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Overcoming Challenges with Phased Projects

Building owners don’t usually choose the path of a phased project unless they’re required to, because successfully completing one can be like playing a checkers game – one move can’t start until another move is complete and oftentimes each move requires a very specific order. In short, it’s complicated. In this post, Ned Rector, Principal and Mechanical Engineer at Obernel, will take us through some of the common challenges with phased projects.

Let’s look at an example in healthcare. A hospital needs to expand the laboratory, and to do that, they’ll need to relocate the radiology department. In this example, some of the equipment is new and some is relocated. After acquiring the new space and installing the new equipment, the existing equipment must be relocated. There may be a time when both the new space and the old radiology space are in operation. Then, after relocating the existing equipment, the existing radiology area can get re-purposed for the expanded laboratory space. The design team and contractors end up going through a stepped or phased approach like moving checkers around on a board.  

Infectious Control

One of the biggest challenges with phased projects in healthcare facilities is infectious control and patient safety. With hospital additions and renovations, it is often required to create one-hour fire barriers between the construction zone and the operating healthcare facility. This just means that the project team will build a sheetrock wall separating the construction zone from the rest of the building. Inside the construction zone, negative air pressure must be maintained. This means that ventilation systems have to be installed that are solely dedicated to the construction zone so that air can come in, but it can only be exhausted to the exterior of the building – no air can come from the construction zone and go directly back into the hospital. This can be a challenge when working deep within a building. There could potentially be provisions for using HEPA filtered exhaust air recirculated to the hospital in these situations, however, this would only work in a small space.

Most hospitals have staff specially assigned to infectious control and assembling infectious control plans. Assembling and sticking to a infectious control plan is absolutely vital to any hospital’s mission of delivering all-around patient care. An infectious control plan is started in design phase. If integrated by the designer, many components of infectious control can be incorporated into the project as permanent components. It’s common in complicated projects for the designers to have detailed construction plans on infectious control to ensure contractors understand the extent of the requirements. A construction team kick-off meeting with the infectious control is vital and should happen before any contractor mobilizes for a project.

Integrating the Design and Phasing Process.

In addition to infectious controls, integrating the design and phasing process is a challenge. It is so important to line up the mechanical equipment and services with the phases. A lot of times, the owner and the architect are looking at operations and spacial needs. If there’s no communication with the MEP consultant, you run the risk of having mechanical equipment that needs to serve a renovated space ending up in a completely different phase. To avoid this, we recommend that the architect and the building owner to be in communication with the MEP consultant as they’re designing the phases of the project. Or, once the owner and architect have come up with the general phasing, have an MEP consultant overlay it to make sure they have implementable mechanical systems.

The MEP consultant may affect the process or the order to A) make the project feasible and B) make it less expensive. Sometimes they may even come up with temporaries, (temporary systems the building will use until the permanent systems are in place). It’s important to identify those items on the front end of a project before you get too far in. If you get too far in, it gets to be a mess that costs time and money to resolve.“We can almost always find a way of getting the project done, but at what cost? We could end up with a tough situation just because it’s the way the owner has to do the project in order to make it work within their operations and you just have to live with it. But if you don’t get those things identified up front in the design phase, it gets very difficult in the construction phase,” said Rector.

On a typical building project, the process begins with discovering the owner’s goals and priorities and then defining the size, the space and the function. Then, a designer creates the building designs and the phasing is decided once the design is complete. While this works well for new buildings, the problem with this approach on a phased project is that if the design does not accommodate the phasing, it becomes very difficult to determine how the MEP systems will serve all the spaces as each phase of the project moves along. “This is an issue we see not just with healthcare, (although it’s exasperated in healthcare because of the infectious control plan and how difficult that can be), but it’s really true of any phased project,” said Rector, “I’ve done some projects where we had to completely re-change the phasing because it didn’t match up.”

Constructability Means & Method

For projects that will have a long duration and be multi-phased, using a design-assist contractor can be very beneficial for building owners. In these situations, this contractor is selected early in the design phase and becomes a partner in determining the design, phasing and project cost.

The typical selection process for a design-assist contractor starts, roughly, around the schematic design (SD) phase or once an owner has assembled basic project information including concept, size, system, time-frame, etc. This information is included in a request for proposal (RFP) and either advertised publicly or given directly to potential design-build contractors. Proposals are typically based upon labor rates, material rates and mark up and would usually include a pre-construction fee. That pre-construction fee is the design-assist contractor’s portion of the process. They partner with the designer in assembling a design to accommodate the owner’s project goals, project budget, and project timeframe. This process ensures a viable project with project phasing that integrates with the design.  

Once the construction drawings (CDs) are completed, the design-assist contractor then assembles a final GMP (Gross Maximum Price) proposal for the owner’s and designer’s review.  At this point if the pricing is not acceptable, the owner can opt out of continuing to work with the specific GMP contractor. This would be unusual, but it does give the owner the opportunity to change the team if they need to. If the owner goes that route, design team could solicit multiple proposals or bids. The intent of this process is pull construction expertise into the design phase with the ultimate goal of creating a smoother construction process with less unknowns with regards to scheduling and cost.

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