Current Activities

The Christmas and New Year holidays typically slow work down as construction firms will often close the week between Christmas and New Year, and this year was no exception. This delay is made worse when Christmas and New Year fall on a mid-week day like Thursday. We lost half of Wednesday, all day Thursday and Friday. We had several subcontractors work on Friday, which helped us maintain the schedule. The structural steel, masons and electrician kept working, though the site contractor and blasting contractor have been off.

This week, everyone is back on site, and we will place concrete for the 2nd floor slab in the south wing of the Academic Building. Blasting in the Parking Deck will begin again and should be completed by Wednesday, weather permitting. Grading in the Parking Deck will also resume weather permitting.


During design for the proposed Academic Building and Parking Deck, the A/E hired a geotechnical firm to test the site subsurface to evaluate site conditions and determine what type of foundations the buildings should have. During this study, extremely dense subsurface conditions were encountered at various locations and depths below the existing surface within both building footprints. As a result of the extremely dense conditions encountered, an allowance for rock excavation was provided for in the contract documents. Rock is generally defined as any material that is not able to be excavated using normal excavation methods and equipment.

No rock was encounterd within the building footprint for the Academic Building. However, during site excavation for the Parking Deck, this dense material (rock) was encountered closer to the surface and over a larger area than originally anticipated. As the result of this, several alternates were studied to evaluate the best method with the best cost value to address the problem. Originally, the cost to remove all of the rock to obtain the proper building grades would have cost a very large amount of money. After much evaluation, it was determined that the best value solution was to raise the Parking Deck 10ft. and re-grade the utilities and approaches to the deck. This would require substantially less blasting of rock than was originally calculated.

Blasting began on Thursday, December 4, and will continue until completed, approximately 10 days. Blasting has very specific regulatory controls, which include licensed blasters, general and specific notifications, monitoring and observation. The blaster will drill into the rock to a specific depth and will only drill an area each day that he can detonated that same day. The drill holes cannot be left open overnight and all charges that are set must be discharged the day they are set. Blasting cannot be performed during inclement weather. Once the charges are set, the blaster sets a blast mat over the charge site to eliminate flying debris and minimize disturbance to surrounding areas. Clearing of the blast area and a horn notification immediately prior to detonation are performed. An all clear notification is given after successful detonation of all placed charges. Full detonation does not always happen, though it is rare.

Upon completion of the blasting, grading of the Parking Deck and approaches to the deck will be completed. Soon after, foundations will begin and pre-cast concrete panels will begin arriving on site, and erection of those panels will commence.

Construction Management at Risk: A Brief Synopsis

CM at Risk is the contracting method used by VCCS/JTCC for construction of the Phase III project. The following is an oversimplified overview of a complicated and, sometimes, protracted process. The Associated General Contractors (AGC) defines Construction Management at Risk (CM at Risk) as a Project Delivery Method defined by the following characteristics:

  • Design and Construction are separate contracts (versus Design-Build, in which the Contracts are combined)
  • Criteria for final selection include factors other than just lowest total construction cost (versus Design-Bid-Build, in which total construction cost is the only criterion for final selection)

The Commonwealth of Virginia Construction and Professional Service Manual (CPSM) defines CM to mean services provided under contract with the Owner, which generally include coordinating and administering construction contracts for the benefit of the Owner, but may also include, if provided in the contract, furnishing construction services (CM at Risk) to the Owner. The Construction Manager has direct responsibility and liability to the Owner for performing the Work as described by the Contract Documents. This is also called the CM/GC, or the ‘Contractor,’ for the CM project. The general idea behind CM at Risk is for the Owner to hire the architectural and engineering design team (A/E) and the CM at around the same time. The A/E and CM firms are hired based on qualifications. The CM is hired to perform pre-construction services. Once hired, the Owner, A/E, and CM work together turning the Owner’s ideas into reality. As the design is being produced, the CM is vetting the design with constructability reviews and pricing in an effort to give the Owner the best value for his project. This is an iterative process with all members of the Owner’s team working together. The CM at Risk process is based on trust and open communications at all levels; open book budgeting, construction pricing, subcontractor selection, joint decision making, etc… When the design approaches 90% completion, the Owner and CM will sign a contract for the CM to construct the project. At this point the CM becomes the CM at Risk. Even though this was the intent at the beginning of the process, the roles of the various parties change at this point. The Owner does not hold any direct contracts for the subcontractor services. All subcontractor services are contracted by the CM at Risk. The Owner continues their contract with the A/E throughout the process and holds the contract with the CM at Risk for construction. Sometimes, and it is unusual for this to occur, the contract for pre-construction services with the CM will end, and the Owner will contract with a different firm for the CM at Risk role. The advantage to this method is that the Owner has the construction expertise onboard early in the process to help keep the design and price appropriate for the Owner’s needs and budget. The Owner also gets to know the CM and make certain the philosophies are compatible. The design is vetted as it is being developed, which can minimize potential change orders. This vetting process includes “design-assist.” The design and construction of the project are truly a team effort, particularly during the pre-construction phase. The disadvantage is that as soon as the CM signs a contract as the CM at Risk, the relationship changes and the line between the Owner’s advocate, the CM, and the general contractor, CM at Risk, become blurred.


There are several types of building construction contracting methods used in Virginia. The most common are:

  • design-bid-build,
  • design–build,
  • Construction Management at Risk (CM at Risk),
  • and Construction Management (CM).

There are also other types of construction contracting methods and variations and combinations used, although they are less likely to be used in general practice. The Commonwealth of Virginia has regulatory requirements that limit the methods for contracting for construction services. The following is a very, very simplified overview of the four construction contracting methods listed above.

Design-bid-build is the most common method for procurement of construction services. In this process, the Owner hires a design team who designs the project to the Owner’s requirements. The construction documents are put out to bid, either open bid or select bid, and the General Contractor bids to the Owner based on the scope of the work. The General Contractor holds all of the contracts for the construction of the project. The Owner will then select the General Contractor based on the lowest responsible bid.

Design-build is the process where an Owner hires a General Contractor to design and build a project based on the Owner’s requirements. The General Contractor will hire the design team and control the design through the complete process. He will also price the design as the design is being done in an effort to meet the budget set by the Owner. The General Contractor holds all the design and subcontractor contracts for the design and construction or the project.

Construction Management at Risk (CM at Risk) is a combination of CM and design-bid-build. The Owner typically hires the design team. They will also hire a CM, preferably early in the process, to assist in the design and pricing of the construction. The CM will review the design as it is being developed in order to price the various pieces of the work in an ongoing effort to maintain a defined budget. Once the design has reached a predetermined stage, the CM will begin soliciting hard bids from subcontractors and will then sign a contract with the Owner to construct the project. The CM will hold all of the subcontracts for the construction of the project. Although it is rare, the CM may not become the CM at Risk if the relationship during the design phase doesn’t satisfy all parties.

Construction Management (CM) is a combination of the other three construction procurement methods. The Owner still hires a design team to design their project and a General Contractor to build the project. The Owner will also hire a CM, preferably early in the design process, who will act as the Owner’s representative, and possibly agent depending on the contract between the Owner and CM. The CM will work with the Owner to set up contracts, select the design team, work with the design team to coordinate the design, review and Value Engineer the design as it is being developed, bid the construction, help select the General Contractor, act as the Owner’s construction administrator, and generally advise the Owner on the design and construction process. The General Contractor holds all the contracts for the subcontractors. The CM works directly for the Owner and does not hold any contracts with outside firms for design or construction.

JTCC is using the CM at Risk method for design and construction of the Phase III Academic Building and Parking Deck. Next time, we’ll drill down into the CM at Risk method of construction procurement.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.