Project initiation takes many, many forms in the development process. It starts in the pre-design phase as the owner and/or end user work to determine what they need their new facility to do for them. In the case of an institution of higher education, such as John Tyler, we have to ask ourselves some of these questions: Do we need additional space? How much space do we need? What kind of space do we need; academic classrooms, learning resource centers, laboratories, food service, performing or visual arts, etc…? What kind of furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) do we need for each of these spaces? This will typically be done with a focus group selected from the faculty and staff attending multiple meetings. And, not the least important question, how do we pay for all of this? This too is not an easy process because of the many funding requirements for state institutions such as John Tyler. There are many, many things that have to be determined and then defined before you can even begin the selection of a designer, much less a contractor.

Once the project scope and fund sources are determined, then you go through a whole process of selecting how you want to procure the services of the design team. Some of this will depend on the size and scope of the project, and on the abilities of the primary design firm. The bigger the project size, the more involved the selection process is, and the more careful you must be in determining who will be the best fit for your project. Depending on the magnitude and complexity of the project, the design team can consist of 10 or more consultants. Usually, the prime designer will be an architectural firm with multiple in house design disciplines, though not always. As buildings and their infrastructure become more complicated, it will require more consultants and more specialized consultants.

After an involved selection and negotiation process to get a suitable design team on board, you spend many months developing and refining the project scope so that the designer can put your ideas on paper. This part of the process can take more than a year, or many years, depending on the size and complexity of the project. It isn’t until the designer “puts pen to paper” that the project starts becoming a reality. Even then, the details that require attention will often increase as you drill down deeper into the various details of the project. Even after “final” design, there are often changes as the needs of the owner/end user change over time. All of this will make the Project Initiation an exercise in patience and perseverance.

Next time, we’ll look at the selection of the contracting method and contractor.

Always Be Prepared

Construction is a planned activity with many, many backup plans. The two new buildings at John Tyler Community College’s Midlothian Campus are planned to be opened for the Fall Semester of 2015. That was the plan and that’s the goal. Since Gilbane developed the schedule and budget, we’ve run into a couple of unseen conditions that are putting a twist to the planning.

The first twist was encountering rock in the Parking Deck approximately 8 –10 ft. above the anticipated elevation. This issue impacted both the schedule and the budget for the Parking Deck.  Some hard work and collaborative thinking on the part of the Project Team has resolved the design.  Because the Parking Deck was to be completed before the Academic Building, we have some leeway in our schedule that allows us to start construction a little later and still finish on time. The budget is still being sorted out as the design has changed enough to help minimize the impact of the rock, but has required changes to the design, which will need new pricing.

The second twist is the budget for the Academic Building. As we go through the review and pricing process, there are changes to the design that are requested by the end user, and mandated during the code review, which makes the budget a bit of a moving target. In addition, all Commonwealth of Virginia construction projects over $5 million are required to go through a Value Engineering (VE) Review. As part of that process, it is necessary to evaluate design items that are not critical to the performance of the building and rate them on a “have-to-have/like-to-have” rating.  This can also be a bit of a moving target, which impacts the budget.

In order to meet the budget and schedule requirements for any construction project, the Project Team will put in allowances for these unknown items. The pricing allowances will be based on past experience and current market pricing by the estimating team. The schedule allowances are of particular importance because “time is money,” and if a general contractor can’t meet his schedule, he will soon go out of business. Adjustments to the schedule can be accelerated through additional personnel and/or multiple shifts if necessary. To accelerate the work requires additional money, which impacts the budget again.

So, a good Project Team will have to balance the design, schedule and the budget to meet the needs of the client and end user. This requires collaboration on the part of all of the Project Team and backup plans to backup plans to backup plans. That’s why the team’s motto should be, “always be prepared.”

Concrete Foundations & Other Things

The footings and most of the concrete foundation walls for the Academic Building are complete.  The masonry foundation walls should be complete this week including the grouting of the cavities, weather permitting.  We have been backfilling the excavations for the slabs.  We prepped the SOG in the “black box” theater on Friday in preparation for the placement of concrete on Monday. It’s our first slab placement, which is one of our milestones.

The underground plumbing and electrical continues to move forward.  There’s a lot of plumbing and a whole lot of electrical underground that is required.

The redesign for the rock issue in the Parking Deck is continuing.  We hope to restart grading for this change next week.

Catching Up

It’s been some time since we posted on Brick by Brick, so I’m going to bring you up to date. Ray has been moved by Gilbane to the Altria Theater project. It’s on a fast, fast track to get ready for the upcoming fall season, so they need lots of eyes on the work.

The grading for the Academic Building is complete and the foundations will be completed this week. The masonry foundation walls for the “black box” theater are being erected now. The underground MEP is ongoing and will be completed in time for our first SOG (slab-on-grade) concrete placement by September 29. After that, we’ll begin erecting the structural steel, planned to begin the first week in October.

We’ve run into a bit of an issue with the Parking Deck, which should be resolved very soon. It required the collective effort of the Project Team to come up with a cost effective solution. We are in the process of redesigning portions of the foundations because we’ve hit rock at a higher elevation than anticipated. As soon as the redesign is completed by the AE, and approved by BCOM, we’ll begin that work.

I’ll try to keep the blog updated better than our recent efforts.

Ground Breaking

Century Concrete will began excavation for the building foundation today.  After excavating and removing the soil, the contractor will then set reinforcing steel in the foundation, which will then become part of the foundation once it is encased in concrete.  The reinforcing steel will be placed on steel “chairs” or 4″ concrete blocks to ensure that the steel is not in direct contact with the bottom of the foundation.  This will allow for concrete to totally encompass the reinforcing steel and will create a better, stronger structure.

The amount of time estimated to complete the foundation work is approximately 60 days.  So those on the Midlothian Campus will notice quite a few changes over the next month.  Once we complete sections of the foundation, another subcontractor will follow closely behind and start setting concrete masonry units (cmu) blocks.

Moving Dirt

So many wonder why we have been digging soil where the new academic building is going to be placed and then filling it with new soil.  There are several factors that go into these decisions.  One thing we have to do before we can start constructing the foundation is remove any material from beneath the building which could impact it long term.  We construct buildings to last forty (40) or fifty (50) years and try to ensure that they can hold up even longer.  Before to the building is designed, a geological analysis is performed by an engineering firm to see what type of material will be under the building and around the building.  After analysis by the engineers and architects, it is determined how much material is required to be removed and which material is “suitable,” meaning that it will support the new structure that is being constructed.

Once we started removing the soil, we had to remove the existing reinforced concrete pipe (RCP) which was placed in the middle of the courtyard area to allow water to flow away from the existing buildings to the wetlands.  Most of the near-surface material in the location of the new Academic Building pad was not suitable; therefore, it had to be removed and replaced with suitable material.  Multiple factors play into determining which material is suitable, including type of material, how moist the material is, and how much rock and organics is in the material.  So the material that has been placed in the new building pad footprint is suitable and the use of a nuclear density guage has given us the results for the compaction of this material.

So we are not doing twice the work, we are doing it the right the first time and building this new Academic Building on a strong foundation, just like John Tyler Community College has been built over many years.

Ahead of Schedule

The volleyball courts have been officiaily relocated to the front of Hamel Hall.  While the surroundings have changed, those that are enrolled in the upcoming semester of Volleyball will be able to show off their skills to the other students at JTCC.  Relocation of these courts has allowed us to move forward with the construction of our new Academic building and Parking Deck.

Digital Camera


One Load at a Time

Though it seems the project is not making progress, Liesfeld has made a lot of headway on this project by completing the storm water management basin (SWMB).  The contractor has removed all of the trees and is in the process of removing all the stumps and rootmat.  We still have a long way to go, but a lot of progress has been made.  By the time students return for the Fall 2014 semester, construction of the new academic building foundation should be started.

Below is a load of dirt excavated from the SWMB.


Volleyball Courts

Keep an eye on the volleyball court location, for it will be moving within the next month to a new location.  The current location in the courtyard area of Hamel Hall, Eliades Hall and the Administration building will be moved directly in front of Hamel Hall.  Refer to the photos below to see the location of the new courts.  It will be especially important for those of you who register for the Volleyball classes in Fall 2014!


Volleyball Courts near Hamel Hall, Eliades Hall and Administration Building

Volleyball Courts near Hamel Hall, Eliades Hall and Administration Building

Relocated Volleyball Courts

Relocated Volleyball Courts in front of Hamel Hall

Life of an Intern

Let me premise this by stating that this is my observation as a Summer Intern and that I have nearly two decades in the construction industry, therefore results may vary depending on life experiences, company and attitude.

The atmosphere which I have been exposed to at Gilbane has been a welcoming and encouraging to the interns.  Gilbane Building Company has exposed me to many opportunities and allowed me to take on responsibilities and ownership of my work which gives one room for growth.  One can learn quite a bit from college classes, but unless you are willing to jump into the field and learn why and how things actually work, then you are missing out on personal and professional growth.

Though my title may be one of Summer Intern, at no point have I been treated any differently or looked upon as someone without experience or knowledge for the project to which I have been assisgned, JTCC Phase III.  I have looked at this chance with Gilbane Building Company as a point in which to shine and give it my all.  These days and weeks can either make me or break me on how the future may develop, and if given an opportunity to move forward with this great company.  Being given the chance with Gilbane would only add fuel to the fire of my desire for continued growth.

Remember the popular saying: If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.