Special Services Group Earns Big Results with Small-Scope Construction

This article is included in the Great Things: Issue 5 edition of the DPR Newsletter.

Upgraded equipment installation adjacent to occupied patient rooms. Relocated ductwork in a refurbished news studio so it isn’t visible on-camera. A new collegiate sports complex where construction bumps up to the existing playing field. An office building requiring installation of solar panels and other sustainable features.

These are types of situations where DPR’s Special Services Group (SSG) thrives: smaller projects in tight spaces and occupied facilities, often on compressed schedules and with unique logistical challenges that require specialized expertise.

DPR completed about $1.1 billion worth of SSG work in 2020 and to date, has completed thousands of projects across the U.S., often flying under the radar compared to high-profile, large-scale developments. Whether a minor renovation, equipment fit-out or complete interior refresh, the same partnerships and technical expertise that make “big” jobs a success are also the foundation of quick-hitting SSG projects, where DPR’s team of interior specialists navigate logistics, work in occupied facilities and manage complex teams with minimal disruption.

Sunlit interior lobby with stairwell of Texas softball facility
During construction of the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs softball facility, DPR teams prioritized safety, both for work crews, as well as student athletes and visitors, as the playing field, which was adjacent to the construction area, remained in use during construction of the facility. Courtesy of Cambrella Photography

Navigating Logistics

SSG projects often require quick logistical coordination with clients, partners and project teams, as was the case with the University of Texas (UT) at Austin’s McCombs Field softball complex.

The primary components included 3,135 sq. ft. of renovated interior space, as well as 18,400 sq. ft. of newly constructed interior and exterior space.

“The McCombs Stadium project has been quite a challenging renovation with a compressed construction schedule, utility infrastructure effort and many adjustments throughout that has affected scope, schedule and budget,” said Dorothy Fojtik, project manager for UT. “Effective architect-contractor coordination and communication is crucial in completing the project on time and within budget.

Close coordination on duct bank issues and connectivity between facilities was addressed at the beginning of the project’s first phase, resulting in a significant value engineering (VE) effort and ultimately giving UT substantial project savings.

That collaboration paid off when the timing changed to renovate a portion of the stadium behind the third-base dugout. With DPR already established on site and wrapping up the successful first phase, SSG crews were quickly engaged in the additional $1.5M guaranteed maximum price (GMP) contract work.

“The cooperation and collaboration that [DPR] brings to the table every day is greatly appreciated,” added Fojtik. “This atmosphere has resulted in a truly stellar project experience for everyone involved, a successful end result and a very pleased owner.”

The logistics of special projects are also compounded by the need to work in active environments.

In San Diego, the Sharp Healthcare lab automation project included several phases of construction across four occupied medical centers ranging from 500 sq. ft. to 6,000 sq. ft., and requiring equipment updates, renovations, permitting and a lot of patience. Coordination between project teams and the client were imperative because the hospital remained open, even as renovations were completed in phases.

Interior lab space with equipment
Lab equipment had to be precisely measured and installed in four Sharp Healthcare projects in San Diego. Courtesy of Brian Connolly

“First, we started at Coronado Hospital,” said Sergio Sanchez, one of the project superintendents. “Then we started Grossmont Hospital, which took several phases where we had to create small containment areas and work around that. Once we were three-quarters of the way done we started Memorial Hospital.”

Additionally, the phased renovations required precise timing and cooperation between healthcare workers and the construction team to ensure shutdown of hospital infrastructure did not interfere with the care of hospital patients.

Navigating Existing Conditions

Facility occupants are one challenge. Existing buildings themselves can add other surprises.

Demolition was underway during Phase 1 of a Washington, DC, news bureau headquarters project when the team discovered a large run of ductwork above an existing ceiling in the 7,500-sq.-ft. central equipment room that wasn’t accounted for in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) design. This duct was part of the base building outside air system and could not be relocated. DPR worked closely with the team to find and implement solutions to mitigate cost and schedule impacts for the MEP redesign. DPR proposed implementing building information modeling (BIM) for Phases 2 and 3 of the project to map out existing conditions and identify clashes with the MEP design early so that the new MEP infrastructure could be adjusted as needed prior to construction to fit into the space.

“We had a lot of stakeholders including the end-user and set and lighting design teams that each had a vision of what the first floor needed to look like,” said Emily Price, DPR’s project manager for the project. “Most of the first floor space was eventually going to be on camera, so it was all part of the set and lighting design. Utilizing BIM really helped us to make the most out of the space we had available for all of the MEP infrastructure in the ceilings and walls."

Moreover, active broadcasting throughout the entire project timeline meant project teams had to adhere to strict noise requirements from multiple broadcast tenants in the building, and work within the confines of the daily broadcast schedule.

Interior newsroom with television monitors.
New broadcast studios for a Washington, DC, news bureau will be home to several nationally broadcast news shows. Courtesy of Geandy Pavon

Managing Partners, Subcontractors and Budgets

Smaller projects don’t necessarily mean fewer partners or less complexity.

When a 1,100-sq.-ft. office-to-lab conversion project for existing DPR customer Neurocrine Biosciences grew to a larger-than-expected scope on the firm’s San Diego campus, the client asked DPR, who was already on the campus working on a separate project, to take over. The biggest challenge to this project was re-creating a project scope with the same budget as the original contractor, and with all the same subcontractors that were already brought onto the project.

“We knew the campus so well, so we asked the project team to check if we had equipment already on site,” said Amanda Kelly, DPR’s estimator for the project. “There was no need to get new light fixtures, for instance. We were able to re-use some materials we already had on site.”

Delays from weather and shutdowns, plus handling many subcontractors, proved a challenge for a commercial client in Milpitas, CA. Despite a rainy and muddy winter, and site shutdowns due to COVID-19, when the project resumed, the team coordinated with nearly 37 subcontractors on all aspects of the project, using detailed scheduling and preparation to complete the project within a new timeframe.

“DPR adapted to strict COVID-19 prevention guidelines set forth by the county by developing a robust safety program. This allowed them to restart construction and complete the project,” said an owner representative of the project. “Overall, the project and coordination between the owner, architect, engineers and contractors was smooth and allowed for minimal project delays.”

Do What You’re Good At

SSG work may be at a smaller scale from “big” projects, but the approach is the same.

“DPR brings the same passion, skills and can-do attitude to all of our projects, large and small,” said Nathan Lentz, who is transitioning into his role leading SSG work for DPR. “Our SSG teams are nimble and skilled at adapting to changing circumstances on our job sites to ensure our customers’ expectations are always met, all while limiting disruptions to existing business operations.”

The Sharp Healthcare laboratory automation project is one example of the type of technical expertise, precision and coordination DPR is adept at applying. Two of the facilities, Coronado Hospital and Chula Vista Medical Center, required delicate installation of new equipment and the simultaneous updating of existing older infrastructure to support new equipment. In the case of Chula Vista Medical Center, the 3,500-sq.-ft. facility remained operational during the equipment upgrade and was sequenced into several small phases that required detailed installation.

“All the equipment had to be precisely anchored. We laser scanned the affected areas first to make sure everything lined up,” noted Sanchez. “Every piece of equipment needed to line up exactly as designed, no exceptions.”

DPR’s self-perform work (SPW)—and its corps of more than 3,000 workers companywide—can also be instrumental for fast turnaround time and budget delivery.

For the quick turnaround at the Neurocrine site, the team saved time and money by self-performing much of the demolition, drywall, doors, frames, hardware and acoustical ceiling tiles. The result? An accelerated schedule.

“We self-performed as much as we could. When we started framing the walls, we started thinking we could beat the schedule,” said project superintendent Darryn Kellogg.

Originally scheduled to finish in mid-February 2021, the project team saw Christmas come early, wrapping up before the 2020 holiday season after about eight weeks of work.

In some instances, SSG work can also include ground-up construction, as was the case in Milpitas in the final part of a master contract to renovate eight district offices for a commercial customer.

Exterior aerial view of solar panels on rooftop and window awning
Solar panels installed on the roof and on window awnings of a ground-up office/warehouse SSG project in California will help the owner meet the state's 2030 net zero requirement for new buildings. Courtesy of Congregation Media

“Remodels are always challenging. This last project went more smoothly because it was a new building, so we weren’t trying to track down drawings that were 30- or 40-years-old, or non-existent as in some of the previous projects.” said Jason Bumgardner, senior project architect with LPAS Architecture + Design, who partnered with DPR on all the district office renovations. “You’re building ground up, you’re telling the contractors exactly what you want, and that makes it much easier, versus having unknowns until the demo has begun on a project.”

California now mandates all new buildings be net zero by 2030, meaning they must generate as much energy as they use. DPR teamed with its strategic partner, EIG, to install solar panels on all offices.

“We’re an electrical contractor so when we have to do work like carpentry, it can be a challenge from an installation perspective,” said Gabrielle Reese, a senior project engineer with EIG. “This design was unique for us; it took a lot of creativity.”

EIG designed a 92kW solar array, which includes a partially attached roof racking system, as well as a unique racking system mounted onto the window awnings of the building. This will put the LEED Gold facility on the net-zero track.

“For a lot of new customers, SSG is where people get their first experience with DPR,” said Lentz. “That many longtime customers still call on our SSG crews as needs arise is proof positive of how vital these projects are in our industry. Large or small, builders just want to build. It’s why we love what we do.”