Here’s how to drywall the biggest building in Washington.

The Washington Convention Center, when completed, will be one of the largest convention centers in the United States. With requirements of up to 8 million square feet of wallboard, the project demanded precise coordination and intense vigilance.

The convention center covers six city blocks, is 2.3 million square feet in size, is as long as two Washington Monuments laid end-to-end and is as big as six football fields. The site is also the largest excavation site in the Western Hemisphere and had 2 million tons of earth removed. As the now-largest building in Washington, the structure has a 38,000-ton super steel structure or enough steel for seven Eiffel Towers.

The building’s roof heights vary from 40 to 130 feet and 40 percent of the volume is below grade. The basement measurements are roughly 1,450 feet by 400 feet, and spreads under the street grid, featuring 473,000 square feet of exhibit space.

“My first reaction was just to consider the scope of the project,” explains Mike Cusick, project manager of Component Assembly Systems Inc., of Washington, the company responsible for the wallboard and carpentry package. “I could now see what we had to do compared to what was on paper, thinking about the high walls, how to shoot the top track, how to get so many workers going and how to coordinate with the other subs.”

Higher and higher

The high walls Cusick refers to include walls that varied from an average of 30 to 40 feet high, to 90 feet high. However, aside from the height of the walls, the wallboard installation went relatively smoothly.

“Well, we knew we had to cover it,” says Vinnie Nitopi, field super for Component Assembly Systems Inc. “For the typical wall heights, we used many mechanical lifts and sectioned off areas of the building to break up the installation into about 14 pieces. Once finished with one section, we would move to the next.”

This method involved coordination with the GC, allowing the framers to finish their section to be closely followed by the hangers. Aside from the height of the walls, there were plenty of curves, corner and reveal beads installed.

“We used enough bead to get halfway to New York,” adds Nitopi.

Some of those curves included the ceilings. Curved drywall grid and multiple radius walls in the building accounted for the curves.

Another highlight of the building is its grand ballroom, complete with glass-fiber reinforced gypsum panel ceilings. The ceiling features a diamond pattern created especially for the ballroom. The panels of the ceiling are 10-foot square, punctuated with openings that allow for speakers, hang points strong enough to hold a sedan, fire detectors and sprinklers. National Gypsum’s 1/2-inch high-strength ceiling board was utilized on the ceilings.

“The 1/2-inch regular gypsum board was used initially but sagged where the spans were too long,” explains Ken Carter, National Gypsum sales rep for Northern Va., of National Gypsum. “The high-strength board resolved this. Some canopy and column work, with additional GFRG shapes by Formglass, were also installed in various locations.”

A real challenge was just getting supplies into the building.

“For the most part, the project has gone smoothly except for the logistics of delivery trucks,” explains Carter. “Because of the construction process, the trucks had to deliver all the material in the basement to be unloaded. It was a logistical nightmare, everything had to be delivered here—steel studs, windows, glass, you name it.”

The solution was to have Kamco Building Supply, the distributor, of Alexandria, Va., coordinate all the ordering and set up all the deliveries.

“We met with Kamco and Component Assembly and sat down for about an hour to work it out,” adds Carter. “We had to determine what material to deliver at what time. Even the trucking company itself picked a handful of men to do all our deliveries because they would know the ins and outs of the system we’d set up.”

It was decided in the early ’90s that the existing convention center became obsolete because there was no room to expand. Component Assembly began its portion of construction in April 2001, and the finish date is planned for this March.