July 7, 2020

ATCC Project Tops Out Early, Despite Pandemic Restrictions

In late May, DPR marked the steel topping out for the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) Administrative Wing Expansion project in Manassas, VA. The $22M addition includes an open office plan, conference rooms, break areas, private offices, data center, an exterior canopy, and loading dock.

American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) Administrative Wing Expansion project
DPR marked the steel topping out for the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) Administrative Wing Expansion project in Manassas, VA. Photo courtesy of David Galen

Almost 6 months since construction began in November 2019, the topping out marks an important milestone for the project. The new structure, totaling 35,000 sq. ft., connects to the west side of the existing building, allowing ATCC to house all its employees under one roof for companywide collaboration.

Photo of the ATCC project jobsite.
The steel topping out marks an important milestone for the ATCC project. Photo courtesy of David Galen

The milestone occurred during Virginia’s COVID-19 “stay-at-home” order, so the team had to take extra measures to keep people safe and the project on track. Tyler Atkins, who serves as DPR’s project manager, said that the jobsite crew was reduced to enforce physical distancing guidelines and that DPR required that only craft workers directly involved with the project’s critical path were on site to continue with construction.

“We limited our crew to only having our steel subcontractor onsite for about one month at the beginning of the pandemic,” shared Atkins. “This resulted in a 95% completion of the steel, just four weeks before the final topping out, positioning us ahead of schedule.”

Exterior shot of the ATCC jobsite.
This milestone occurred during Virginia’s COVID-19 “stay-at-home” order, so the team had to take extra measures to keep people safe and the project on track. Photo courtesy of David Galen

Atkins shared how proud he is to work with a client on the cutting edge of cell research and development.

“ATCC cultivates primary and stem cells, which is not only fascinating, but also their research could be a catalyst to finding cures for various diseases and illnesses, such as COVID-19. It is an honor to work with a client who is making a positive difference in the world,” said Atkins.

ATCC’s administration wing is expected to be completed in March of 2021.

July 1, 2020

Virtual Design and Construction Proves Its Worth in a Changing Environment

DPR teams are virtually building projects using cloud-based solutions in conjunction with web platforms to seamlessly collaborate remotely.

Editor's Note: This post was updated on Sept. 8, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left few industries or individuals untouched. Construction companies have reacted by adapting workflows to continue to deliver projects for their clients. From pre-screening all who enter to requiring masks and social distancing once on-site, the jobsite of today looks much different than it did a mere six months ago. Many companies, including DPR Construction, are leveraging virtual design and construction (VDC) methods to navigate workflow constraints resulting from disruptions.

“Site logistics and visual planning have taken on even more critical roles,” said Hannu Lindberg, national VDC leader at DPR. “With the ongoing necessity to maintain a healthy distance from other team members, an extra layer of planning has become vital to ensure predictable outcomes on schedule.”

As ever, the devil is in the details. Any successful construction project is built on layers of well thought out planning for every scope of work. Leveraging data from the model to inform workflow planning inevitably leads to other adjustments in work methods to keep projects going.

Using the model to preplan allows more efficient work planning and reduces re-work.

Building Projects in the Cloud

In any circumstance, teams employ virtual models to solve problems before moving into the field, as well as to respond to changes that arise once work has begun. Using the model to preplan allows more efficient work planning and reduces rework. While important in any situation, it is critical when managing limited crew sizes such as the ones seen on jobsites today.

VDC, by nature, is extremely compatible with a remote working environment. Across the country, DPR teams are virtually building projects using cloud-based solutions like BIM Track and Autodesk BIM 360 in conjunction with web platforms like StructionSite to seamlessly collaborate, share ideas and create content to navigate constraints posed by the pandemic.

One large healthcare project in Southern California successfully transitioned from on-site co-location to remote meetings during preconstruction and design as a result of high engagement and reliance on the VDC process. By leveraging an Integrated Project Delivery approach, the project team can complete design and coordination simultaneously, with trades working alongside design partners in the model to problem solve in real-time. The process has been so efficient that the project received California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) approval on first review, where typically, multiple rounds of review are needed to solve issues flagged. As the team moves into construction, VDC will continue to play a heavy role for as-built verification, among other needs.

A tower under construction in Austin has a total area of more than 1,500,000 sq. and is the largest DPR self-perform concrete project to date.

Planning for Limited Exposure

While defining locations isn’t a new concept, creating specified work zones is critical in a heightened environment to maximize efficiency while maintaining distance.

“Needs related to site logistics; ingress, egress and wayfinding; and the deployment and use of different work zones can be better addressed by using data obtained from the model,” said Lindberg. “With this data serving as real-time feedback, it’s possible to adapt to changing field conditions and meet new environmental, health and safety requirements while still maintaining productivity.”

Having those needs top of mind has been key to keeping one DPR project on track: an office tower being constructed in the booming downtown of Austin, Texas. The 35-story, 590-ft. tall high-rise has a total area of more than 1,500,000 sq. ft. and includes 1,390 parking stalls in both above and below-grade parking. It’s the largest vertical high-rise concrete structure that DPR has ever built and its largest self-perform (SPW) concrete project to date—thereby necessitating better planning to meet increased distancing protocols. Prefabricated components include restroom plumbing assemblies and the iconic, sail-inspired, unitized curtainwall system.

Luckily, a VDC-enabled workforce has incorporated a high level of building information modeling into nearly every aspect of the project, from the detailed model used to coordinate and construct the exterior curtainwall, to DPR’s best-in-class SPW concrete team using VDC to optimize planning and sequencing.

“From top to bottom, the team has embraced VDC tools on every aspect of the work,” said DPR Central VDC leader, Jacob Skrobarczyk. “We are intentionally focused on using VDC for self-perform concrete to improve communication, plan production and ensure we hit our targets while keeping our craft safe.”

“The more planning and prefab we can do the less exposure our teams have in the field. As we transition from the structure to the skin to the interiors, clear communication on where and when each team is working in an area is more important than ever,” Skrobarczyk added.

One thing is certain: more real-time data flowing into and out of the model allows teams to execute with a greater level of certainty. Above and beyond delivering projects that are technically sound and built right for customers, these methods also ensure teams do right by their people in the field too.

June 29, 2020

A “Beautiful” Utility Plant? At W&M, DPR Makes it Happen

“It’s a beautiful building to look at,” DPR Construction’s Kate Nice said of William & Mary’s new West Utility Plant, a project for which she served as senior project engineer. “Beauty” and “utility plant” don’t often go together, but the design by RMF Engineering and architect Lord Aeck Sargent makes it possible.

The plant’s design documents note that the glass-and-masonry building “creates a display case like experience for automotive and pedestrian traffic that filters through campus” that lets the campus community see the complex systems inside while also managing to blend in with the entire campus aesthetic.

A view of the the building showing colorful pipes and ductwork because of the utility plant's design.
The plant's systems are in clear view of the campus community. Photo courtesy of Lee Brauer

For DPR to bring vision to life, though, took considerable planning, a robust virtual design and construction (VDC) program, prefabrication, and skillful work in the field – especially solutions developed by DPR’s self-perform work corps. The result: a building that students have already dubbed “the Mario building,” an allusion to the famous video game plumber and the colorful pipes that make up his world. As students return to campus this fall, it will be hard to miss.

Going Virtual

Situated nearly in the center of the campus and adjacent to active roadways and sidewalks, the utility plant site was smaller than an acre but would require a dozen trades and significant amounts of materials.

“It was a very complex mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) system,” Nice said. “We really had to coordinate schedule, delivery of materials and more.”

Those needs underscored the need for a VDC program geared to making sure execution was seamless.

Pipes and ductwork overlapping throughout the interior of the utility plant.
Complex systems were handled digitally first, enabling more seamless operations in the field. Photo courtesy of Lee Brauer

“VDC tools meant we were able to do a lot of clash detection early and update plans accordingly,” Nice said. “That also meant nearly every piece of pipe and ductwork could be prefabricated offsite. Even the building pad work was made possible through our laser scanning team.”

Having such a robust digital model meant that W&M got a head start with operations and asset management, which includes using DPR’s strategic partner VueOps.

“The facility managers can manage this building on VueOps down to individual valves if they choose to,” Nice said.

Office space inside the plant where digital models of building systems are shown on screen.
Use of VDC means facility operators are a step ahead on operations and able to put VueOps to use. Photo courtesy of Lee Brauer

Getting Practical

While VDC and prefabrication allowed work to happen offsite, making it happen on-site fulfilled what was envisioned in planning. One key aspect was keeping the campus community safe.

“We could shut down vehicle traffic adjacent to the site, but not pedestrian traffic,” Nice said. “Lots of students would walk by the site, heads down looking at their phones. We ended up painting safety signage on the ground to make sure they knew what was happening off their screens and earbuds.”

Behind the site fence, the trades – including a significant number of DPR self-perform craft workers – installed more than 5,000 ft. of underground heating hot water and chilled water infrastructure to create a secondary underground piping loop which tied into six existing buildings. Among the crews’ accomplishments was finding a solution to prefabricate cold form metal framing for metal wall sections that included insulation and other elements. Doing so shrank a six-week portion of work down to a week and required fewer people on the site’s tight site footprint.

In the end, the 12,000-sq.-ft. project was completed with zero defects.

“It’s what we love to do,” Nice said. “This was a very complex project that required us to leverage our technical building ability and our tools like VDC, self-perform and prefabrication. That it’s become so visible on campus is gratifying for the entire team.”

The exterior of the plant with masonry that matches the rest of the campus.
The building's design matches the rest of the campus. Photo courtesy of Lee Brauer

June 18, 2020

EVA Air’s North American Headquarters completes its landing in El Segundo

The campus encompasses two 5-story buildings totaling 150,000 sq. ft. wrapping around a 5-story above ground parking structure. Photo courtesy of EVA Air

International airline EVA Airways Corporation has a new office campus in El Segundo, California, which reached final completion in May. As one of the larger design-build projects in the region, the campus encompasses two 5-story buildings totaling 150,000 sq. ft. wrapping around a 5-story above ground parking structure. It all sits atop a once vacant site, completing an area in the business-friendly city that has seen major redevelopment in the last decade.

“This is a project for a good group of end-users, providing them with a new North American headquarters and the ability to create more dynamic working environments for many other local businesses,” said Brent Bunting, who serves as the project executive.

As the general contractor, DPR Construction leveraged self-perform work (SPW) and 3D modeling expertise to maintain a high level of collaboration between EVA Air and its design partners, as well as keeping the project on schedule and within budget. Collaboration allowed for smooth sailing on a tight site footprint, ensuring deliveries, cranes erecting portions of the work, excavations, concrete pump trucks and more to keep the project flowing.

Each “condo” includes its own private balcony or patio, and with a variety of materials and exterior articulation, the building skin design is different from any other project DPR has built in the region. Photo courtesy of EVA Air

Creating Space for All

The campus goes beyond a typical office park, featuring “office condos” available for sale to small businesses that may otherwise not be able to own their own space. DPR worked in collaboration with kmd Architects, EVA Air, Messori Development and CBRE to bring this focus on designing for multi-tenant functionality to life, giving rise to the building’s unique exterior and circulation. Each “condo” includes its own private balcony or patio, and with a variety of materials and exterior articulation, the building skin design is different from any other project DPR has built in the region.

DPR’s team navigated through a few unique circumstances that included custom weathered metal finishes, complex window and door design, and incorporating a variety of materials on the exterior like plaster and a rainscreen system with weathered metal and phenolic panels. Additionally, the parking structure’s 2nd and 5th floors are connected to the office buildings’ 2nd and 4th floors via four skybridges that improve accessibility for occupants. The connectivity between the structures added to the challenges with the site and skin coordination.

Additionally, the parking structure’s 2nd and 5th floors are connected to the office buildings’ 2nd and 4th floors via four skybridges. Photo courtesy of EVA Air

Flexibility though SPW and Virtual Modeling Expertise

Leveraging DPR’s sizable SPW team on the concrete parking structure helped minimize the impact of several weeks of unprecedented rain for the region, with onsite craftsmen working to prep for, clean up and mitigate the effects of the weather. SPW teams also performed other specialty and smaller scopes of work, such as miscellaneous carpentry, fire stopping and lobby ceilings, in addition to providing valuable design input throughout the preconstruction phase.

When a major design decision needed to be made, DPR worked closely with EVA Air to evaluate costs and weigh the benefits of each decision. An example of this was the decision between a cast-in-place concrete structure versus a structural steel structure. A concrete structure can provide a shorter overall height of building due to the depth of beams in a steel structure, and concrete can provide an attractive ceiling finish if left exposed. However, a concrete structure will require additional columns and walls within the footprint that steel structures can avoid with longer allowable spans. Ultimately, the openness of the spaces was a definable project feature for EVA Air, and so the decision to proceed with steel was ultimately made. DPR’s ability to demonstrate the end conditions through 3D modeling was essential to the ultimate decision to adjust the design, while simultaneously mitigating what would be major impacts to the design schedule.

As a result, DPR was able to collaborate with its design-build partners to work in constructability and value analysis into the design to ensure the project moved forward expeditiously.

June 18, 2020

DPR Teams Share Words of Wisdom From the Father Figures in Their Lives

“When my father didn’t have my hand, he had my back.” - Linda Poindexter

This year for Father’s Day, we want to honor the fathers/father figures who have helped us become the people we are today. The wisdom they provide guides us throughout our lives. We asked some of our employees who are “kids” of DPR dads, “What is one thing you’ve learned from your father/father figure?”

We received incredible responses demonstrating the impact fathers have on shaping our employees--not only to become better builders, but to be people who respect the individual and change the world.

June 11, 2020

Putting VDC to Work Beyond the Jobsite

By utilizing VDC techniques, teams can streamline facility management processes, improve operational workflows, increase efficiency, and prevent downtime.

The AEC industry can tend to focus on design and construction, but what happens at turnover has consequences for the remainder of a building’s decades-long life. Beyond the physical build, the data requirements for successful and effective operations is critical to run facilities and teams. If not prioritized, the information may be lost, or it will cost more to recover it. Turnover is more than just a transfer of information, and to do it successfully, the process starts much earlier than close out.

There has been a fundamental shift to help teams extract valuable facilities management data from design and construction and turn it into building intelligence. By utilizing Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) techniques, teams can execute strategies to keep a building’s dataset accurate to streamline facility management (FM) processes, improve operational workflows, increase efficiency, and prevent downtime.

Putting VDC to use beyond the construction site allows those responsible for maintaining the building to quickly locate themselves, see a digital view of what the final and actual design is for the space and quickly handle issues, ideally with the help of mobile software platforms.

Improving Understanding

A robust VDC program through the project lifecycle lets teams focus on critical assets that affect the lifecycle of the build, including architectural and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems. This strategy improves the understanding of operational needs by project teams. It identifies scope for information requirements, and improves the process for authoring, verifying, and transferring the information into your current systems – all while considering the workflows of design and construction stakeholders.

Facility managers will request maintenance manuals, warranties, parent/child relationships of equipment and more.

“The power of seeing the details of proposed work immediately, when you need it, solves for many challenges that teams on the frontlines face,” said Adam Rendek, BIM/ Engagement Manager, VueOps, one of DPR Construction’s strategic partners. “Quick, intuitive and comprehensive communication solves the ‘I need this information right now’ request that jobsites face daily.”

VueOps provides expertise in BIM-FM through a software as a service (SaaS) to help teams extract valuable facilities management data from design and construction and turn it into building intelligence.

To ensure the most benefit to operations, building owners and teams should start well before substantial completion of the build to identify and discuss clear goals for operation. Taking the data in context, teams can be organized to help maintain the continuity that is relevant to operations.

But no matter where businesses are in the design and construction process, planning and executing strategies to keep a building’s dataset accurate will directly influence cost savings and operational efficiency in the long run. It can also be done at any stage.

Moving from VDC to VueOps

With VueOps, a team of subject matter experts support owners, facility managers and key stakeholders on the design and construction journey. The goal of the effort is to improve overall data quality of the models, drawings, and documents.

VueOps connects projects documents, asset data, models, and spaces to help answer the time critical questions of “what” (assets), “where” (space, floor), and “how” (how to access and tools required.)

By leveraging VDC – which most customers are already paying for as part of construction services – with an engaged partner like VueOps, owners have the potential to get more value for their VDC dollars and ensure that critical information from design and construction is prioritized and delivered in a way they can use from day one.

When it comes to a virtual representation of the build, DPR Construction has been pushing the envelope on this for years. In Integrating Project Delivery by Martin Fischer, Howard W. Ashcaft, and DPR’s Dean Reed and Atul Khanzode, the authors highlight how buildings have become more technically complex, the regulations that need to be considered more multifaceted, and the social and business expectations and pressures more intense.

The increased technical complexity and the multifaceted regulatory constraints require the inclusion of experts that understand the specific technical systems to project teams. This increased specialization has led to fragmented project delivery, in part because the project management tools used on many projects are good at dividing the work up into chucks but less good at making sure the everyone’s work fits together. The increased business and social pressures on building performance, however, demand a strategy to overcome this fragmentation, a strategy to integrate project teams and their work. To overcome this, the project team becomes a virtual enterprise. People stop working in silos and exchange information frequently instead of periodically.

“I think everyone knows the cost of operating Buildings far exceeds the cost it took to build them,” says Hannu Lindberg, VDC leader at DPR. “The key to getting maximum value for the capital investment is streamlining the handover process from construction to operations. Managing daily operations by using BIM for FM assets created during construction provides incredible insights of the building function and its systems, unlocking the initial capital investments to be used for building operations and maintenance.”

June 9, 2020

If These Walls Could Talk... They'd Say VDC Gets Results

Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) processes deliver value and foster predictable outcomes on almost every project that DPR executes. These processes are especially valuable when applied to the extremely complex and interconnected mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems.

In the latest installment of “If These Walls Could Talk…,” a few of DPR’s MEP professionals discuss how VDC processes allow them to recognize and mitigate constructability issues in the virtual world so they don’t materialize in the real one.

June 4, 2020

Improving Installation Workflow with the Digital Building Components App

Digital fabrication can save a considerable amount of time compared to traditional building methods, but a seamless installation plan is key. Image taken prior to COVID protocols. Photo courtesy of Matt Pranzo

This article was originally published on the Digital Building Components blog.

Communicating installation sequences for prefabricated systems can be challenging, especially under tight schedules. While digital fabrication can save considerable time compared to traditional building methods, a seamless installation plan is key to achieving that savings.

“In the past, sequences were sent by PDF and required assumptions on details that frequently changed,” said Rudy Trujillo, operations support at Digital Building Components. “Panels were stacked on trucks based on these assumptions. The process wasn't well-defined, and this created jobsite issues when the stacking order differed from the general contractor’s installation plans.”

To deliver the schedule and efficiency benefits of prefab, project teams need an easy and accurate means of communicating the installation sequence.

Digital Building Components, DPR's strategic partner that manufactures custom prefab systems, has an app for that. Using model-based sequencing, Digital Building works with the general contractor to lay out an execution plan that maximizes schedule advantages in the delivery process. Once established, this sequencing plan becomes the basis for tracking digital fabrication delivery and installation. Working with another strategic partner vConstruct, Digital Building developed this app to streamline the communication process while enabling earlier and more detailed installation sequencing.

The app calculates how many panels can be installed per day and once that capacity is reached, moves to the next day. Photo courtesy of Digital Building Components

Using the App

The Digital Building Components iOS app allows project teams to order building components in the sequence they’ll build a project. In the app, project teams work with the current fabrication model. This eliminates the need for assumptions. The user clicks panels in the order they will be installed. The app then relays the information to Digital Building.

Access: The user – typically the installation superintendent – requests access. Once Digital Building has verified the right person is doing the sequence, they are invited to use the app. The user must also have access to the project in Autodesk.

User Input: The user enters the installation rate in linear feet/hour, along with the number of hours worked per day. Using the current fabrication model, the user taps each panel in the order it will be installed.

Visual Display: As each panel is tapped, the app displays a color-coded number corresponding to the order in the sequence. The app calculates how many panels can be installed per day and once that capacity is reached, moves to the next day. When this happens, the panel numbers change colors. For example, all panels that can be installed on Day 1 will have a red number. Once Day 1 is full, the numbers change to blue for Day 2. This allows the project team to see if they can meet the desired schedule based on the entered installation rate. For example, the app may indicate that with the given parameters, the installation will take too long. The user can then make adjustments to complete the work within the desired window.

Completing the Order: When the user is satisfied with the sequence, they send a summary report to Digital Building to complete the process. The sequence data is directly applied to the panel numbers in the digital model and the panels are stacked in the correct order.

May 29, 2020

Pendleton Place Renovation Benefits Foster-Care Girls

Last fall, DPR Construction teamed up with McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture and Greenville Women Giving to deliver a community initiative project at a residential foster care facility in Greenville, SC. The project involved a major renovation and expansion of two bathrooms at Smith House, a residential facility that is run by Pendleton Place, a DPR- and DPR Foundation-supported community partner. The facility provides a long-term home for 10 girls aged 12-21 who have experienced abuse or neglect. Now, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith House residents are benefiting from the project.

Exterior of the Smith House in Greenville, South Carolina.
The Smith House in Greenvlle, SC. Photo courtesy of Pendleton Place

In addition to providing shelter and basic needs like food and clothing, Smith House provides residents with counseling services, structured educational support, life skills training, financial literacy classes, and other services designed to help them successfully transition out of foster care when they turn 18. On average, 25 young women live at Smith House each year; over 200 teens have been sheltered there over the past five years.

Smith House is located within a mile of DPR’s Greenville office. So, when Pendleton Place reached out for help with the project, DPR was eager to help a neighbor and strengthen an already great relationship with the nonprofit, according to Tony Johnson who acted as DPR’s leader for the project.

“Pendleton Place approached us in 2019 after they had been awarded a grant from Greenville Women Giving to renovate the Smith House bathrooms,” Johnson said. “At DPR we take pride in being integral to our community. Smith House is part of the community where we work, so it really felt good to be able to help with this.”

DPR’s existing relationships with McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture, which donated its time pro bono, and with Greenville Women Giving, which provided approximately $83,000 in grant funds, were instrumental to the project’s success. In alignment with its community initiative goal of making facility improvements that enable community organizations to maximize their impact, DPR donated interior furnishings and volunteered about 120 hours performing demolition, drywall and rough carpentry work, among other things.

A Smith House bathroom before the project, with a mirror sitting on the sink counter and tight spacing.
Smith House's bathrooms were in great need of an upgrade. Photo courtesy of Pendleton Place

Construction of the project prompted Smith House residents and counselors to relocate for more than four weeks to a local hotel. Although the project schedule was extended when DPR self-perform craftworkers encountered several unexpected conditions in the house, Johnson pointed out that they still managed to finish the job in time for the residents to move back in just before Thanksgiving of last year.

The project scope included transforming two existing bathrooms and adding a critically needed second shower to Smith House – a major upgrade that has improved the daily lives and morning routines of house residents. In its final report on the project, Pendleton Place noted: “Not only do our Smith House residents benefit daily simply by having a second shower, but both spaces are now more functional and provide additional space and storage. The updated décor and the attention to detail in the design make these bathrooms a beautiful space that will be enjoyed by many in the years to come.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged this spring, DPR’s upgrades took on more importance for Smith House residents. “Smith House has stepped up during the crisis to take in even more teenagers than usual, resulting in 100% occupancy of all foster care beds. Having the additional shower, storage, and updated look and feel is even more important now, making life in quarantine much less stressful,” shared Pendleton Place Executive Director Jed Dews.

One of the two upgraded bathrooms, showing more modern finishes and a welcoming environment.
Significant upgrades have created a more welcoming environment and better options for residents. Photo courtesy of DPR Construction

Dews added that the partnership with DPR has had a major impact on the success of the program over the past three years: “Our partnership with DPR goes beyond a simple service project or an annual financial sponsorship,” he commented. “We consider the DPR team to be a part of the Pendleton Place family, and their contributions to our Board Leadership, campus facilities and long-term community impact are significant. The renovation of our foster care cottage bathrooms is a perfect example of meaningful collaboration in action, and the incredible results will touch the daily lives of hundreds of South Carolina’s most vulnerable children.”

May 26, 2020

EHS Protocols, Fewer Guests Mean Opportunity for Major Hilton Renovation in Houston

DPR employees carry out administrative functions while wearing masks and maintaining a safe physical distance.
As a major renovation is carried out, DPR, Hilton and Houston First worked together to implement advanced EHS protocols. Photo courtesy of Chris Gehring

Editor's Note: This post was updated on Sept.10, 2020.

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.

Stickers on an elevator floor show where riders should stand to maintain social distancing.
Signage has been placed in elevators indicating where passengers should stand to maintain a healthy physical distance. Photo courtesy of Chris Gehring

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.

Texas National Guard troops providing front-line support arrive as guests of the hotel.
While the renovation continues on the hotel, guests continue to arrive, including troops from the Texas National Guard providing support to the Houston Food Bank. Photo courtesy of Chris Gehring

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.”

DPR's schedule dashboard is used to closely track the progress of each guestroom.
DPR closely tracks project progress with 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. Photo courtesy of Chris Gehring

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.”