A Site to Behold
By Nan Harvey, A.I.A.
published November, 2003, Daily Record Square Feet Section; (pg. 15)
The site was a mess. All the sites we've looked at the past couple of seasons have been muddy because of the amount of precipitation we've gotten, but this one was more than muddy...
Equipment was scattered around the site, steel frame scaffolding was leaning against a tree, and the boards were up against the building. Some of the scaffolding was up and a worker was applying some stucco finish to the rigid insulation; other workers were making repairs to damaged scaffold framing. Scraps of rigid insulation, wood framing, cardboard boxes, rebar, concrete block and things unrecognizable because of an uneven mud coating, littered the site. A storage trailer was sitting near the project entrance, far from the building, and the on-site office was opposite the site from it. Stored materials were inside the building, mixed in the woods at the edge of the site and underneath the site office. Debris and dried mud covered the slab inside so that a worker had to clear an area before he could set up a break-metal. County officials had forced work to stop more than once because of mud tracks from the site to the public roads surrounding it.
This is a project in trouble. It's as readily apparent visiting the site as it is looking over the paperwork. Every step in the construction process is taking longer because materials have to be moved or cleaned or replaced. Subcontractors come to the site and have to spend the first hour of the day creating a clean area in which to work. Change orders have been generated because of lost time, and the schedule has slipped. This contractor will find himself further behind when the temperatures drop and unplanned for winterization costs will dip into his profits. He'll want to (and need to!) be more aggressive about submitting change orders for minor changes in the work
Contrast this site with another across town. This one is in the same geographic area, is the same approximate size and had to deal with the same weather conditions but work was continuing at a breakneck pace. The general contractor at that site had put stored materials close to the building so that workers weren't dragging finishes through the mire. Materials were staged around the site and the little waste generated was being used for walkways from the clearly defined parking areas to the building. Later the parking areas at that site will have reduced remedial work required and time will be saved. Every night, laborers broom-clean the building, getting ready for the next day's work. Because the building will be enclosed sooner, they will keep crews working through the winter. The owner will get his building sooner and be able to have it making money for him sooner.
Not all problem projects can be so readily identified but there are some telltale signs:
- Built-in impediments, such as poor staging or little regular clean-up and maintenance means the contractor and his crews will spend more time doing basic tasks.
- Debris and other contamination from the site can be cited by the local regulatory agencies who can stop work until clean-up is performed. Irate neighbors many times will then become vigilant about even the most minor of infractions, which will slow construction progress further.
- Lack of attention to "creature comforts" for construction crews can lower morale and turn into a lower quality product and lack of attention to detail. Providing a place for the workers to eat and park demonstrates that the project managers consider them valuable team members, which usually elicits a positive response. Having the construction crews participating in keeping the site orderly increases overall site productivity.
- General confusion - litter mixed up with materials to be used, materials stored haphazardly - can turn into accidents easily which translate into lost time, delays, and in the worst cases, liability.
- Every site visit, the superintendent is in the trailer with clean shoes. For a job to run smoothly, the contractor has to see what's going on with his own eyes.
- A poorly organized and maintained site does not always mean poorly organized and maintained records but many times it does. A contractor who has not thought through all the elements of the job will more likely be overcome by contingencies.
Once your eye is educated, a walk on the site describes which type of contractor is in charge of the project and gives a sneak preview of the future. If you are contemplating a new construction project, perhaps you'll want to do a little homework before hiring your contractor based solely on a bid. Visit one of the company's current jobs, and you be the judge. Is that really who you want to build your project?
Nan Harvey attended Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA (BA in Art), and graduate school at Va. Tech. in architecture. She moved to Washington, DC then Baltimore, where she renovated a rowhouse and then an old farmhouse while working for various architectural firms in Baltimore.
Nan started Building Consultants, Inc. construction monitoring and condition survey services in April 1990, and added environmental services in 2000. As a dedicated volunteer for Habitat for Humanity International, Nan has built houses for deserving families in Nepal and Brazil.
She can be reached at BCI at (410) 715-2277 or nan@eConstructionServices.com. BCI provides expert project review for real estate