Houston’s largest hotel, Hilton Americas, first opened its doors in 2003 to host hundreds of sports fans for Super Bowl XXXVIII. Sixteen years later, DPR Construction partnered with Hilton, Houston First and Gensler to undertake a major renovation of this award-winning AAA 4-Diamond property in the heart of downtown. The renovation includes significant demolition, build back and upgrades to all 1,200 guestrooms and corridors, alcoves, landings and elevator lobbies on all 17 guestroom floors.
Phase 1 got under way in June 2019, with the first 600 guest rooms completed by December. The project then paused to allow for planned downtown conferences—some in the adjacent George R. Brown Convention Center—that included events for large tech firms and big businesses. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these conferences were cancelled and DPR was asked to remobilize earlier than planned to complete Phase 2—the remaining 600 guest rooms.
“Working in an active hotel in the middle of downtown is already challenging. Add in a global pandemic, and the challenges only increase,” says Houston Business Unit Leader, Nick Abay.
DPR worked closely with Hilton and Houston First to develop a comprehensive COVID-19 Emergency Response/Mitigation Plan, that includes:
A rigorous sign-in/health screening process with a sophisticated QR Code system, unique electronic badging, bilingual staff, infrared thermometer scans and color-coded wrist bands that alternate each day.
A second sign-in/screening location at the one and only entry/egress into the building as a second COVID-19 stage gate.
The implementation of four (4) separate shifts to manage the more than 250 people who are on-site during an average workday.
Dedicated freight elevators, with delivery access and debris removal scheduled at specified times to manage the limited loading dock space available.
Additional temporary restrooms and touchless handwashing stations.
These steps are part of a set of comprehensive EHS protocols that, when properly planned and executed, demonstrate that construction can continue to move forward without compromising the safety of employees or the community.
To allow for the Centers for Disease Control’s recommended six feet of social distancing, DPR also worked with Hilton to identify a larger office space within the hotel. The larger area allows DPR staff and other project stakeholders to carry out administrative functions and hold daily meetings while maintaining a safe physical distance.
These measures complement the safety protocols being developed by Hilton to protect its staff and guests. From seals placed on guestroom doors after cleaning, showing that no one has since accessed the room, to contactless check-in and extra cleaning of high touch areas, the industry is preparing for a necessary new travel experience.
Construction continues as the hotel still hosts guests, most of whom are part of the COVID-19 response: troops from the Texas National Guard, who are providing support to the Houston Food Bank, along with healthcare workers providing front-line support to patients in the Greater Houston Area.
The 509,289-sq.ft. project is a careful balance between construction and hotel operations. With continued room occupancy, work is being completed in blocks of 11 guestrooms—up to 298 rooms out of order or under construction at any one time. Of course, this couldn’t be possible without the value of DPR’s Self-Perform Work teams. Hilton Americas is the largest SPW project in Houston to date with over 55 craft working in the following scopes: demolition, drywall, wood blocking, tape and float, doors, frames and hardware, specialties, and FFE warehousing and installations. Even with the COVID -19 impacts on Phase 2 renovations, the SPW crews are trending an improvement in estimated man hours by as much as 10-15%.
“Using multiple scheduling tools, including a ‘Room Work Status board’ that displays the current status of each individual room as it progresses through the 28-day renovation cycle, our team is able to closely track progress and strive for guest rooms with zero defects,” said Ryan Schoeneberg, DPR superintendent. “With a total of 1,200 individual punch lists spanning 17 floors, this is critical to minimize rework and maintain our aggressive schedule.”
This high-profile project at Hilton Americas continues to excel in challenging conditions. Chris Gehring, Senior Project Manager, summarizes the experience with a nod to company culture. “DPR is proud to support Hilton, Houston First and our State and local front-line workers on this major renovation of a Houston icon.”
This is Part 4 in a series where DPR experts look at ways to build resiliency into commercial spaces as we move through the COVID pandemic and beyond. Part 1 looked at improvements that can be made to existing spaces. Part 2 and Part 3 examined ways to spread out individuals within a workforce and technology for remote asset management, respectively. This final segment discusses planning for healthier future spaces.
At some point, the pandemic will subside, the economy will recover and true, long-term planning will begin. When it does, it is likely that the momentum that was building behind healthy buildings and systems like WELL Certification will become mainstream.
The advantages of healthy workplaces have been highlighted from business researchers to innovation consultants to the medical community. Now, as many firms that are bringing workers back put measures including temperature checks into place, employees will be scrutinizing how well their offices support their health.
“We believe in the benefits of WELL from a standpoint of increasing productivity, lowering absenteeism and more,” said Matt Murphy, DPR Construction’s core markets leader. “The primary reason we’ve built our new offices to WELL standards, though, is because of the tangible benefits to the health of our employees.”
Including the 1918 flu pandemic, the COVID-19 pandemic is the second worldwide event of this scale in 100 years. For anyone aiming to build higher performing buildings with a lifespan of 50-100 years, it’s worth considering that pandemics have more in common with earthquakes than hurricanes: they’re less frequent, but when they happen, it’s a widespread disruption.
“In places where earthquakes are common, we’ve taken a lot of measures to ensure the resiliency of the built environment,” Murphy said. “Shouldn’t we do the same with health and doing things to minimize disruption should another pandemic occur within our lifetimes?”
Planning for a truly healthy workspace, though, isn’t something to do after design has taken place. Buildings and workplaces with the best results and returns from green building strategies are the ones that started with integrated approaches from the start, setting high performance as goals and letting those goals shape the design and construction process. Achieving the same sort of results with WELL Certification takes a similar approach.
“Our customers were already facing high bottom line expenses for health insurance and wellness programs,” Murphy said. “While there are cultural factors that affect employee behaviors, we’re finding a whole-building approach to wellness and health can influence culture. Putting measures in for physical distancing will be important, but so will building systems and materials that hinder spread of disease. Designs that help with circulation and provide employees with comfortable spaces to have physical distance while collaborating and feeling productive make a difference, too.”
Ultimately, putting all these strategies together should lower any given business’ exposure to pandemics or other disruptions.
“Businesses need to know their ability to operate can move forward. Employees want the peace of mind that their work and lives won’t be disrupted. Every business is connected to supply chains and customers and the larger economy,” Murphy said. “Any office that moves to make its own operations resilient makes our entire economy more resilient.”
This is part 3 in a series where DPR experts look at ways to build resiliency into commercial spaces as we move through the COVID pandemic and beyond. Part 1 looked at improvements that can be made to existing spaces. Part 2 discussed ways to spread out individuals within a workforce. This segment discusses technology for remote asset management and the final installment covers planning for healthier future spaces.
Physical distancing will mean fewer workers in offices. With reduced staff levels in a given workplace, some of the things taken for granted in offices will need to change. For example, workers are used to having on-site IT help. On any given day, that may no longer be the case and remote options will be the first course of treatment when the “blue screen of death” appears.
For facility managers, the need for remote monitoring of building systems is going to be equally important. Operations dashboards that may have seemed like luxury items may get another look as essential software tools. With many projects already using robust virtual design and construction (VDC) programs, it’s not a big jump to reposition digital models for remote asset management.
“This pandemic has shown that, in buildings, the safety of teams, occupants and visitors will always be the top priority,” said Aaron Peterson, leader of VueOps, a strategic partner of DPR Construction that aims to put building operations information at customers’ fingertips. “More than ever, it is the responsibility of facility management, engineers and operators to take action toward implementing the right prevention and containment strategies.”
As it stands, research shows that facility engineers spend 50% of their time simply searching facility data. The faster an issue can be identified and addressed or prevented, the less disruption to operations. Doing so remotely, though, is going to become more common.
“Reduced workforces, remote work and limited staff proximity on-site just underscores the need for integrated data tools that can enhance and increase facility uptime, prevent downtime, improve workflow and eliminate pain points,” Peterson said. “This will be the ‘new normal.’ Much like restaurants will be shy to remove a revenue stream like takeout even after reopening, why would a facility manager want to pivot back to a monitoring approach that has increased risks?”
Mass timber continues to gain ground as an innovative alternative building material. Engineered for loads similar in strength to structural materials like concrete and steel, mass timber allows crews to build tall, with a lighter, natural, low-carbon and high-quality resource. As its adoption grows, questions inevitably arise about the do’s and don’ts of its deployment.
Embodying its ever forward spirit, DPR Construction has utilized mass timber on a number of projects. As with any new technology, there exists a component of “learning by doing,” and mass timber is no exception. DPR has collected some valuable lessons learned from the people doing the actual work of building mass timber projects, lessons that fall into these categories: Design, Procurement and Operational Considerations.
With the significant benefits mass timber yields in construction, from its strength and resiliency to reduction of carbon footprint, it’s easy to see why adoption is on the rise. The lessons builders learn and share by doing can only make it more successful as a key component of sustainable design and construction.
Unlike man-made materials such as concrete or steel, different species of wood can yield varying structural capacities. This must be taken into account when spacing grids in building.
Depending on soil conditions, mass timber buildings are significantly lighter than an equally designed steel or concrete building. This has the potential to reduce foundation systems, or even eliminate the need for deep foundations. This should be taken into consideration for pricing and schedule benefits.
Project partners might not be familiar with all of the variables associated with mass timber—it’s a relatively new material in the industry. Be sure to engage early and educate each other throughout the process. Some things to consider include:
Details for anchorage of other systems, depths of beams and interaction with MEP distribution systems.
Coordination with opening sizes for stairs and elevators, which may be created with hybrid structural systems within an overall mass timber building.
Outline these clearly before the project starts. Who is responsible for each scope, such as engineering? Procedures for building with mass timber are not as clear cut as those long established for other materials. Make sure you know who is doing what before you start.
Owners should get involved as soon as possible. If mass timber is on the agenda, engage a timber provider sooner rather than later as the possible engineer of record, before locking in an outside structural engineer of record.
These vary from city to city, and timelines for new code adoption differ. Jurisdictions across the US are modifying local building codes to expand scale and heights of mass timber structures. Make sure you, the design team and the owner understand exactly what’s allowed by local building codes.
Some areas of the country have experienced 85% growth year over year in mass timber projects. Regions with large numbers of these projects can experience delays in procuring materials.
Ensure material availability before outlining and accepting project schedules. With existing manufacturers spread across the US, Canada and Europe, they are impacted by different holidays, production cycles and backlog. Engage early with potential specified vendors to understand manufacturing capacities.
Production schedules are important. Fabrication time isn’t lengthy, but getting a slot on a busy schedule can take time.
Project schedules should be pinned down early on. Discuss actual target date for fabrication clearly and honestly, and include quality inspection and verification of raw materials being used in manufacture. Because fabrication production schedules are tight, missing a fabrication date by a day or two can potentially delay a project exponentially. In addition, erection sequences should be equal to or less than with traditional structural systems.
New vendors arise all the time, and their scopes of work are not standardized or consistent across the board with regard to manufacture, design and installation. It’s important to have a good system for vendor managementto mitigate this factor.
Building processes differ for mass timber than from those long established for steel and concrete. Many construction companies are still learning these, and this can affect site logistics and work methods. Scope alignment is critical to determining who owns connections to dissimilar materials, especially in hybrid structural solutions. Attachment to wood for concrete or steel elements is paramount in understanding the design responsibility and installation.
MEP should be locked in as soon as possible to reduce on-site install time. Understanding the nuances of mass timber, its sequence of erection and integration of MEP system penetrations, openings and distribution are critical to fabrication.
Laydown areas should be established for the materials. If material is being shipped from overseas, it might be necessary to provide space for shipping containers, as well.
Weather concerns come into play due to potential moisture risks. Specs are written such that materials should avoid directly touching the ground. Timber is wrapped before leaving the manufacturer, but what exactly is wrapped differs by manufacturer, i.e. individual beams versus groups of beams. Crews must be in the know.
Metal grinding shards from nearby work on-site can land on wood and damage its appearance and integrity.
Questions about fire performance often come from the uninitiated, but mass timber performs well here. Multiple fire performance tests conducted at the ATF Fire Research Laboratory confirmed that mass timber structures meet fire resistance requirements in the International Building Code. Exposed mass timber chars on the outside and forms a layer to shield the interior. When codes require that timber be protected with gypsum wall board, it was found to achieve nearly damage-free performance.
The insurance industry is still catching up and typically still treats mass timber structures like regular wood frame houses. Premiums are higher on builder’s risk.
Installation is different from that of other materials, with such questions as how many times screws can be backed out, what to do if a bolt head snaps, or what happens if combustible materials must be covered.
This is part 2 in a series where DPR experts look at ways to build resiliency into commercial spaces as we move through the COVID pandemic and beyond. Part 1 looked at improvements that can be made to existing spaces. Part 3 examines technology for remote asset management and Part 4 discusses planning for healthier future spaces. This segment discusses ways to spread out individuals within a workforce.
Once offices come back online, facility leaders will have much to consider in the longer term. For example, physical distancing requirements in offices are almost sure to be a fixture for months to come, if not permanently. Certainly, the ability for any workplace to pivot to a setup that places employees at more physical distance from one another will be needed.
While that’s good practice for disease prevention, other potential disruptions may influence where people are able to go to work.
“Natural disasters have disrupted regions and businesses in the past. Mobility in many communities was an issue prior the pandemic, too. Our nation’s infrastructure is in great need of upgrading. As recent events like Seattle’s bridge closure show, that affects a group of people’s ability to commute reliably," said Matt Murphy, DPR Construction's core markets leader. "One outcome of this crisis, especially with the knowledge of how effective workers can be remotely, is flexible options for where to come to work.”
With billions of feet of suburban office park space on the market, some businesses may consider repositioning them to match the experience of their more urban office spaces. With technology to connect teams seamlessly, satellite spaces provide more options for workers and give companies an easy way to spread out their workforce to avoid overfilling an office.
“Obviously, this means taking on more real estate, but a lot of larger firms already have this setup,” Murphy said. “It’s more about aligning the office space to provide a unified worker experience.”
“On a longer horizon, many customers may consider spreading their workforces out simply to ensure that, whatever happens wherever, they can plan on limiting disruption to operations,” Murphy said. “If you’re a company with thousands of square feet of space, the more you can spread those square feet out, the more agile you will be in the face of disease outbreaks, infrastructure disruptions, natural disasters and more.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, there has been significant speculation about what the pandemic will mean for workplaces in the future. As certain as it is that changes in workspaces will be the new reality, the fact is that, generally, people like going to the office (and many people miss doing so!) The fast internet connections of office spaces provide a form of digital equity for workers, many of whom have certainly felt the limitations of their internet bandwidth at home. Many businesses that are doing well with keeping operations moving remotely are struggling to replicate the organic interactions of face-to-face contact in offices that help support everything from professional development to camaraderie. While amazing work is happening via video conferencing, there is no replacement for that one-on-one interaction in real time with coworkers.
The return to the office will happen, and when it does, it will look different for every organization. What will be important, though, is making sure offices are set up in ways to minimize further disruptions and optimize the health of their occupants. Through the design and construction approaches, businesses can plan for resiliency in the face of not only this pandemic, but other potentialities that could disrupt business for weeks or months at a time.
“The COVID pandemic has shown businesses where they have some risk exposure and that design and construction solutions can help alleviate those risks,” said Matt Murphy, who acts as DPR Construction’s core markets leader. “It’s clear that offices are not just places people gather, but key business assets, and there are strategies that can be put into place to help ensure those critical assets can always stay online.”
In this series, DPR experts look at ways to build resiliency into commercial spaces as we move through the COVID pandemic and beyond. This segment looks at improvements that can be made to existing spaces. Upcoming installments will examine ways to spread out individuals within a workforce, technology for remote asset management and planning for healthier future spaces.
Making Existing Spaces Work Today
While long-term solutions are needed, in coming weeks, carefully opening existing spaces will be the top priority. Businesses that want to reopen offices are considering everything from bringing groups of workers back in rotations, enhanced cleaning efforts to new ways to use kitchen and amenity spaces as well as office-wide physical distancing measures.
“Workspace utilization at DPR has never really been your standard 'space-centric focused' space planning. We've always been focused on human-centric metrics. Collaboration thrives in open office environments,” says Scott Sass, who acts as DPR’s national special services group (SSG) leader. “This pandemic has allowed us to reimagine the workplace and find new ways to satisfy the needs of our people. We're discussing new ways to enhance already human-focused design strategies that will ensure the highest levels of collaboration and safety in workplaces.”
Temporary safety measures are likely at the start, but customers looking for more permanent solutions will want to make adjustments to existing spaces without disrupting day-to-day operations. DPR’s SSG group and its corps of self-perform workers have some ideas in mind to consider.
“At the beginning of this, there were a lot of articles stating, '‘this is the end of the open-concept offices,’” Sass said. “That’s probably hyperbole. However, there will be a need to evaluate the existing office and determine if changes are necessary. Immediate changes like auto-operators on doors, new antimicrobial hardware and touchless operation kitchen equipment are considerations. There also may be a need to adjust workspace configurations, or add screens for the interim measures.”
Sass added: “One thing all offices should consider is re-commissioning HVAC systems. It’s like doing a tune-up on your car. It will give you the peace of mind that systems are doing what they’re supposed to, and changing the filters regularly is important.”
In other words, it’s the kind of work an SSG group is well positioned to support.
“Doors, hardware, drywall, MEP… this is what we were doing before the pandemic and finding ways to do it in active workspaces,” Sass said. “Delivering that with quality is more about planning. We want to work with individual customers to understand their needs and find ways to install what they need in ways that don’t disrupt their operations at a time when another disruption could be a critical threat to business.”
Sass believes that can mean after-hours work with thorough cleaning afterward, deliberate planning on crew sizes and phasing of work.
“The advantage of having a nimble crew ready to go is that it perfectly aligns with the idea that there isn’t one grand solution out there for everyone,” Sass said. “Every customer is going to have different needs and, through collaboration, we can get them online faster and in ways they can count on moving forward.”
Healthcare workers are called to serve a cause greater than themselves. They take care of those who are in need, often working 12-hour days with no breaks. And the mothers among them don’t stop when they clock out. They continue their service once they get home to their families, doing everything from helping kids with remote learning to giving comforting hugs.
This Mother’s Day and National Nurses Week, DPR would like to recognize the family and friends of our employees who are medical professionals and put in long hours both at work and at home. We offer our deepest gratitude to those of you who are always there to comfort us, whether at home or in the patient room, and especially in the midst of the greatest healthcare crisis of the century. We trust you with our lives, and we thank you for your compassion and expertise.
Following are a few testaments about the people we are fortunate to have in our lives:
DPR Construction recently celebrated reaching substantial completion on Clemson University’s College of Business. The $87M project, features 24 teaching spaces, a five-story interior atrium, faculty offices, and amenities including a fireplace lounge and La Madeleine Café.
Clemson’s new College of Business is redefining the center of the university’s campus while creating a state-of-the-art think tank environment for the college’s growing student population. The 176,000 sq.-ft. facility’s collaborative, 21st century design overlooks the famous Tillman Hall clock tower and Bowman Field creating a new center of campus with room for future expansion beyond the business school.
Notably, DPR’s project team was able to hit substantial completion on time while adhering to physical distancing protocols. A new front door to Clemson’s historic campus, the new College of Business will open its doors to students this fall.
Healthcare leaders are busier than ever, focused on weathering and responding to the worst of COVID-19 and, as things stabilize in their markets, planning for future resiliency.
Coming into 2020, one of the most significant challenges they faced was managing strategic growth during the potential shift from a fee-for-service reimbursement model to value-based payments. Then COVID-19 changed the game and completely disrupted capital spending. Moving forward, the ability to drive hard ROI and benefits from capital expenditures will become even more important and complicated under a system focused on value and the myriad care model changes likely to come in the post-COVID-19 pandemic world.
Two of the largest line items of capital spending belong to technology and facilities (construction), a trend that sees no letting up in the foreseeable future. Interestingly, technology initiatives and construction projects are not always in-sync, which is a problem for organizations that have not yet fully embraced the digital transformation of the care environment.
The resulting disconnects between the digital environment and built environment stymies innovation at scale, leading to less than optimal return on investment.
There are several drivers behind the importance of blending the digital and build environments:
Regulatory demands of value-based care for reimbursement and quality of care, which are placing an even greater importance on the patient experience and the location in which services are performed. The uptick in telehealth services during the pandemic has cemented the viability and necessity of digital venues for patient care. How healthcare systems will be reimbursed for telehealth and how they deal with HIPAA will be key moving forward.
Providers closely evaluating capital investments to ensure they create convenience for patients, reduce costs, provide continuity of care, and maintain or improve quality, all of which are critical under a post-pandemic value-based reimbursement.
Technology demands of consumerism (provider and patient) are placing unfamiliar strains on healthcare organizations, operations and technology infrastructure.
Consolidation of provider organizations result in a broad mix of technology systems and physical assets, inhibiting standardized care models and eliminating efficiencies required to thrive in a value-based care model.
As we begin to plan for the future, we have to ask: how can we start being smarter about making it all work together? It’s by connecting the dots between system strategy, clinical operations, technology and facilities planning design and construction that we start to see the challenges and opportunities from multiple perspectives. These insights produce a more comprehensive vision and path to succeed in this new value-based paradigm.
As also seen in the recent RX for a Successful Healthcare Project study, engaging the right internal and external partners early and often will reveal insights to maximize efficiencies in workflow, enhance the provider and patient experience and create spaces that allow provider organizations to optimize capital expenditures and thrive in the new paradigm of value-based care.
Three concepts we believe healthcare providers should consider are:
Build a team and use it – In addition to the management consultants often engaged to guide strategic visioning sessions, healthcare systems should also engage designers and construction managers earlier in the process to provide insight to growth strategies and industry pressures. Viewing these groups as partners instead of commodities provides new perspective with the ability to better align future building initiatives with overall healthcare system goals.
Get into the details – As healthcare systems expand, we’ve seen situations where aligning IT systems with newly-acquired assets are taken for granted. This leads to more time and money being spent, which erodes the hoped-for return on investment.
Use data in new ways – We have more systems than ever to support good decision making and, ultimately, day-to-day operations. The entire lifecycle can be made more efficient, from programs like Modelogix used during preconstruction services or VueOps, which takes existing virtual design and construction tools and leverages them as a true asset management suite.
Putting it all together best positions healthcare organizations to realize maximum ROI for both their facility and digital investments. Ultimately, it will help make the patient and provider experience more seamless, as well, fulfilling the vision we share for the next generation of healthcare facilities.
As much as the word “disruption” gets thrown around by thought leaders, we know this: customers don’t like surprises. Surprises in the course of a major construction project create disruptions that can ripple through a project and an entire customer organization. Surprises in the field can be costly and can affect project schedule.
Even while striving to deliver more predictable outcomes, surprises emerge in the field from time to time. Just as safety incidents can be mitigated through the proper steps taken prior to and during work, DPR believes many costly surprises in the field can be prevented.
By spending a little upfront, projects can often avoid spending more due to unforeseen issues. Too often, those costs look easy to cut in early project stages, leaving little recourse when something unexpected arises.
“Throughout the lifecycle of any project, there are a lot of unknowns,” said Rishard Bitbaba, DPR’s large project corporate service leader. “You wouldn’t want a doctor performing surgery without first looking at scans, using tools to evaluate the best approach and using data from similar situations to inform next steps. Contractors and their project partners have a similar set of tools to get rid of the unknowns before a shovel hits the ground.”
Four specific things can help get projects off to the right start.
Sometimes on projects, what you see isn’t what you get—but it can be easy to take existing conditions for granted.
“It’s inevitable that existing buildings, over years of operations, have made a variety of modifications and upgrades, large and small, to systems that may not be fully captured in operations manuals and the original drawings,” says Hannu Lindberg, DPR’s Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) leader. “But for all project types, at various stages, reality capture can be a great example of spending a little now to save more down the line.”
Reality capture methods like laser scanning of existing conditions involves time, labor and some equipment cost, but by setting the basis for the larger digital model – helping support preconstruction activities ranging from procurement to how the work will be phased – it has larger benefits. While many project teams see the utility of doing this before a project begins, that is often left until the end when it’s almost too late to adjust for the discrepancies. Doing so misses the real value.
“The main reason to keep scanning is to ensure quality and catch errors in the field,” Lindberg says. “If you spent the money to coordinate the building, you should ensure you’re following the coordinated design. And, when you crunch the numbers, the cost of upfront labor is far cheaper than rework, change orders and loss of productivity in the field.”
Consider scanning and as-built verification together on a given project. Weekly scans of work put in place for a period of four months could run $46,000 – exactly the kind of money that looks easy to trim on a line-item basis. What if each scan found 10 minor issues that could be quickly addressed before they became $80,000 in major rework costs over the same time period?
Similarly, it might seem like spending $22,000 annually for a drone to capture aerial progress photos for site mapping is unnecessary. The same task with five field crew members and equipment could end up costing upwards of $52,000.
“These things add up,” Lindberg says. “For things like scanning and aerial progress mapping, before work commences, it might seem like trimming $68,000 upfront is cost savings and a better short-term trade off. But, if that results in spending more than $130,000 later in avoidable rework… I’m not sure anyone wants to have to explain that to their supervisor…or owner, for that matter.”
Reality capture can also prevent surprise costs and increase ROI through better overall productivity, quality control, and by reducing waste (in both materials and processes).
Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) scopes typically account for 25% to 40% of a project’s total construction costs and drive the operating costs during the facility’s life. Since MEP systems have a significant impact on project budgets, they are often the first scopes that teams look to reduce in the early stages, often without the guidance of a MEP professional.
“Too often MEP systems are taken for granted in early stages of a project,” says Joe Dillingham, one of DPR’s leading MEP coordinators. “We’ve seen assumptions about these systems during design and buyout that lead to costly redesign and rework during construction.”
Bringing MEP professionals into these early stages reduces project teams’ reliance on assumptions when making decisions that affect construction all the way through facility operation.
Often, project teams do not bring on MEP professionals until the commissioning phase, when addressing issues hampering a system’s performance adds cost that could have been avoided with more oversight from the beginning. Even during this late stage, MEP professionals frequently save expenses from hitting clients’ bottom lines.
Blair Calhoun, another MEP professional at DPR, recalls a time when a warehouse manager called him to voice safety concerns with a recently commissioned tenant improvement. Her staff had difficulty navigating almost a 1/4 of the space because it lacked adequate lighting. After some investigation, Calhoun discovered the owner’s recently departed PM had opted to save upfront costs by not replacing the preexisting lights and the project's coffers were tapped. Calhoun asked the electrical subcontractor who previously submitted a proposal to replace the outdated existing lights with contemporary, high-efficiency ones for an estimate of the energy saved with the new lights. The team ended up showing the warehouse manager that the $22,000 change order would be paid for in less than three years from the savings on monthly electric bills, a true win-win.
Recently, DPR’s MEP and data groups began analyzing nearly 40,000 “Requests-For-Information” (RFIs) related to MEP trades from over 1,700 projects. Fundamentally, an RFI indicates an unwanted break in the flow of required and accurate data. The disruptions in data flow often lead to lost production time and pose threats to the quality and predictability of project outcomes. The groups are planning a rigorous analysis to find insights to shine a light on issues affecting MEP upfront costs that ultimately lead to lower total costs for clients.
Things like a truly engaged owner, project partners co-located in a “Big Room” and more were among the nine key indicators DPR identified for executing successful healthcare projects. Another is having the right team who exhibits the Lean principle of “Respect the Individual.” The traditional, more siloed approach to project delivery, where a contractor comes into the process after design is finalized and many key decisions have been made, though, puts the teambuilding starting blocks farther back. In doing so, things like design management fall by the wayside and there isn’t proper time to organize both the design and building team members.
“On a large project – half a billion dollars, say – success depends on organizing a large team up front and how they will make decisions,” said DPR’s Chris Dierks, one of the company’s Lean leaders and a project executive. “The larger a project, the larger potential issues could be if they’re not tackled early on. So, we always recommend getting the teams together early and spending some time and money upfront to not only properly organize as one team but also to focus on developing relationships to head off anything down the road. Strong relationships directly tie to strong trust.”
You can’t implement a successful Design Management process without this sort of team. High-level discussions that combine the customer’s goals, the designer’s vision and the contractor’s knowledge of what is constructible can only benefit from high levels of trust. What’s more, one of the most effective tools for cost control strategy is Target Value Delivery (TVD) and how projects organize and manage the design and preconstruction efforts. The value can be initial cost, total cost of ownership and user experience, which then informs design decisions, means and methods, project sequencing, and cost priorities with accountability to all parties to maximize value in a quantifiable way.
“TVD presents unique challenges over the course of a long project planning effort including ambiguity about timing of decisions, and a tendency to revisit previous decisions when the value is not clear and quantifiable,” Dierks said. “It’s really shifting costs. It’s heavier upfront, but the payoff, ‘the value,’ comes from implementing the right strategies and processes to identify and bring resolution to arising issues so they never materialize in the field.”
The departure from “typical” project startup costs can be a barrier and overcoming it takes an honest appraisal of the stakes in the field.
“I get it. If you’re a customer, you hear ‘teambuilding event’ or ‘building a Big Room’ and you think, ‘sounds like a lot to spend upfront for … what, exactly?’” Dierks said. “It takes seeing how it unlocks the full toolbox of Lean concepts and processes to make the entire project more efficient. [Efficiency] meaning where trust is so high that everyone is aligned and wrinkles are ironed out quickly, with quality in mind, to deliver that cost certainty, again ‘the value,’ ultimately desired by the customer.”
The root of all of these, however, is the long-standing ways construction has been procured and the traditional relationships among project partners. To take advantage, a perspective change is required on all parts.
“Our industry has been called ‘slow to change’ when we’re actually seeing more tools and technologies that can change project outcomes in positive ways,” Bitbaba said. “What has been slow to change is the traditional model of construction so we can properly leverage these new tools.”
Behavior change may not have a dollar cost, but there is certainly a mental cost. No one likes change, but more than enough projects using alternative delivery setups – ranging from design-build to more robust integrated project delivery agreements – to show the way.
“Too often, the new ways of working are being assumed to just work under the traditional, more siloed ways of working,” Bitbaba said. “Owners have to have a mind shift to where they seek to be more engaged early and not be afraid to get into the details, rather than questioning some of the details.”
Bitbaba recalls times when customers wondered why so many superintendents’ hours were needed in preconstruction phases or that terms like TVD were just something a contractor would do.
“The engagement makes the difference,” Bitbaba said. “It’s easy to look at worker hours or assume it will all go to plan, but when a contractor submits the RFI that a wall in a design wasn’t included in project budget, are you going to wish you had considered more engagement upfront? Likely so.”
Which is why Bitbaba likens the entire process of “knowing the unknowns.” Essentially, when all project partners are aligned and working together, using all available tools from VDC to field expertise to working in new ways, it allows projects and the people that make them happen to be more nimble when outside forces are thrust upon us.
“We can’t control the rain,” Bitbaba says. “Let’s work together early on in projects to control the things we can so the only surprises are if the weather forecast is wrong.”