The skeletal system is like the structural elements of a building, supporting all that goes inside.
Our skin provides a protective barrier from the elements, protecting what’s inside, just as a building’s curtainwall does.
Of course, our bodies rely on systems of veins, arteries, nerves and more to handle critical functions. A building does, as well; the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems are the “guts” of a building.
Just like our bodies’ systems, MEP systems are extremely intricate. Technical expertise is required to keep them in optimal health once up-and-running. Unlike the human body, buildings don’t have the benefit of nature to install every inch of the systems automatically and precisely. It takes MEP professionals engaging at every stage of the project to make sure that the systems that power, cool, heat and provide water for buildings and installed correctly and work as expected. They’re not cardiologists and neurologists… or are they, in a sense?
The work MEP professionals do is vital and most building occupants never see what goes into it because much of their work is shielded by the walls, floors and ceilings of a building. But, if these walls could talk, they’d share a lot of stories of how MEP pros made great things happen.
In this series, DPR Construction shines a light on the work of MEP professionals, from how they get involved to make sure designs come to life to how their work can help support lower operating expenses for facility owners.
In this first installment, we look at how MEP pros are among the unsung heroes of any construction project.
Pressures customers face are changing as their industries evolve. At the same time, construction is employing new technology and delivery methods to address these challenges, all while delivering value for customers.
In that context, some of DPR Construction's core market experts tried to answer this key question for the year ahead: “What’s one thing that will change customer outcomes in 2020?”
"Putting data back in data center construction. Customer-specific data analytics, business improvement metrics and collaborative platforms will improve project delivery for our customers, bringing them online faster, no matter where they’re deploying new facilities." - John Arcello
"VDC and Prefabrication. Robust VDC programs will let us show tenants and developers spaces sooner, provide synchronized visual schedules so they can see visual plans as we build and help enable virtual quality control programs. VDC and will also enable quality prefabrication that helps guarantee schedule, addressing a key pressure for customers throughout the sector, from offices to hospitality facilities." - Andrea Weisheimer
"Optimizing construction as healthcare providers face reduced operating margins. Reimbursement rates are decreasing and as a result healthcare systems are forced to operate at razor thin operating margins. At the same time, spending on technology is almost equal to normal capital expenditures. Through early design collaboration, lean delivery and prefabrication, we can increase efficiency, maximize value and make sure providers are getting the most ROI both in construction and facility operations." - Hamilton Espinosa
"Collaborative design/build delivery with a focus on design management. With public money/fixed budgets adding pressures to institutions more than ever, owners require cost and schedule certainty. Through the DPR design academy and the use of programmatic estimating and Modelogix, we will show how design management can ensure certainty when all of the moving parts of a project work together." - Tracy de Leuw
"Driving down the cost of cleanrooms in new ways. There are practical modular solutions that address both functional requirements inside of the room along with structural support requirements outside of it. Additionally, design management, minimizing air changes per square foot of manufacturing area and exploring less expensive – yet durable/cleanable – surface materials will provide new ways of delivering these spaces." - Scott Strom
“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.