Down Under Main Street

An overhead view from the General Office shows the opening for a manhole (left), an underground electrical vault (center) and an older vault (right) that will be repurposed as part of the renovation work in downtown Akron.

October 12, 2018

Employees traveling to FirstEnergy’s General Office in downtown Akron have been dealing with various road closures near the headquarters building. The traffic detours are related to the city’s multi-year Main Street project, which involves redoing the roadway and sidewalks from Mill to Cedar streets.

In conjunction with the project, Ohio Edison is rebuilding parts of its underground network in Akron to enhance service reliability for its downtown customers and accommodate the redevelopment efforts. The $15-million project includes replacing or repairing 38 manholes, 12 vaults, ductwork, transformers, underground cable and other electrical devices, with much of the existing equipment dating back to the late 1950s when it was first installed.

A 31-ton bottom section of a precast concrete vault is moved into place outside of the General Office.

“Because our electrical network in downtown Akron is mostly underground we planned our upgrades to coincide with the excavation work being done during the city’s Main Street project,” says Rich Sweeney, regional president, Ohio Edison.

The redevelopment efforts involve renovating empty buildings adjacent to the Civic Theater and converting several large office buildings at the intersection of Bowery Street and Main Street to apartments and mixed-use space.  As part of the planning process, Ohio Edison engineers analyzed the existing system and determined that updated equipment would be needed to handle the added electrical demand, especially with several buildings replacing the old steam heat systems with electric heat.

“The investments to our system will allow us to continue to provide safe and reliable electric service to a growing downtown Akron customer base,” Rich says.  “In addition, the new automated technology we are installing will provide flexibility and redundancy to help reduce the number and duration of outages our customers might experience.”

A key component of the project involves replacing the vaults and manholes. The precast concrete vaults and manholes, some with multiple pieces weighing more than 57 tons when assembled together, will be set in place using a large crane.

One of the large vaults was installed in the sidewalk outside of the General Office building.  In addition, several new manholes will be located under the new roundabout that is being built at the intersection of Mill and Market streets as part of the roadway project.

After the new vaults and manholes are installed by contractors, Ohio Edison crews will run new underground cable between them. “Along with replacing the underground network along Main Street, we also plan to replace, as needed, the smaller electric lines that provide service to individual buildings in the vicinity,” Rich says. “The work is expected to be completed by fall of 2019.”

Contractors ensure the proper fit of vault sections. A waterproofing material is placed between the sections to help enhance the integrity of the vault.