“Valor is stability, not of legs and arms, but of courage and the soul.” – Michel de Montaigne
Veterans walk among us and work alongside us, and we’re often unaware of the contributions they made to protect our nation and ensure our safety. We might not know that the nurse taking our vital signs learned his trade as an Army combat medic; or that the project engineer on our jobsite was part of a Navy construction battalion.
These stories aren’t always shared, so we asked DPR employees to tell us a bit about the veterans in their lives. The response was overwhelming and inspiring. So, on this Veterans Day, we’d like to take a moment to honor the extraordinary men and women who answered the call to service.
DPR Construction broke ground on the brand new $350 million, state-of-the-art Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University (CHoR at VCU), kicking off a four-year project that will deliver a world-class facility dedicated exclusively to the care of kids.
More than 250 people from the local community as well as hospital employees, donors and state and local lawmakers turned out for the groundbreaking event, marking start of construction on a facility designed to provide the highest level of care for children throughout Virginia.
Located adjacent to the award-winning outpatient Children’s Pavilion on the VCU Medical Center Campus and rounding out a full city block dedicated to children’s services, the new hospital will replace existing pediatric inpatient unit beds and will consolidate inpatient and emergency care in one place. The 20-story, 500,000-sq.-ft. facility will provide trauma and emergency care services. It includes 86 private rooms, plus 10 observation rooms for acute and intensive care as well as new operating rooms, imaging capacity, emergency department space, a rooftop helipad and various amenities for patient families. There are four levels of below-ground parking.
DPR’s scope of work includes ground-up construction of the new hospital tower as well as some renovation work on the existing facility to support acute care services. Safety is a major priority during construction, which is taking place on a project site located in the heart of downtown Richmond and surrounded by medical facilities on the VCU campus that remain in full operation.
Designed by HKS Inc., the new Children’s Hospital is part of CHoR at VCU’s comprehensive, long-term plan for serving pediatric patients while also supporting research and educational opportunities. The new facility represents far more than just a building for young patients and their families – it offers hope and comprehensive health care services, regardless of their ability to pay. Numerous amenities are designed with those families in mind, including playrooms, performance spaces, Ronald McDonald House Charities rooms and outdoor gardens and spaces for collaboration and education.
The Children’s Hospital Foundation is conducting a $100 million capital campaign to support construction of the new hospital. At the groundbreaking, the Foundation announced it will match the first $25 million in donations.
“Our vision is to be a top children’s hospital by 2022,” said Marsha D. Rappley, M.D., CEO of VCU Health System and senior vice president for health sciences. “All children of all communities deserve world-class care in a warm and welcoming environment. This beautiful new facility designed in partnership with our community puts children and their families at the center. It is the first important step in our pathway to becoming a top children’s hospital.”
The project is slated for completion by late 2022.
This October, NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield, CA began admitting patients to its new 80,000-sq.-ft. north wing, unveiling a state-of-the-art facility that was delivered on time and under budget by a highly collaborative, DPR Construction-led project team that included design partner LBL (now Perkins Eastman). Achieving those benchmarks was the product of leveraging an integrated delivery approach along with strategic use of virtual design & construction and prefabrication.
The new three-story wing, which connects to the existing 1992 building on each floor, encompasses 22 patient rooms, eight high-tech surgical suites, a 16-bed Pre-Op/PACU, diagnostic imaging, kitchen and dining area, as well as a new central sterile department. The project also included a 20,000-sq.-ft. remodel of the Emergency Department – all completed while the hospital remained in full operation.
Co-locating in the Big Room
Delivered using elements of Integrated Project Delivery, or IPD, DPR worked alongside the owner, designer Ratcliff Architects, LBL (now Perkins Eastman), structural engineer Thornton Tomasetti and other key team members to complete the highly challenging project on schedule and under budget. The team co-located onsite in an open, big room environment that fostered collaboration, innovative problem-solving, and quick decision making.
“NorthBay’s belief in the integrated team, having us all there on site every day and being able to make timely and well-informed decisions were all keys to our success,” said DPR Project Manager Stephanie Jones-Lee. “If there was an urgent item that came up that we needed a solution to, we could just walk over to the architect or engineer, get the subcontractor on the phone and hash it out right there.”
The high level of communication and shared problem-solving helped reduce the number of RFIs and submittals and moved them forward much more quickly than might be expected for a project of this size and complexity, according to DPR’s BIM project leader Jonathan Savosnick.
“Almost all of our RFI’s were confirming RFIs, meaning we had already talked through the issue with the design partners before we sent it in for documentation purposes,” he said. “I think that made a huge difference on this project and made the process a lot faster, easier to prioritize, and more successful.”
The project incorporated several innovative or first-of-its-kind features. It was the first OSHPD-regulated project to employ the prefabricated ConXtech structural steel system. Akin to a “Lincoln Log” type of assembly, major structural components of the ConXtech system are prefabricated offsite and then delivered to the jobsite for quick assembly in the field.
“Because everything gets fabricated in the shop, it is safer, faster, and there is a lot less welding and field work to put it in place,” Jones-Lee said.
The project also was one of the first hospitals in California to incorporate brand new ARTIS pheno operating room (OR) equipment – a major change order introduced midway through construction when the equipment supplier discontinued its previous version of the OR equipment.
The team quickly adapted to the challenge.
“The new equipment added a lot of electrical conduit on the second floor, below the operating rooms,” said Savosnick. “We were in the middle of building out that second floor when we learned about the change.” They worked collaboratively to re-sequence the work and incorporate the new design solution.
Additionally, DPR employed laser scanning to verify existing conditions in the overhead ceiling space in the Emergency Department area, as well as in the Central Utility Plant. While BIM coordination was integral to the project’s success, accessing patient rooms in the still fully operational emergency department to laser scan for BIM coordination was a complicated endeavor.
“Doing BIM coordination for an existing facility that is in use was a big challenge,” Savosnick said. The team used HEPA carts and deployed field investigators to access above-the-ceiling areas in order to gather the information needed to update the model.
The VDC program had other extensions that delivered value. The team used virtual reality to review access issues and verify clearances on the roof with NorthBay facility engineers. Marking the first time that NorthBay had used VR on a project, the technology helped resolve potential conflicts before work was ever installed in the field.
Healthcare construction projects are inherently complex, challenging and often downright difficult. DPR Construction embraces these challenges as opportunities to advance the company’s learning and continual improvement.
DPR took an in-depth look at seven highly technical, complex hospital projects completed in California between 2011 to 2018 which, resulted in the Rx for a Successful Healthcare Project study. The goal? Identify what makes a healthcare project a success and what could be done better.
DPR engaged a third-party consultant, Site Plus, to conduct independent interviews with owners, design partners and internal DPR team members from the projects being studied. Both commonalities and diversities existed, resulting in a strong sampling of healthcare projects. Consistent patterns were found in the successful projects, including a high level of collaboration and integration, a very engaged owner, and an environment promoting continual improvement over time.
Participants of the study were asked to "define a successful project." Interestingly, answers concentrated on or included "people" rather than just project metrics as an important element. Building on the successful collaboration and integration of project teams and needs, the study suggested that the three quality pillars of budget, time and quality could all be delivered successfully, challenging an often-touted industry myth to the contrary.
Participants were also asked, "What words come to mind when you think of this project?" Responses evoked highlights—and lowlights. The most frequently mentioned words were: challenging, fun, collaborative, trust and complex. Ultimately, themes, patterns and key differentiators were identified from the interviews and consolidated into nine key indicators for project success.
When all nine key indicators are present, the study found there is much more likelihood of an aligned and resilient team who will work collaboratively to overcome challenges and be successful. DPR shares these indicators with the goal of aligning project collaborators and integration in successful project delivery, and designing and building better, high-performing buildings.
9 Key Indicators for Successful Healthcare Construction:
1.Truly Engaged Owner: More engagement leads directly to success. Successful projects have a hands-on owner present, with the ability to make timely decisions and then keep to those decisions.
2. Project Mission and Value: Establish collective goals as a project team. Develop the purpose, vision, project goals, and key performance indicators at the onset of the project. In healthcare, the vision is typically about the higher purpose of the patient and the project as a community benefit.
3.Co-Locate (The Big Room): Team member committment from the beginning. The study revealed the "Big Room" enhanced a common understanding of values and goals, a foundational culture, the tenacity to keep improving, and the ability to make definitive decisions quickly.
4. Right Team/Right Mix: Assess team dynamics and recalibrate along the way. Experience may win the project, but it's the right people on the team who will lead to the greatest success.
5.Act Swiftly When Necessary: Be ready to change and act quickly. A person may have certain attributes that contribute to one of the project goals, but if they don't embrace ALL project goals in an open and unrestricted manner, it will set up barriers.
6.Invest in the Team: Tailor team building and purpose to specific team dynamics. Ongoing team building, both formal and informal, does lead to better team dynamics. The successful projects made the time to pause and recalibrate.
7.Share Knowledge and Set Goals: Successful projects push to be better. If you aren't keeping score, it's just practice. Add the priority of continuously getting better by asking, "Is there a better way?"
8.Lean Construction Methods: Use a discipline of best practices. Tools like Pull Planning, Target Value Design and A3/Choosing by Advantages Decision Making are some of the items used in successful projects in varying degrees.
9. Authorities Having Jurisdiction: Understand, accept and work with regulations. Regardless of project location or authority having jurisdiction, inspectors are key to the process. Understand their requirements and make them a part of the team.
Picture this scenario: an up-and-coming data center developer is looking to expand its portfolio in the Silicon Valley data center hub of Santa Clara. The company initially casts a wide net looking for the right property on which to build its new ground-up colocation facility – only to discover that undeveloped or greenfield land is a scarce commodity in this densely developed, high tech mecca.
The developer launches a new search, this time for an existing building it could retrofit and convert to data center use. In short order it finds a candidate that seems to fit the bill: an older industrial office building that has been sitting vacant for a few years. It is priced to sell. The building’s footprint is workable, the structure is intact, and both buyer and seller are motivated. Add some extra power and cabling equipment, the developer reasons, and this dusty old office space will easily transform into a profitable data center facility. An added bonus: it’ll be up and running much quicker than building a brand-new facility, enabling the developer to move in tenants, start collecting rent and begin making a return on investment that much sooner.
The developer hires a general contractor who specializes in commercial building construction but who recently jumped into the booming data center market and now has a couple of data center projects under its belt. An architect is also brought on board, and together they devise a plan to retrofit the facility. It may not be perfect, but they assure the developer they can make it work – and that the planned retrofit will save the company time and money in the long run.
The purchase is made, and the first shovel hits the ground.
As construction gets underway, the project team quickly realizes the building’s structural capacity doesn’t support the volume of heavy equipment – including racks of servers, chillers and air handling units – that this modern data center requires. In addition, there isn’t enough land around the building’s perimeter to locate the backup generators outside. They’ll need to be installed on the building’s rooftop instead – but it turns out the roof also isn’t designed to support that amount of weight.
It’s starting to look like a complete gut and reconstruct will be required.
And then there’s the matter of the available power onsite. The contractor assumed that since this is a reuse of an existing building, power supply wouldn’t be a major issue. Now they find out it could literally take months to work with the utility company to bulk up the site’s power infrastructure in order to meet the data center’s needs. The anticipated time and cost advantages of this property are quickly evaporating, and the developer is starting to think it has made a big mistake.
The Right Approach: Steps to Success
This fictional scenario may be a bit of an oversimplification and, certainly, it represents a worst-case situation, but it’s not an entirely unrealistic depiction of what can happen when an owner doesn’t properly evaluate or conduct complete due diligence on a property that they plan to convert into a data center facility. How should this process have been approached instead? Let’s examine the steps that owners and their teams should follow to ensure their data center retrofit projects are successful.
The very first step the owner and the design and construction team should take is to clearly define what constitutes success for them on their data center project. Is speed to market most important, or do cost savings or energy efficiency take precedence? Is landing a specific tenant or providing service in a specific area the overriding concern? A building repurpose project may or may not end up being less costly than a ground-up project; depending on the circumstances, it may even cost more. The former “hidden gems” of available building flips in places like Silicon Valley, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Loudoun County and other major data hubs are becoming fewer and farther between. Even in “edge” markets, the number of existing buildings that can be turnkey solutions for data halls are rare.
It is equally important for the owner to set early, realistic expectations of what it expects to achieve on the project and to carefully assess how easily and cost effectively a particular building could be retrofitted to new use. The time to do the homework and thoroughly evaluate candidates for a prospective retrofit/conversion is before the property is purchased, not after. Proper vetting is critical.
And that vetting process applies to selection of the design and construction team as well. While the aforementioned developer was on the right path engaging the contractor and architect prior to purchasing the property, the selected contractor that lacked historical knowledge or expertise specifically relating to the rapidly evolving data center market. As a result, the contractor didn’t anticipate some of the hidden pitfalls and “gotchas” that might have been caught by a more seasoned team. The overly optimistic “we’ll make it work” approach did not serve the owner well in this case either or help the owner to make a fully informed decision about the costs and challenges of retrofitting this property.
Bottom line? Bring a contractor and/or designer on board early in the process. Choose firms with extensive experience in data center construction, including both ground-up and retrofit projects. Ideally, they will have a decade or more worth of data center projects in their portfolio and be ranked among the Engineering News-Record’s top 5 or 10 data center contractors. A qualified general contractor or designer can skillfully guide the owner through the process of assessing prospective retrofit candidates based on a set of clear-cut criteria – and will help the owner make the best decisions.
An Objective Eye: Key Evaluation Criteria
Once the owner has selected the team and they’ve jointly scouted for and identified a few potential retrofit candidates, it’s time to objectively weigh the options. This step means taking an in-depth look at what’s “under the hood” of a given building and considering how well it meets the project goals. Think of it like bringing along a qualified mechanic to inspect the used car you’re considering buying. It may cost more up-front paying for the mechanic’s time but could well save you from making a costly decision in the long run.
There are at least 8 major criteria that should be carefully assessed on every data center candidate. They include:
Roof Structural Capacity. Data centers require roofs with a high structural capacity since equipment and heavy systems are often hung from or attached to the roof. Depending on the building’s former use, the roof may not be up to the task and could be a big-ticket upgrade. For data centers, a roof rating of over 35 lbs./sq. ft. is best; 25-20 lbs./sq. ft. is good; and less than 15 lbs./sq. ft. falls squarely in the “bad” category.
Floor Capacity. The racks and computer equipment that go into data centers demand a high floor capacity, something you typically won’t find when converting from an office building, call-center, multi-story structure or the like. Retrofitting this infrastructure is costly and may require tearing down and starting from scratch. For a rule of thumb, a building with a floor capacity of over 250 lbs./ft. is best; 125-200 lbs./ft. is good; and 125 lbs./ft. lands in the “bad” category.
Structural Code. There have been three major building code revisions in the last 10 years or so, including in 2010, 2013 and 2016. This means selecting a building constructed prior to 2010 may require extensive structural changes to bring it up to current standards. Buildings constructed between 2010 and 2013 are evaluated as “good” and require more minor changes, while the “best” rating in this category are buildings designed to the latest uniform building code standards of 2016.
Structural System. Hand-in-hand with evaluating a building’s structural code is its type of structural system. Post-tensioned or truss systems, found in buildings constructed during the 1980s and 1990s, are poor candidates for cost-effective retrofits, requiring extensive reinforcing and rebuilding. Moment frame buildings are better, while steel frame structures using buckling restraining brace frames (BRBs) are ideal candidates in high seismic zones like California. In addition, know the Importance Factor assigned to a given structure, as it will indicate how much structural redesign will be required to bring the new data center up to the necessary performance standards.
Mechanical & Electrical Equipment and Infrastructure. Two other key evaluation criteria are the age and condition of the existing building’s MEP equipment and its MEP infrastructure. Owners should understand that a former office building’s MEP system typically will not approach what is needed for data center usage and thus will likely require complete replacement. However, conversion of a former semiconductor facility or similar technical facilities may not require such extensive changes, depending on the age of the system. The rule of thumb: mechanical/electrical systems 15 years old or older score poorly in this category; 10-15 years old may be considered good depending on the type of facility it was; and less than five years old falls into the good category.
Watt Density. The power density per square foot of the existing building is another key measurement. The trend is to put the highest load in the smallest space. Current density trends favor more than 150 watt/sq. ft. as the best performance criteria, while 100-150 watt/sq. ft. is considered “good,” and less than 100 watts/sq. ft. is bad and will require major upgrades.
Raised Access Floor. Raised access floors are part of most modern data centers. If the building is an older one, even if it has raised access floors, they are considered obsolete. That’s because modern rolling load capacity of the cabinets require raised access floors to be at least 36 inches high with a 3000-lb. load capacity. Replacement of raised access flooring is a big-ticket item that can run between $40-$50 per square foot on the West Coast, and $20-$25 per sq. ft. on the East Coast.
Bringing it All Together for a Successful Outcome
Armed with realistic expectations, understanding what constitutes success in meeting their project goals, assisted by a well-qualified team, and having thoroughly vetted and attained hard data on what each potential building candidate offers, the data center developer is now ready to make a well-informed decision. The savvy owner and project team also knows that since data center demands are constantly evolving, building flexibility into their project whether new or a retrofit is another essential consideration.
Technically and logistically demanding, the design and development of data centers will always present challenges as well as bottom-line opportunities for the owner. A smart approach goes a long way toward setting your next data center project up for success.
Now in its third year, DPR’s Build Up internship program brought 23 high-achieving, STEM-leaning high school students to the front lines of construction during the summer of 2019. Many of the students, who plan to be the first in their families to attend college, have never had the opportunity to be on a construction site.
Often, Build Up interns begin the summer with dreams of becoming architects or engineers and finish their internships with a new understanding of the many career options in construction.
With a growing labor shortage, there is a critical need to train the next generation of construction professionals, both in the trades and project admin roles. DPR hopes the Build Up program inspires the next steps in interns’ academic careers, as well as helps create the next generation of construction leaders.
“Everybody was very dedicated to teaching me. On the first day, they said, ‘We don’t want you to feel like you’re a high schooler—you are part of the team.’”
Olga Hernandez, Build Up Intern
We also discussed the program and its goals with Diane Shelton, who leads DPR’s philanthropic efforts.
Why a program to target high school students, rather than just one for traditional college internships?
We want to capture student’s attention while they are still forming ideas about their educational paths. Construction Management is a wonderful career outlet for students interested in STEM areas but is rarely included in school curriculum and career events. There are lots of programs to inspire youth to pursue coding, gaming, design and engineering. We have a unique ability to share our love for technical construction, problem-solving, and collaboration. We can provide students with the first-hand experience of being part of a team that makes a building project come to life and affects a community for generations.
What’s your favorite success story of the program so far?
Well, we hope success plays out over the next four to five years, as graduates of the Build Up internship transition from college to career. In the meantime, we’ve already had more than one intern select their college major based on their summer experience and advice from mentors. More generally, it’s been fulfilling to see the interns’ confidence grow throughout their internships. At the start of the summer, Build Up interns are always a bit timid. By the end of the eight weeks, their confidence levels are off the charts. They walk their jobs, ask questions, speak up in meetings and often perform at the same level as the college interns.
What feedback do you get from professionals in the field working with these interns?
People can’t believe how mature and focused the students are as high school juniors and seniors. The interns’ inquisitiveness and enthusiasm for day-to-day activities on the project rubs off on the project team. More than one mentor has said that the experience of mentoring a high schooler reminded them of why they fell in love with construction and that it rekindled their fire for building.
What’s next for Build Up?
Our goal is to continually scale the program as much as makes sense, keeping the right balance between the number of qualified interns, suitable mentors and jobsites capable of providing a meaningful internship experience. The program focus and curriculum will evolve based on feedback from interns, mentors, and from nonprofit organizations we work with to make sure we’re meeting the needs of the students and our industry.
While DPR Construction has project work under way in several European markets – Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland – DPR’s professionals took center stage in Dublin and Paris as part of two global thought leadership events, both focused on the future of project delivery.
“As much as we’re trying to showcase what DPR can do in our European target geographies, many of the topics we discussed apply throughout the world,” said DPR’s Europe Lead Damian Farr. “Wherever a customer works with DPR in the world, we want them to know our approach is aligned and focused on delivering great results.”
Lean Without Borders
At the International Group for Lean Construction (IGLC) Annual Conference in Dublin, DPR was hard to miss, with several speakers, paper submissions and attendees from around the globe.
“It really showcased that DPR’s depth of Lean knowledge knows no borders,” said Chris Dierks, one of DPR’s Lean leaders. “Customers everywhere are looking to bring projects online faster and that requires letting go of a lot of long-held ways of working. At IGLC, we really helped show how a customer can take advantage of emerging delivery methods, and coupling those with a Lean mindset.”
That approach was kicked off by DPR’s Atul Khanzode, Dean Reed and Leonardo Rischmoller, who presented the Simple Framework for Integrated Project Delivery. Concurrently, DPR’s Paz Arroyo teamed with Annett Schöttle, a Lean expert from German consultancy Refine Projects AG, for a workshop on Choosing by Advantages.
Teams also led sessions focused on their abstract topics. Anthony Munoz, Jean Laurent and Dierks presented DPR’s Team Health Assessment, a tool that used to better identify and provide measurement to otherwise unquantifiable indices of a project’s performance.
“Traditional measures of Lean Construction can sometimes fail to represent or provide insightful commentary to the lengths they measure,” Dierks said. “The satisfaction of every member of the team can greatly affect outcomes and true Lean project success requires taking this into account, otherwise, there will be erosion of the benefits of Lean approaches. Diving deep into understanding the health of the team is critical to the success of any project; that's why we feel so strongly about doing an Assessment each month to figure out what do we need to improve and how can we support each other better in making that happen throughout the next month.”
Calling “caca” in Paris
While the IGLC conference focused on the processes of construction, BuiltWorlds’ Summit Paris looked closely at the tools themselves changing the construction landscape. Of course, DPR had quite a bit to say about how technology is affecting construction.
Peter Schneider, from DPR’s Amsterdam team, shared some provocative opinions on a panel that addressed the slow adoption of technology in our industry.
“We have to address the tension that exists between the desire to increase productivity and efficiency and what customers are really willing to invest in to disrupt the industry,” Schneider said. “As much as contractors are in a ‘space race’ to differentiate themselves with the newest things, we have to find common goals or else existing ways of working won’t change.”
Schneider also suggested that our industry is too quick to implement a new piece of technology when more testing is needed.
“If our industry doesn’t take the time to set expectations when projects test products under development, it’s likely that those tools become burdens. If that happens too many times, the brand around “technology” goes down. When we launch a tool without an integrated training and education platform, we’re setting it up to fail. From there, what needs to happen for it to recover?” He noted.
Meanwhile, DPR’s Farr sat on a panel that expressed similar themes while projecting the future state of construction.
“There’s certainly a trend of contractors bringing design expertise in-house to improve control of their own processes and architects aiming to bring in construction talent,” Farr said. “In reality, those folks will enhance integrated delivery but it’s unlikely this approach will replace the role of the other partner.”
Similarly, there is a narrative that contractors will become more and more vertically integrated, essentially becoming a one-stop shop for all facets of project delivery. Farr is skeptical.
“Customers are always going to want to maintain some competition, at least until true integration and real trust is the norm. They know it benefits their price,” Farr said. “Each project is different enough to be considered more than widgets that can be screwed together, and we are analyzing where significant elements of our core market work is consistent enough, across all projects for us to procure and produce those pieces in an integrated manner and even where a customer has insisted upon some form of market testing.”
DPR Construction recently completed a series of complex electrical and power monitoring upgrades on Merck’s Kenilworth, New Jersey campus that will help ensure scientific work there will go on without interruption for years to come. The work, which included upgrading five existing primary substations and associated feeder systems, along with the demolition of three substations in their entirety, showcased how DPR’s MEP expertise and approach to planning can lead to exceptional results and the kinds of predictable results customers rely on.
“This location is the world corporate headquarters for Merck, with active research and development labs and critical data center operations. Any impact to this campus could have major implications,” said Michael Abbatiello, Director of Engineering for Merck.
Getting Out of Tight Spaces
The Merck EM1/EM2 Substation and Feeder Replacement Project was a three-year project performed under a design-build contract in conjunction with a teaming agreement with Forest Electric, the electrical subcontractor. The project upgraded 40-year-old systems that were no longer as reliable as a global corporate headquarters and mission critical lab required. Executed without interrupting work on the active campus, DPR relocated one 26 kV substation into an existing structure while prefabricating and building another new 5 kV substation across campus. Both existing substations were demolished and the 26kV and 5kV cables feeding the campus’s eight major buildings were replaced. Additional work included the replacement of electrical equipment at two outdated 5kV substations, the demolition of an existing decommissioned substation, and a brand new 5kV substation to feed the main corporate administrations building on campus.
“This was a very complex project with a high risk of injury to people and disruption to Merck’s operations,” said Abbatiello. “Planning and communication between site operations and the project team was critical. This project outperformed others in this regard and it was a major contributor to its success. The overall execution and performance on this project was outstanding.”
Much of this technical work, however, needed to be coordinated with various campus stakeholders to ensure switching service from old to new infrastructure did not affect research and development of life saving medications. Additionally, much work required access to systems through manholes, which required confined space permits and heightened safety supervision. To alleviate this safety hazard, crews employed remote control cable cutters.
“The remote control cable cutter was a practical and safe tool for cutting wires,” said DPR’s Brandon Bell. “The wireless remote communicates with the tool via a mutually exclusive connection, and a lineman can arm the cutter and move away from the area to perform the work safely.”
Winning Safety Performance
Indeed, safety was paramount throughout the project, with DPR’s team aligning with Merck’s existing safety culture. One key factor: customer involvement. Aided by the design-build approach, the entire team took safety to be its job, with the customer leading the way.
“It just goes to show how important owner and stakeholder involvement in safety is,” Bell said. “When we combine our own approach to safety with an owner that shares our safety value, it strongly reinforces our culture.”
The results speak for themselves: by March 2019, the project had amassed more than 200,000 worker-hours and one recordable incident. Merck recognized DPR for its efforts with one of its regional safety awards, highlighting its excellent safety practices.
Collaboration in Action
Ultimately, the use of a design-build contract in conjunction with a teaming agreement took what could have been just a successful project and turned it into an outperformer all around. The job was finished on schedule and under budget, aided by a collaborative approach that made delivery as seamless as possible.
“There were several instances where we had to deviate from the initial plan, such as moving away from fully prefabricated conduit racks because they wouldn’t work logistically,” Bell said. “In those instances, the integrated team was able to tackle the challenge together with no negative bearing to cost or schedule.”
In addition to safety, cost and schedule results, the high level of collaboration had a positive influence in building rapport with other project partners, as well.
“It was, easily, one of the best project experiences with subcontractors in several trades,” Bell said. “We were also able to train a variety of subs and partners in Lean techniques and associated systems, which means we can take the same approach to future work.”
An ever-increasing stock of technology tools holds promise in the construction industry. It’s tempting to use the latest and greatest “shiny object” immediately, but it takes a strategic approach to get the best results. Leveraging these assets to improve efficiency requires an intentional approach that implements the right technologies on the right projects to maximize predictable outcomes, transparency and bottom-line value.
This value-driven approach led DPR Construction to pilot and then fully implement a new technology integration manager role in each of its five business regions over the last three years. Something akin to curators of emerging technology, these professionals help project teams select and integrate the various applications and technologies for their projects, from preconstruction to closeout.
“DPR is known in the industry for experimenting with and leveraging a lot of technology,” said DPR’s Krupesh Kakkente, whose role includes tech integration nationally. “We realized there is a consequence to innovating without knowing where the value lies.”
To address this, DPR’s integration managers, a troupe of experienced, crossed trained employees, get involved as early as the RFP stage to dive deep into exploring what the customer is truly looking for. Based on this analysis, a tailored solution is devised to deploy the right technologies. The number one objective? “Align our project team’s expectations with the customer’s expectations,” said Kakkente. “DPR’s team of integration managers possess a ‘big picture’ perspective on what different project stakeholders bring to the table and the processes and standards that drive their work.”
Start to Finish: Integration in Action
Starting with the earliest planning meetings, a DPR integration manager is at the table to understand what the customer needs and expects, while also taking in to account the project team’s experience and preferences when it comes to working with various applications. Those details inform recommendations for specific applications and technologies that will best deliver value. The goal is to support the full duration of a project and can include document hosting applications to design decision tracking and RFI tracking applications, to name just a few.
After guiding the initial selections, the integration manager works with project teams to ensure team members are up to speed on best practices and procedures at each stage, providing training whenever needed.
“We introduce them to all the apps and connect all the processes together so that they can use them efficiently on jobsites,” Kakkente said. “The overriding goal is transparency and using leading indicators to drive success; that is the real value for the customer.”
Measuring Success – Best Practice Adoption
DPR measures what percentage of the applications and processes used on DPR projects are best practice standards. Those best practices include technologies that have delivered significant returns in terms of adding efficiency to the construction process and increasing predictable outcomes for customers. Currently, DPR’s teams are adopting best practice programs at an average rate of 86 percent on projects companywide, according to Kakkente.
Why 86% best practice adoption rather than 100%? It leaves room for innovation. DPR’s overarching focus on bringing the highest degree of predictability, reliability and efficiency to owners’ projects is balanced with the understanding that innovation also has a significant role to play in a project’s success. Testing and implementing new technologies and approaches are part of the process of continually improving project schedules, cost, value, and quality for customers.