The Jacob J. Javits Convention Center in New York City recently completed a four-year, $465 million renovation and expansion. Designed by I. M. Pei architects as a space frame structure, the center was built between 1980 and 1986 as a replacement of the New York Coliseum.

Located on Manhattan’s West Side, the Javits Center, owned and operated by the New York Convention Center Operating Corp., is considered the busiest convention center in the United States. In 2012, the center hosted more than 140 large-scale events, which created 14,300 jobs for workers in and around the 2.1 million-sq.-ft. building, along with $635 million in wages paid. The most recent trade show was the annual AHR Expo, Jan. 21-23, with more than 1,800 exhibitors.

The Javits Center renovation began in 2009 and includes the installation of upgraded, high-efficiency mechanical units and the construction of a 110,000-sq.-ft. expansion adjacent to the existing facility, now known as Javits Center North. In order to obtain LEED Silver certification, the existing curtain wall at the Javits Center was replaced with 3,722 panels of energy-efficient, high-performing glass — along with 2,400 skylight panels — allowing daylight to penetrate the interior spaces and enhance the building’s famous exterior.

The main building now features a 6.75-acre green roof — the second-largest of its kind in the country and the largest in the Northeast — which will reduce water runoff and heat gain at the convention center. These additions are expected to reduce the facility’s energy consumption by at least 26%. The green roof, as well as the energy-efficient glass panels and low-flow plumbing fixtures, landed the Javits Center at No. 7 on’s top 10 U.S. cities for green meetings this year.

Philadelphia-based Drexel University and The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art are conducting a research study on the Javits Center green roof to determine what effect it has on its immediate microclimate, how much rainwater actually runs off or evaporates from its surface, and to what extent the roof — and the intake for the convention center’s air-conditioning system — is cooler once the vegetation is in place.

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based union contractor Pace Plumbing (Plumbers Local 1, Steamfitters Local 638) installed the roof drains and irrigation system for the green roof.

“Because of the high-profile nature of the job, the fact that the Javits Center is a staple in New York City and was undergoing a major renovation, we knew it was something we wanted to be a part of,” says Adam Levy, Pace Plumbing vice president. “So we went after the job pretty aggressively.”


‘Staging nightmare’

One of the challenges Pace Plumbing faced on the project was the fact that the Javits Center never closed.

“We had to do the job in nine phases to accommodate all the different trade shows, conventions and other events,” Levy explains. “We’d move out of one area while a convention was going, work in another area, then go back once the convention was finished. It was quite a feat to get the job done.”

He adds that while the major elements of the project are complete, Pace still has two to three field personnel on the jobsite working on change orders to finish the job.

“At the peak, we had about 10 to 12 guys on site. If we had been able to hit all the areas at once, we would have doubled or tripled that crew,” Levy says. “But because the space we were allowed to work in was so limited, guys would have been working on top of each other.”

To help crews work in the expanse and height of the building, Pace Plumbing purchased man lifts for ceiling work and two golf carts to transport crews and material to various areas in the convention center.

“It was a staging nightmare, but general contractor Tishman Construction did it rather well,” says Joe Piscitello, Pace’s director of plumbing operations. “When they broke the job down into the nine phases, the sections went east to west, then north to south.”

Levy adds: “What Tishman did to pull this off was very impressive. Usually on a five-year project, you see a lot of personnel turnover. Tishman had almost the same crew from the beginning to end, which certainly helped the process.”

Planning, coordination and communication were critical to the success of the Javits Center renovation project. Tishman Construction held weekly meetings with subcontractors for updates and additional planning.

“Our team was able to transform this iconic facility through innovative planning and logistical coordination, working seamlessly with the operator to ensure the outstanding shows Javits hosted were not compromised during construction,” Daniel R. Tishman, chairman and CEO of Tishman Construction, noted at a celebration event last November.

“Once you got used to the system and the shows and how the building was laid out, it became better,” says Craig Cawthon, Pace’s foreman on the project. “But the first six months was a big challenge for everyone, all the other trades included. The hanger work was definitely a challenge; I’ll probably never work on a project like this again.”


Where does the pipe go?

Hanging the pipe for all the various water and drainage systems was problematic because of the glass roof in two sections of the building. The all-glass “cubes” — the River Pavillion and the Javits Center North — have flat roofs where water collects. Pace Plumbing installed flow-control trough drains. But the biggest challenge was to figure out how to hang the water and storm pipe on the load-bearing space frame, Piscitello notes.

Pace’s eight-person engineering department, along with field personnel, devised an apparatus to hang pipe from essentially a glass ceiling. But the hangers had to be approved by Javits Center structural and mechanical engineers because of the space frame. “We had specific load point criteria that we had to meet; we couldn’t install hangers anywhere we wanted,” Piscitello notes.

Levy adds: “When we bid this job, we weren’t expecting to have to hang pipe in this intricate manner. It took a lot more time and cost more than we originally planned, unfortunately.” 

The company’s drafting department plotted routes for the thousands of feet of water, storm and gas lines using AutoCAD (BIM was not prevalent in 2009), but foreman Cawthon and the jobsite crew had to figure out how to make it work in the field. Sometimes the crew had to install piping above mechanical systems in places it couldn’t see.

“Most of the ceilings had existing duct work, electrical and fire lines,” Cawthon says. “We had to work around what was in the building. The drawings were good to get you from one point to another, but the knowledge in the field was important. So the plumbers and the mechanical guys in the field had to make it all happen. Experience prior to that job really came into play because of the situation we were in.”

Pace worked closely with the two Javits Center in-house Local 1 union plumbers because they know the building so well. “Any questions Craig or our crew had about logistics or where certain things were, we relied on their knowledge and expertise,” Levy notes.

Weather also played a role in the renovation. Each cube’s old glass panels had to be removed before replacing them with thermal glass. Tishman created a temporary roof to make the building weather-tight, Cawthon says.

Pace then had to install temporary storm pipe and drains while working on scaffolding 50 to 60 ft. high. In the rest of the building, crews were working 40 to 60 ft. in the air on man lifts, Piscitello says. The company had to consider the safety aspects of the entire project, and fortuately there were no major safety incidents during the nearly five years of the project.

“At Pace, we monitor every job in great detail,” he explains. “And having a small, tight-knit crew on this one, due to the phasing, made it easier to keep track of what they were doing on a daily basis.”