January 21, 2021

The Next Normal – The Changes Made to Business-As-Usual in a Global Pandemic

2020 was a year of challenge and change. The subsequent worry and stress that accompanied these events made many wish to put it all behind them. But some found silver linings and opportunities to persevere.

Near the end of 2020, Great Things talked to industry leaders, architects, partners and customers about what they learned over the past year, and what they are looking forward to in 2021.

More than anything, interviewees indicated that despite such a physically, mentally and emotionally challenging year, people rose to the occasion. Diverse teams came together to support each other both personally and professionally, utilized new technologies and platforms to make work easier and safer, and learned that communicating with colleagues in the office next door is just as easy as communicating with those in offices across the country.

A worker oversees the concrete pour on a jobsite
Self-perform work in West Sacramento. California was one of the few states with strict stay-at-home mandates, but construction work has continued. Photo courtesy of Chip Allen Photography

Finding Flexibility

Jay Bowman is a principal at FMI, an advisor and investment firm to the construction and engineering industry, and serves as managing director of research and analytics. Bowman noted that, like most businesses, FMI learned how to adapt to new working conditions, but as a happy side effect, it taught him how to engage with clients in a new way.

“At the end of the day, this is such a relationship-driven business and you have to take that time to check in with clients when there’s no projects. They want to know what’s going on just as you do. And I think this has been a real eye opener for me in how we can strengthen client relationships.”

He is optimistic that the challenges of 2020 have strengthened resolve, not just at FMI, but across companies and industries.

“Everyone was thrown this curveball, and we all had to figure out a way to adjust, and I think most people learned how to do that really well,” said Bowman. “We found a way to keep doing our work—we had to do it a bit differently—but we found a way. So the next time something like this comes along, whether that be another pandemic or something else, maybe we’ll feel like we have more control, we can do better, and we’ll make it through this one just as well as we made it through the last one.”

Respect and Positivity

Andy Dahl was a furloughed DPR project manager during the height of coronavirus, in part because the job site he was working on at an active hospital was shut down to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Dahl spoke about the respect and comradery he found on the site when the project resumed later in the summer, at a time when a new social justice movement was emerging.

“As long as there's a mutual respect and there's an environment of honesty, you can have these tough conversations regarding racism, sexism, politics, religion, whatever you want to talk about. Work together as a team, have the same goals, be respectful of one another.”

Dahl, who is back on the job in Charlotte, actively chooses to see the silver lining in what, for him, has been a difficult and emotional year.

“No one can control how you think about things and how you want to see it,” he said. “It's a personal choice and a personal responsibility, I am going to choose to see the good in this even if I can't see it right now. There's good in this and I'll find it.”

A worker stands in front of a large crane used on a project site in San Diego
Heavy equipment required careful planning from project teams so that work could be completed while workers maintained safe social distances from each other. Photo courtesy of Carlos Orzua

Developing Relationships with Colleagues

Matt McDonald, a principal at architecture firm Corgan, said his biggest worry for 2021 is the economy and the environment around lending, given its importance in the architecture and construction industry.

“There’s so much of what we do that deals with finances and borrowing money, and if there are new protocols that make lending and borrowing money challenging, that’s going to really have an impact on a lot of things we do”

He noted how important good communication is going to be in 2021, since most companies have now adjusted to working remotely for nearly a year.

“You take advantage of the unplanned interactions that happen in the office, and when you don’t have those, you have to make a special effort to stay in touch with folks.

However, this has turned into a silver lining for McDonald.

“I think we have developed relationships differently. Internally as a firm, we’re doing a lot more cross-collaboration with different market sectors, and different offices. Everyone is remote so it’s just as easy to talk to someone from your office as it is to talk to people in other cities. The collaboration across the firm has dramatically increased.”

Prioritizing Safety

James Singletary is a superintendent with DPR, based in Tennessee. He noted that despite awkward changes to new on-site procedures, building safety protocols into the daily workflow and morning safety meetings eased the transition, making it a seamless part of the workday.

“Some people adapted to it easier than other people, but it was a good change. Obviously, we were facing a worldwide epidemic, so they realized it wasn’t just DPR holding anyone to a standard, but it was a serious health issue that they really needed to take measures with, and everyone was on board.”

New Leadership Style to Support a Next Normal

Denton Wilson of Atrium Health has worked with DPR teams on many of his organization’s new and existing properties. He is most concerned about the unknown going in 2021, especially trying to define what the “next normal” looks like.

“We're going to have to answer, ‘what is the new norm?’ We know that the old norm doesn’t fit today’s needs, and it’s never coming back. We know where we are today is not the norm, but we don't know what the norm is going to be, and more importantly, we don't know when we're going to get it.”

And while Wilson acknowledges the stress from 2020 will not instantly vanish in the new year, he expressed the need for a new leadership style in 2021 that focuses on the holistic needs of diverse teams.

“More so this year than ever, needing to know about people skills is huge for leaders, because you have to be able to read people through a screen versus being in front of them and reading body language, so every word matters. The best thing you can do as a leader is to understand what your team needs, give them what they need, stop trying to micromanage them, celebrate their praises, and let them do their job. If you can’t inspire someone, you’re not being the best leader you can be.”

Wilson leaves this piece of advice for 2021: “Write down the positives and negatives of the past year. I think you’ll find there are more positives than negatives. The only way we’ll transition to the next year is to sit down and figure out what we want out of it. Otherwise, you’ll just continue thinking about the negatives and you won’t move on, and that’s not where we need to be.”

A worker directs a forklift operator lifting a crate onto an upper floor of a construction site.
Planning and preparation to keep work moving while also keeping teams safe led to better planning strategies to react immediately. Photo courtesy of Chip Allen Photography

While there are many things that remain unpredictable, one thing is clear: 2020 amid its challenges fostered ingenuity and new ways of working and connecting in what has traditionally been a face-to-face, relationship-driven industry.

George Pfeffer, who serves on DPR’s Management Committee said, “the industry responded in a way that proves we can adapt to even the most daunting of crises, persevere in the face of the most destructive of natural forces, and stand together in time of division. This past year forced us to re-examine what we find important, the health and safety of our people, and how we bring our personal ethics into our working lives and move forward.”

January 20, 2021

What’s the Word? Great Things Coming Up in 2021

A new year ushers in new beginnings. Some of DPR’s newly transitioned employees shared what they’re most looking forward to in 2021:

Starting each year is reinvigorating and 2021 feels even more refreshing knowing the character, commitment and collaboration our team has shown in the previous year. This year, we are continuing work with long-standing customers and beginning work with some of our newest. I’m thrilled at the opportunity to deliver with the best builders at the bottom of the peninsula!

– Adrian Barrios, South Florida Business Unit

I am most looking forward to continuing to grow the builder mindset and skillset within all people at DPR in 2021. This includes providing new learning and development opportunities to our craft teammates, which are going to be awesome!

– Angie Weyant, Craft People Practices

I’m excited about the launch of DPR’s new collaborative learning experience platform, DPR Learning. This will provide competency-based training on-demand and on the job based on an individual’s role and goals, including more consistent and accessible training for craft teammates. It also enables us to scale training infrastructure in support of the broader DPR family of companies, as well as external project team members, suppliers and the communities we serve.

– Kristi Conlon, Learning and Development

I am looking forward to so many things, and hopefully we get them: vaccines for COVID, reduced virtual meetings, returning to reasonable travel, socializing and connecting more with family, friends and work family across DPR. For DPR, I am looking forward to continued emphasis on getting everyone home safely—by keeping a safe mindset; engagement at a personal level with our builders; planning for all possible outcomes so that DPR projects are the safest in the industry; and learning as we go so that we have continual improvement as we to build great things.

– Michelle Gray, Environmental Health and Safety

We’re breaking ground for our new Raleigh-Durham office and I’m looking forward to working with our teams to leverage the new space and transform our capabilities in self-perform, prefabrication and collaboration.

– Shawn Pepple, Raleigh-Durham Business Unit

I look forward to being able to shake the hands of our self-perform craftworkers, who continue to show us that we are builders at our core. I have immense gratitude for their continued efforts during the pandemic, and we owe them our heartfelt thanks.

– Stephen Terni, Quality

January 18, 2021

Q&A: Leveraging a Team of Teams

Mark Whitson, a member of DPR's management committee, shares lessons learned coming off an unprecedented year and how leveraging a team of teams approach supports the next leg of DPR’s journey.

Several years ago, DPR embraced several of the key principles from General Stanley McChrystal’s book, Team of Teams, around creating shared awareness and understanding throughout the company along with empowerment in execution. Photo courtesy of Chip Allen Photography

What has been the single most important factor in keeping the company moving forward when so many challenges have seemingly come one after another?

One of the things we did early on, in the wake of the pandemic, is to really focus on staying true to who we are: A builder of great things, on a mission to be one of the most admired companies by the end of the decade. Mission 2030, as we refer to it, helps us be strategic around how to take care of our people, customers, partners and projects. Even though uncertainty lingers and will continue to be a part of life for the foreseeable future, we’ve proven what we can do when we stay true to who we are.

What are some of the lessons DPR is taking forward?

There are so many but a few that come to mind are…Data differentiates us; we proved that if we have consistency in our data we can increase efficiency and keep people safe. Cascading our communications throughout the company in real-time keeps the company feel smaller, more intimate and connected. Realizing a whole other gear in our flywheel that we can operate in if we increase the connectedness and strength of our matrix organization—by truly leveraging a team of teams approach.

What does a team of teams approach mean? What does it look like?

DPR’s strength has always come from immense focus on our culture and shared leadership throughout all of our teams; from leadership teams to our project teams. Several years ago, we embraced several of the key principles from General Stanley McChrystal’s book, Team of Teams, around creating shared awareness and understanding throughout the company along with empowerment in execution. It truly fits our culture and allows us to ensure our teams are not only empowered but connected in a way that ensures consistency while maintaining individualization.

What did we try differently in 2020 and how does this approach support us on our way to Mission 2030?

Like everyone, we were faced with a variety of new challenges. To help address them we implemented a series of “tiger teams,” teams put together for specific purpose for a limited duration of time. This is really an extension of the Team of Teams concept that allowed us to streamline our efforts to solve specific challenges, take advantage of different opportunities, provide unique developmental experiences to our leaders, and connect our teams in a way that helped integrate key leaders from across the company. This approach builds on the foundation of our culture while leveraging smaller, diverse groups of people to innovate, implement and improve the way we plan, work, communicate and make decisions—and will be transformative on our journey.

January 14, 2021

Making Life Sciences Work in Commercial Spaces

Photo courtesy of Amy Edwards, New Image Studio

Repurposing vacant commercial spaces—ranging from warehouses to offices—to suit the needs for pharmaceutical research and development (R&D) or production seems like a win-win for property owners and life sciences organizations. Commercial facilities, though, often need specific and sometimes significant upgrades to accommodate life sciences firms.

“It’s similar to how warehouse spaces need a lot of upgrades to house data centers,” said Dave Ross, one of DPR Construction’s life sciences experts. “It’s tempting to think these facilities are plug-and-play, but both life sciences firms and commercial owners need to consider some things to affordably make these facilities a great match for pharma.”

Life sciences customers should consider how much work is needed to get a former commercial space ready for the intensive systems of their manufacturing and research facilities. Similarly, commercial property owners should look at their assets and determine if it makes sense to upgrade spaces to make them more attractive to life sciences buyers.

High bay tilt-up buildings typically work better for converting to cGMP manufacturing space. Photo courtesy of Amy Edwards, New Image Studio

Research vs. Manufacturing

How the space will be used—whether for manufacturing or research—needs to be determined upfront.

“Typical commercial office buildings are generally not well suited for conversion into Biotech cGMP manufacturing facilities. They typically work better for R&D conversion.” said DPR’s Scott Strom, also a life sciences expert. “Conversely, high bay tilt-up buildings typically work better for cGMP manufacturing. They can also work for an R&D lab, but not as efficiently.”

Strom recommends an ordered assessment of existing building conversion potential. First, consider the bones of the building and site considerations.

“This is the first essential hurdle to clear, where the buildings floor to floor height, structural loading, type of construction, fire rating, and space availability for larger MEP systems are assessed,” added Strom. “If they do not meet the more robust requirements of a lab or manufacturing program, the building is typically not a good candidate. Work-arounds do exist, however they often lead to a building being viewed as a Class B or C option in the market.”

Second, look for any second-generation space benefits to the building in question. Among many considerations are if the current HVAC system is sufficient for the office portion of a Life Sciences facility, or if existing primary electric infrastructure can be maintained and expanded.

How’s the Floor?

Height and number of floors is another critical factor. For manufacturing, an existing building with a larger footprint and only a couple of floors is typically best. For R&D, low to mid-rise solutions are easier to convert than high-rise buildings. Life Sciences buildings require high air flow and large ductwork so taller floor-to-floor heights are preferred.

“No one likes an empty asset, but if an owner or a pharmaceutical firm does the back-of-the-envelope math, the wrong floor-to-floor height might not make sense for either of their purposes,” said Ross.

Even with proper floor-to-floor height, floor fire ratings must often be upgraded to accommodate higher chemical inventories required for either R&D or manufacturing requirements, maintaining fire barrier separation of exhaust systems serving each chemical control area creates many challenges.

But it is possible to work around those challenges with the right team in place when design begins.

On a recent life sciences conversion project, shown in this trade coordination model, DPR encountered a challenge with overhead congestion between the first level ceiling and the second level structural steel. The project team had to get creative to work around the limited overhead space and structural load limitations.

How’s the Roof?

For almost all life sciences uses, the building roof structure’s ability to hold a higher live load is important.

“Many existing commercial-use spaces have simple roof designs,” Ross said. “A life sciences manufacturer might need to put a dozen air handlers and exhaust fans on the roof. We had one customer spend more money on roof structure upgrades than on process pipe, for instance.”

It is recommended that property owners invest in a structural analysis early on in their due diligence. Upgrading the roof can have a domino effect on many of the rest of the structure’s lateral force resisting design elements.

Service Yard Space

Many buildings do not provide sufficient areas for bulk gas tank deliveries, emergency generators, and other needed systems.

“At the very least, anything the owner of an asset can do to facilitate this is going to be in an advantageous position for life sciences customers,” Ross said. But the considerations extend to the end user, too.

“Recently, in Florida, a life sciences customer realized that, until they really settled on what they were producing in the building, they didn’t really know if they had enough space outside the building,” Ross said. “Size is what people usually look at, but suitability is the bigger issue. Every site is different. Sometimes you can solve it by building above rather than beside, but more space can mean more flexibility.”

“Ultimately, there are a lot of ways to make these conversions work,” Ross said. “It’s more that all parties need to go in with their eyes open, work closely with design and construction partners even before the papers are signed and even educate commercial owners on how to make their assets more attractive to potential buyers or tenants.”

January 11, 2021

Paving New Career Paths through Construction

With residents seeking training in the construction trades, the project allowed hands-on opportunities to work side-by-side with DPR crews. Images taken prior to March 2020 and COVID-19 protocols. Photo courtesy of Zach Shull

A collaboration between DPR Construction and a San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit will create more opportunities for former criminal offenders to pursue meaningful careers in the trades, potentially even with DPR.

Jericho Project provides treatment and job training to chemically dependent former offenders who are committed to recovery and rehabilitation. It is 100 percent self-funded, and participants receive housing, treatment, education, physical training, social development and vocational training so they can become productive and successful members of society.

DPR's Special Services Group, a “special ops team” specializing in quick turnaround projects, was hired to upgrade some of Jericho’s housing facilities as well as double the space for its classroom and vocational training facility. The new 72,000-sq.-ft. warehouse includes the latest equipment and technology in a wide variety of construction mock-up training areas, such as welding, metal work, work word, electrical and plumbing.

With Jericho Project residents seeking training in the trades, the project meant those residents could work side-by-side with DPR’s crews. “It made sense to integrate the Jericho team to get them some great construction training for their education,” said DPR’s Kevin Shea. “It was like they were working for DPR.”

DPR worked with Jericho Project residents to upgrade the organization’s facilities. Images taken prior to March 2020 and COVID-19 protocols. Photo courtesy of Zach Shull

One of the biggest challenges of working within an existing building was navigating around unexpected issues, some structural, some related to the HVAC system. Bringing the project team together to come up with solutions on the go was critical to keeping the project going.

“A personal highlight for me was learning the trade of construction,” said Lentrell Hicks, a resident of Jericho Project. “I knew things about construction, but I didn’t know the depth of it and how much I can support myself with it. I’ve been learning some of the trade for HVACs and pipe fitting; those are the two aspects I’ve worked with DPR on.”

With these new building and equipment upgrades, Jericho Project can now expand its vocational training offerings and become accredited through the National Center for Construction Education and Research. Anyone who finishes the program will have their own registration number and can work for any construction company across the U.S., even DPR, which has more than 3,000 self-perform Craft workers and is actively working to build and develop that workforce.

“In working so closely with these guys at DPR, it's unique how the whole situation comes together, the interest that DPR had in the program and what it actually does for the people around them,” said Nick Rodgers, program director for Jericho Project. “We’ve come together to work towards one common goal, which is to get this project built.”

“This is one of those times where your job is very personal,” said Shea.

January 8, 2021

Going Big in North Texas

DPR self-perform crews work together to install prefabricated panels. Photo courtesy of Photo by Tyler Wilson

Everything’s bigger in Texas and the ever-expanding footprint of healthcare facilities in North Texas is no different. It also provides an abundance of opportunity for DPR’s technical expertise in building highly complex medical facilities, oftentimes on occupied campuses currently caring for patients around the clock.

One healthcare provider took advantage of a myriad of Ever Forward innovations in DPR’s toolbox, using prefabrication, digital building models, and augmented reality (AR) to coordinate a three-story, 90,000-sq.-ft. vertical expansion above a functioning Emergency Department (ED)—all while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. The DPR-client partnership approach and "one team" mindset feeds the hunger to continue to move the needle for continuous improvement.

The four-phase project consists of a third and fourth floor patient room build-out, relocating three departments, all while expanding and improving the operational flow of many other existing spaces. The vertical expansion is currently in its second phase and targeted for overall completion in the summer of 2022. DPR previously completed the hospital’s ED expansion, and provided counsel on how to ensure possible expansion of campus master planning in the future.

“The original drawings specified that the air handling unit be located at a certain point on the roof, but after coordinating with our trade partners, we noticed that if it stayed in that location, the hospital would face challenges if they wanted to further expand vertically,” said DPR’s Amanda Thomas. “They trusted DPR, they saw what we saw, and they supported our plan to revise the location and save their staff conflict later in the future.”

Fully finished prefabricated panels are installed during the vertical expansion phase of the project in June 2020. Photo courtesy of Photo by Tyler Wilson

Prefab Making Milestones

The project team leveraged prefabricated panels from DPR’s strategic partner, Digital Building Components, to help circumvent some of the challenges of working on an active healthcare campus. This vertical expansion is Digital Building’s first deployment of fully finished EIFS and ACM panels in Texas.

Building three stories vertically on a one-story building with an ER directly underneath left little room for costly scaffolding without a lot of shoring beneath, as it would substantially affect the function of the ED, so prefab made sense as a solution. The Digital Building system installed is made to accept another future two-story vertical expansion without compromising the waterproofing integrity of the system. However, that wasn’t the only reason that implementing prefab was a significant solution.

“The key benefit to prefabricating exterior panels was that we accomplished in three weeks what we would conventionally do in three months: framing, sheeting, waterproofing, and preparing for window installations,” said Digital Building’s David Kloubec. “The front-facing side was installed in nine days. It was pretty exciting to watch and we’re very proud of the result.”

AR and As-built Verification

Another innovative application came from DPR’s Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) toolbox: a combination of BIM and a mixed-reality platform called Visual Live. The entire project’s virtual model was used to track real-time production progress on existing construction conditions and trade installations using an AR HoloLens wearable and a tablet.

“The advantage of this approach is that no one needs to guess—you are standing at the actual location on-site and looking at the model on your iPad and seeing it through the HoloLens in the building,” said DPR’s Yoganand Mandali.

The platform allows the team to leverage all the upfront efforts spent on model coordination to minimize issues in the field. This “apples to apples” approach to quality assurance gives a leg up to catching issues versus looking at two or three different 2D plans to see what is being installed in each area. It also allows for remote streaming: a superintendent can resolve issues by sharing the field conditions instantly with designers at off-site locations.

Self-Perform Success

DPR’s self-perform concrete, drywall and waterproofing teams played a huge role in project development.

“With VDC, we were able to determine what our priority walls were, where they were located, and what needed to be built first,” said DPR's Jeremy Wiginton. “We established a plan and our self-perform interiors team built it accordingly. We also were able to show the owner what we intended to build and what was actually built in a much easier way.”

“By having several key scopes of work performed by our professionals, we were able to be nimble and quickly adapt to the project's needs and reduce unknown for our client,” said DPR’s Wes Schreiber. With so many DPR teams working through a Takt Plan schedule that included specific zoning for each trade and material, the teams and trade partners were able to work alongside each other and exhibit agility and flexibility when transitioning to other zones to complete their work.

January 7, 2021

How Adopting a Production Mindset Promotes Building Incident-Free

electrical contractor
Well before electrical design and installation began on a full-service hotel project, EIG team members identified, planned, and worked to fix any potential harmful safety issues to achieve the zero incidents goal. Photo courtesy of Jacob Snedaker

Implementing strategic practices and processes to increase efficiency is common practice in the architect, engineer and contractor industry, but what sets a general contractor and its trade partners apart is how that production mindset truly manifests across the organization and into its projects, specifically around safety.

By adopting a production mindset that prioritizes work done safely, we can identify, plan, rectify and fix potential harmful issues well before teams are affected by them. But, to get there, it takes the effort and commitment of every individual who sets foot on the job to make it happen.

Consider the following benefits of how this type of strategic mindset not only acknowledges and builds upon productivity and time savings, but also allows teams to meet their goal of zero incidents.

  • Full Visibility—By practicing openness and transparency, teams create trust. It improves morale and lowers job-related stress. When the goal is safety, teams are open to share feedback with each other, giving each team member a sense of responsibility.
  • Real-Time Insights and Updates—Safety alerts via a shared software platform or notification system allows teams to gather information in real time. This eliminates wait time on reports, instantly increases response times, and can help teams prepare for what may come.
  • Minimize Disruption—Creating a project specific safety master plan that includes fall protection and the control of hazardous energy eliminates time wasted due to service interruptions, damage to materials, service equipment, tools, and injuries on job sites. Teams can prevent down-time and increase speed of care if incidents occur. With the right planning, unsafe conditions can be anticipated and recognized, therefore, mitigated.
  • Maximize Efficiency—All work involves proper planning. Teams need to think of worst-case and unlikely scenarios and work from there to ensure they have done everything possible to prevent injury. With this type of vigilance and commitment to safety, speed of completion and quality of work increases.

Clients may have many goals and needs in mind, from budget and schedule to the quality of the work. But a focused production mindset does not have to simply stop with these goals. The elements of this frame of mind translate to every level of an organization.

This post was written by Mark Thompson, Leader of Evergreen Innovation Group (EIG), a commercial electrical contractor and strategic partner of DPR.

December 23, 2020

Neither Rain nor Pandemic Stops DPR From Delivering Viasat’s New East Coast Headquarters

In the midst of the uncertainties brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, DPR Construction overcame a variety of challenges to complete a ground-up, three-story office building for satellite internet provider Viasat on a six-acre site in Germantown, MD. The project is a structural steel-framed building with a curtain wall, brick, and composite metal panel exterior envelope. The project also included a 200-car parking garage and extensive site work. Designed by Gensler, the facility will be the new East Coast home for 150 of Viasat’s engineers and support staff.

Effects from the pandemic hit the Viasat team in March of 2020, well into the project and during a time of critical project activities. In compliance with local and state government mandates, the job site was initially shut down for three weeks. Once work resumed, construction workers had to be 6-ft. apart at all times, which significantly impacted the schedule.

Drone view of exterior
The project, a structural steel-framed building with a curtain wall, brick, and composite metal panel exterior envelope, is the first ground-up office building completed by DPR in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Photo courtesy of PrecisionHawk

To communicate the schedule impact to the client, the team relied on the DPR data team (based in the Washington D.C office) to support an extended construction schedule. Utilizing data from CMiC, the data team created a graph that included pre-and post-shutdown productivity levels. This graph visually identified the project shutdowns and lost productivity, and it created a consensus around a realistic end date for the project.

“COVID-19 was one of the biggest challenges and most uncertain situations I've encountered in my career. The entire team’s ability to adapt to the environment that COVID created for us was phenomenal,” noted Stephen Hatch, Viasat Project Manager, and Levine Investment Owner Representative.

Topping out exterior view
In the midst of the uncertainties brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, DPR Construction overcame a variety of challenges to complete a ground-up, three-story office building for satellite internet provider Viasat on a six-acre site in Germantown, MD. Photo courtesy of Daniel Burson

To adapt to the pandemic's challenges, the team utilized a large shell space inside the new building that allowed them to conduct daily meetings with trade partners while maintaining a safe distance. The team relied on virtual tools to continue to keep the lines of communication open between all stakeholders. Daniel Burson, DPR’s project manager noted, “Viasat’s West Coast headquarters is in Carlsbad, CA, the building owner and architect Gensler are both located in Phoenix, AZ, and the project itself took place in Maryland. Even before the pandemic, we were utilizing video conferencing, so we didn’t skip a beat when everyone else was going virtual for the first time.”

In progress exterior view
Effects from the pandemic hit the Viasat team in March of 2020, well into the project and during a time of critical project activities. Photo courtesy of Daniel Burson

Pandemic effects asides, a constructability challenge was the significant amount of earthwork that had to be done early on in construction. Breaking ground in early 2019, the team overcame the challenge of mass excavation during the wettest year on record for the area.

“Our successful solution was introducing lime into the soil, which allowed us to achieve moisture and compaction requirements that would otherwise have been unattainable. This solution helped us meet our scheduled date for earthwork, even with all the rain in that year,” Burson said.

Ultimately, the project was completed in Fall 2020 with plaudits to go around. “The DPR team’s adaptability and consistent communication throughout the course of this project were impeccable,” Hatch said. “Their reporting techniques were clear and never left me with questions on cost or schedule.”

Exterior view
Ultimately, the project was completed in Fall 2020 with plaudits to go around. Photo courtesy of Ulf Wallin

December 22, 2020

Builders at our Core: Jonathan Quezada, Lina Ortiz and Paul Dooley

A group of builders talk about their project.
Jonathan Quezada, Lina Ortiz and Paul Dooley have different roles on this Florida Cancer Specialists project in Orlando, but their commitment to teamwork and communication allow them to learn from each other every day. Photo courtesy of Robert Andrescik

In Orlando, Florida, a team of DPR builders is hard at work on a new Florida Cancer Specialists location at the recently repurposed University of Central Florida Lake Nona Cancer Center facility, a comprehensive, one-stop cancer research and treatment center. Jonathan Quezada, Lina Ortiz and Paul Dooley each have a different role on the project, but like everyone else at DPR, consider themselves to be one team. They learn from each other every day, and their easy communication allows them to keep their projects moving forward.

Q: What are your roles at DPR and describe the paths you took to get there?

Ortiz: I’m a project engineer; I’ve been with DPR for about two-and-a-half years. I initially went to school for architecture, and while I was doing a Masters in Construction Management at the University of Florida, my school held a career fair. DPR was one of the main sponsors, so I did a lot of research on them. The projects DPR built really interested me.

Quezada: I’m a labor foreman in charge of some of the safety efforts we carry out on our jobsites. Before coming to DPR two years ago, I did maintenance in a hospital, and I’ve mainly worked on healthcare projects here at DPR. I do whatever I need to do to help keep projects on track.

Dooley: I’m a drywall foreman. I’ve been at DPR for five years, but I’ve been in the trade for 21. I started as a drywall hanger in 1999. After I had learned what I could about installing work, I wanted to take on more responsibility. So, I started reading the blueprints, and in 2008 I became a lead. By 2014, I was running my own jobs and have been doing so ever since.

A drywall foreman gestures to work being done overhead at a construction site.
Dooley credits being able to get along with people, helping them and asking them for help, with making his projects run smoothly. Photo courtesy of Robert Andrescik

Q: Why do you think being a self-performing general contractor makes a difference on a project?

Ortiz: It makes a lot of difference because you have people from your own team and from different trades working together on one project. We can start planning ahead since we’re the first ones on-site doing layout. That ultimately saves time and money because communication is easier.

Dooley: The customer knows we’re on-site actually doing the work and they know we have the resources we need to complete it. Everything they expect from us is 100% going to happen. We’re able to push the job. We’re one team, and that gives us flexibility. Look, I have a DPR hardhat. I have a DPR vest. I have a DPR mask. I pull up in a DPR truck. Even though I’m a drywall guy, someone will ask me a question about plumbing, and I’ll help them if I can. Since we’re all on the same team, we can help each other without jumping through organizational hoops, and things happen quicker.

Q: Was this experience different from other projects you worked on? How?

Ortiz: Jonathan and I worked together for this owner on our last project at The Villages. We performed well there, so they wanted to work with us again. This project is a bit smaller, but there are a lot of similarities. The customer was happy that the same team was going to work with them again and execute the project as well as we did for them in the past.

Two people consult at a building app on iPad while working on a construction site.
As a project engineer, Ortiz sees herself as the bridge connecting planning to work being done in the field. Photo courtesy of Robert Andrescik

Q: What did you learn from each other on this project?

Ortiz: I’m constantly asking questions. As a project engineer, you’re the bridge that connects to the field. A lot of solutions and new ways of doing things happen in the field. For instance, I had heard about a new way of framing one of our team members came up with, without having the door frames installed; you put a temporary wood template in place and frame around that. Then, when the frames are delivered, you just swap them out for the templates. That's just one example of the on-site innovations that happen all the time, and it allowed us to save a couple of weeks of schedule.

Q: Talk about a time in your career where you intervened to make the work on-site safer.

Quezada: I was working on a project that had some hard-to-reach areas. Some of our finishers were having a hard time getting to them and were standing on top of scissor lifts. When I noticed them, I intervened. We had a meeting with our Safety committee to come up with a better system that allowed for them to be tied off while doing the job. That’s how we do it at DPR; we work together as a team to come up with ideas together.

Q: What is one thing everyone can do to make the industry safer overall?

Ortiz: Safety starts on a personal level with wanting to keep yourself safe, but also with not wanting to cause harm to others. It’s not just about you; it’s about everyone else on the jobsite. One unsafe act can lead to other people getting hurt, and everybody deserves to go home to their families safely.

Quezada: One of the most important things is to make sure you really look over the work you’re doing. Don’t rush. Think through the work and consider any potential risks. Just be aware and pay attention every time, even if you’ve done the task a hundred times. It only takes a second for an incident to happen.

A group of construction workers take part in a stretch and flex exercise at a jobsite.
For Quezada, project success comes down to having a good attitude and being understanding of the diverse backgrounds of people on every project. Photo courtesy of Robert Andrescik

Q: If there was a language barrier, how did you overcome it? What were some things you did to help others overcome that barrier?

Ortiz: We all come from different backgrounds—I’m from Colombia—and even though we may speak the same language, we have different accents and different ways of speaking. You have to be open and ask people to explain things when you don’t understand. Otherwise, you might end up doing something you don’t mean to.

Quezada: Yes, that’s true. I’m Puerto Rican, so even though many of us speak Spanish, there are differences. Some pieces of equipment have different names in different regions. You just have to be open minded and understand that you’re working with people from different backgrounds.

Q: To be successful in your role, what skills does a person need?

Ortiz: Number one is communication. You have to be willing to ask questions—more than once if necessary—and to make sure everyone is on the same page. As long as there is open communication, if you can ask for help or offer help when needed, and be open and honest, you can solve any problems.

Quezada: A good attitude. If you’re dealing with people from different backgrounds and different countries, attitude has a lot to do with how well you work together. Be willing to work with other people, make sure everyone is on the same page and work with other trades.

Dooley: Teamwork. Being able to get along with people, helping them and asking them to help you, that really makes these jobs go a lot smoother. If it weren’t for the folks we have out there doing things right and caring about their work, we wouldn’t be able to turn out a good product. They’re everything. You can’t build a job by yourself. That’s all there is to it. We’re one team.

A construction worker finishes framing with a drill on a project.
Dooley, Ortiz and Quezada all express pride in their work, emphasizing that if you work hard, you can do whatever you want in your career at DPR. Photo courtesy of Robert Andrescik

Q: What would your advice be for the next generation of builders entering this field?

Ortiz: No matter your level of education, you’re always able to make progress and learn every day. This is something I say to Jonathan a lot. There are so many things he knows from his past experiences that I have no idea about and would love to learn. And there are things I went to school for that he doesn’t know. If you’re passionate and willing to put in the work, you can move through the company and do whatever you want to do. Just work hard and you will see the end results.

Quezada: People notice when you put in the time. I can say, “See that place? I worked on that.” You have pride in what you do. You’re building things people notice. In this company, they want you to progress and become better. Right now, I’m taking blueprint reading and safety courses within DPR and I’m also doing a carpentry apprenticeship. These things just show that DPR cares. If you want to move up, they will not say no.

Dooley: It’s important to be reliable and hardworking. As long as you’re hardworking, the knowledge will come. And be open to learning experiences. You have to be willing to teach the next builder who might not know as much, and you never know who will teach you something. We’re one team, and I learn from the others on the jobsite all the time.

December 21, 2020

Healthcare Post-Pandemic: The Future of Project Delivery

The fifth and final installment of DPR Construction’s COVID-19 briefing series for 2020, examines collective professional insights of how COVID-19 is affecting project delivery.

COVID-19 pushed the building industry into action. In the early days of the pandemic, designers and contractors jumped in with makeshift solutions to the immediate needs for safety, surge capacity, testing, and isolation.

These teams adapted as things changed, often daily. New and different ways to leverage technology improved communication and collaboration. The silver lining of the pandemic was the validation of a solid infrastructure of trusted relationships, galvanizing the entire industry to come together.

What can we do to be more resilient in the future?

Prefabricated partitions outside a hospital entrance.
Temporary partitions today, but will future design give healthcare spaces flexibility to add such measures at the flip of a switch? Photo courtesy of DPR Construction

In our discussions with industry leaders, the biggest identified challenge was how to prepare for a resilient future with what is known today. To do this, project delivery must evolve and elevate to a community approach, bringing the best people and ideas together to predict future trends and costs with reliable data. Teams need free and open sharing of ideas for the benefit of the industry and our communities.

  • Innovation – shaped by professionals working together creatively – will advance the best solutions. The uniqueness of each facility and system is grounded by owners looking for safety, cost certainty, and higher value project outcomes. Perspectives have changed and the need to do things differently has never been more crucial. This is an opportunity as an industry to collectively be nimble, ingenious, and flexible.
  • The Big Room is different, but the results are just as important. While the big room may be less populated, virtual, or take on a hybrid format, the synergy from a combination of in-person and virtual connections has kept current projects on track. Teams have seen high-quality virtual engagement, however, the ultimate impact on design solutions and construction execution is yet to be proven. Human connection and dynamics can, at some level, be captured virtually and through technology, but the informal huddles, mentoring, learning from each other, subtleties of interaction and brainstorming are being missed by many. For true collaboration and building a team community, all voices need to be heard and a big “from wherever you are” room will remain essential.
  • Leveraging geographically separated experts has never been implemented with less difficulty - and this has been seen as a benefit to positive outcomes on projects. Geography is becoming less important with virtual connectivity and access to national thought leaders is another silver lining that has emerged. The practice of leveraging global partners for lessons learned and shared best practices reflects the worldwide reach of the pandemic itself.
  • Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) and other regulatory entities are important partners. The immediate response to COVID-19 required regulatory agencies to relax their approach to interfacing with stakeholders and be more flexible. Some of these temporary changes may be part of the solution for future resiliency in the face of pandemics, climate impacts, and biowarfare. There is an opportunity as an industry to work with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), AHJs, and other entities for reforms that allow for greater flexibility. Additionally, the use of digital reviews, inspections, and permitting are proving positive and it is anticipated that these will continue to evolve and change how we do business.
  • Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), and any form of early collaborative project delivery, is here to stay and needed more now than ever before to provide predictable results for healthcare customers. The industry group repeated – “we need to get it right” for a resilient recovery and a new normal of “providing more with less.” Trusted relationships are required more than ever, along with industry partnerships forged on transparency, collaboration, and an interdisciplinary approach. One team posited that the next evolution of project delivery methodology will arise as a result of this pandemic and is continuing to discuss the ideal method of forming, managing risk, and adding value in the delivery of healthcare.

What's Next?

A variety of healthcare and construction-themed icons on a blue background

DPR and many industry partners have extolled the benefits of prefabrication, modular construction, and virtual tools for communication, design, and documentation to facilitate projects.

“We are still learning as an industry. As we issue this briefing, with the unfortunate COVID-19 upswing, what we learned with the first surge is now being tested and improved upon. We will continue to learn, but to achieve resiliency for our customers, the design, consulting, and construction community must dig in and continue collaborating. Partners that can move fast, think more broadly, and interpret needs are what our customers are looking for,” stated Hamilton Espinosa, one of DPR Construction’s healthcare core market leaders.

Sean Ashcroft, another DPR Construction healthcare core market leader continued: “It will be the responsibility of each of us to ensure that we communicate the risks of short-sightedness, and short-term memory when it comes to decision making. The plans we make today will affect our ability to respond to the next crisis. Even now, we are beginning to feel the impact of staffing, supply chain, and system hardening activities that were deferred in the first wave. As we speak, the industry rallies around the systems we serve and the communities we support in an amazing show of resiliency.”

Espinosa added: “We are at the forefront of change in how projects are delivered - many of which are positive for the industry we serve. As we continue to assess industry changes and market conditions, relationships within the industry will continue to be important to navigate the changes ahead.”