay system in the basement. The same one has been there since the early 1920s. Work on that starts in June, and everything else will be on hold until it’s finished. Electricians will go up the existing shaft to work on conduits and make revisions for the new elevator.
“You don’t see systems like this anymore with the old buttons that open and close the relays and tell the elevator where to go. It’s all electronic now,” DeLullo said.
Historical power panel
He also pointed out another rare find – the old, main slate board for power distribution.
“This one has been taken care of and maintained, and it’s all copper, so that system could pretty much last forever,” DeLullo said.
He says the intent is to pull remaining circuits off the old board and move them to a sub-distribution panel by the main power box. That box was installed during a previous renovation. Ironically, it has a connection to Tri-Area’s chief operating officer Greg Hann.
“I actually helped put that service in almost 30 years ago when I was with Tri-Area as an apprentice,” Hann said.
Hann then left and worked in the health care industry for 20 years before returning to the company.
All the floors have original copper bus panels, and those will be replaced with new panels and feeders.
“They did a very good job of laying them out and stacking them above each other on every floor, so all the feeders came up in one location. That made it a lot easier for us when assessing the building,” DeLullo said.
He says some of the existing wiring and conduits can be reused because they’re in such good condition.
Wired for business
On the second floor, an architect firm is moving in from another area location. What’s interesting is there’s a closed off room that was made explosion proof.
“Whatever process went on here, at one time, was classified as hazardous. The protection was done so there wouldn’t be a spark that ignited when lights were turned on,” DeLullo said.
The third floor will become suites for a local business that hosts frequent out-of-town guests. DeLullo says quite a bit of conduit will run through the ceiling there because of the renovations on the fourth floor. That’s where the owner will be living.
DeLullo says a lot of the electrical work on the fourth floor was original, so crews had to refeed it. Another challenge was a major structural beam along the main wall. That made it difficult to run some of the wiring.
Electrified curb appeal
The outside of the building facing the Market Street Bridge will have uplighting to make it appear like it has pillars. Intricate work will go into spotlighting the Apollo mural on the backside of the building, which was painted by area artist Patrick McGlone, of the Overall Paint Company.
“This mural will be completely washed with bright light – like a waterfall of light. You will be able to see that entire side from far away,” DeLullo said.
The outside and inside are being done with LED, high-efficiency lighting. The history surrounding this project is something that stands out for the electricians.
“There were a lot of visions and ideas. Even coming into an older building like this and seeing the old panels, a lot of the younger generations don’t get to see that stuff all the time. I’m glad some of them had the opportunity,” DeLullo said.
The sloped parking space next to the building on Champion Street will eventually become a cement gated lot. Electricians will run power lines through the wall to make it operational.
The owner hopes to have everything up and running by September 1.
Tri-Area Electric is a member contractor of NECA-IBEW Electricians, an association of IBEW Local 64 in Youngstown, IBEW Local 573 in Warren and signatory electrical contractors throughout the Mahoning Valley.