2009 BEST BUILDING PROJECT: The Raleigh Convention Center


The Raleigh Convention Center took more than four years and 1.9 million man hours. Yet it experienced only one minor lost-time accident. The team forged an unprecedented agreement with the NC Department of Labor and OSHA representatives. The Labor Department has used the pact as a model.

With 507,000 square feet on three main levels, the building had to be constructed in tight quarters in downtown Raleigh, with minimum traffic disruption.

Walter Benoit, project executive with Skanska USA, Durham, and John Muter, vice president of Barnhill Contracting, Raleigh, marvel at how smoothly the work progressed.

Perhaps that’s because of the spirit of teamwork the joint venture partners instilled, says the leader of one of the 70 subcontractors, Precision Walls. At one point, the firm, headquartered in Raleigh, had 200 people on the job. It worked on walls, ceilings and the outside “Shimmer Wall” that moves with the wind.

“Skanska and Barnhill put some of their best people on that job,” says Brian Allen, Precision’s president. “They really did partner with the subs. They communicated frequently and clearly and they asked for input. They got the subs to buy into scheduling, time commitments and quality expectations.”

Muter agrees with the teamwork sentiments. “Either of our companies could have built that job, but I don’t think either could have built it as good as we built it together,” he says.

Muter praises members of the Raleigh City Council and Wake County commission for support throughout. He remembers Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker’s personal help in solving a thorny utility problem. And the backing of the project didn’t waver as costs escalated, he added.

Parts of the building are under three busy streets and required construction of concrete and steel bridges to carry traffic. When crews dug a tunnel under McDowell Street, which carries 30,000 vehicles daily, they had to do it without closing more than one of its three lanes at any one time.

Convention center progress had to harmonize with work on an adjoining hotel, so access to construction of the two projects was coordinated continuously.

“I’m most proud of the collaboration and team atmosphere between the joint venture partners and city, county, design team and subcontractors along with the overall quality of work,” says Benoit. “We did Raleigh’s first construction manager at-risk project and we built it to LEED silver certification. We didn’t have any claims or court action.”

Benoit still marvels at some of the numbers. Materials included 21,000 square feet of limestone and 4,600 square feet of granite. The roof is 158,000 square feet on 16 different elevations. The foundation is dug 30 feet deep to keep the roof low on the skyline. For that hole, crews removed 340,000 cubic yards of soil. Then they poured 20,000 cubic yards of concrete into it.

Big as those numbers are, the center also includes a more intimate coffee shop and Internet café intended to serve as Raleigh’s front porch.

The curved roof symbolizes the Wright brothers’ first flight. The ballroom’s textured ceiling represents the state’s textile industry and its carpet pattern resembles a computer mother board, in honor of the nearby high-tech concentration. The light-colored bricks – 350,000 of them – represent government buildings that adorn the state’s capital city.

A big challenge was that plans for various parts of the project were released in phases, says Benoit. “We would start work in one phase while we were finishing the design and pricing on following phases,” he explains.

Still, Benoit values the CAGC recognition. “No pun intended,” he says, “this is the pinnacle of awards because it means we are being complimented by our competitors in the marketplace.”