Building Principles: During the Preconstruction Meeting

by Matthew J. Sickler, P.E.

Once you’ve executed a contract with your contractors, one of the major steps for all projects, no matter how small, is a preconstruction meeting. This meeting provides an opportunity for you and your involved staff to discuss key issues with the contractors prior to contruction work. As we all know, it is much easier to address problems if there is a plan in place to deal with them before they actually occur. This meeting should establish these procedures and lay the framework for a smooth construction process. At the very least, topics for discussion should include the following:

Contacts

The name and contact numbers of people they should be dealing with directly. You should keep this group small. One person is best. Multiple contacts invite confusion and give the opportunistic contractor the option of choosing answers to questions that suit the contractor rather than you — the owner.

The establishment of a list of contacts during the preconstruction meeting may seem like an unnecessary task. After all, you’ve had a good relationship with Frank, your contractor, for many years. However, the establishment of a chain of communication for each project cannot be overlooked. The point of contact for each contractor and the camp should be documented and provided to everyone involved with the project. Besides the obvious need to contact each other in the case of emergencies, there are many reasons for formalizing the chain of communication.

Let’s consider an example . . . Frank and his crew are hard at work trying to complete your new bathhouse in plenty of time for this season. While excavating for the new water service, they encounter many large boulders, and Frank realizes that continuing in this direction will take quite a long time. You are away for the day, so Frank tracks down your maintenance man and suggests that the water service be brought in from the other side of the building, where he had constructed your infirmary a few years ago and where he remembers the digging being easier. This makes perfect sense to your maintenance man, so Frank continues in the direction he proposed. During the final inspection for your certificate of occupancy, the local inspector inquires as to the location of the water service. When he locates the service, it becomes apparent that it is located too close to the sewage disposal system for the infirmary and in violation of local health codes. This comes as a surprise to you, as you had not heard of any changes during construction. When you bring this fact to Frank’s attention, he claims that your maintenance man told him that it was O.K. to put the water service in that location. He is willing to relocate it, but in light of the hard excavating conditions in the originally proposed location, it will cost a minimum of $4,000.

Now, how good is your relationship with Frank? Formalizing your chain of communication so that direction is given and received by a single contact from each party should avoid these problems. If Frank took directions from someone other then your point of contact, then he needs to correct the situation. If your point of contact did not properly direct Frank, then you have a problem to correct. Either way, the responsibility is clear.

Scheduling

A schedule should be established during the preconstruction meeting. Scheduling should include a timetable that describes when certain key elements are to be completed and when it is appropriate to work — specific hours and days, whether weekend work is acceptable. If weekends are a possibility, how much notice must the contractor supply for a request and who approves this?

You may have a few daytime “windows” when it may be inconvenient to have construction activity in camp. This should be brought to the contractor’s attention during the bid process and reconfirmed during the preconstruction meeting.

Additionally, individual contractors need to coordinate their schedules, as well. The electrical contractor needs to coordinate his schedule with the general contractor such that he can complete his rough-ins prior to the general contractor installing wall finishes. You should not take on the responsibility of coordinating individual contractors’ schedules. The exchange and coordination of schedules between you and contractors should be spelled out in your contracts and initiated at the preconstruction meeting.

Shop Drawings

If the project incorporates any products where the contractor has to choose between fixtures, colors, or mechanical equipment, he should have to supply manufacturer’s specification sheets to you for your approval. Paint colors, bathroom fixtures, flooring, and roof shingles are all examples of items that you will want to approve before they’re ordered, or on site.

How’s Frank coming on the preparations . . . ?
Now that your contacts are developed and schedules are established, the contractors are ready to order their materials. The submittal of shop drawings at this point in the project provides an opportunity for both you and your contractors to avoid more of those unpleasant surprises down the road. Perhaps you have made it a point to install only Maytag® water heaters in camp. You can easily obtain spare elements from the local supply house, and therefore, you have specified that the contractor install only Maytag® brands. Frank obtains his materials from a different supply house that has started to carry Whirlpool® brand water heaters. The salesman explains to Frank that Whirlpool® models are more efficient and 10 percent less expensive than Maytag®. Frank assumes that more efficient and less expensive is better and orders and installs this other unit. Some years later, the element needs to be replaced. To your maintenance department’s surprise, your supply house doesn’t carry Whirlpool®, and Frank’s supply house has also stopped carrying them. To make matters worse, the Whirlpool® distributor is located on the west coast. It will take ten days for the replacement part to reach you — not to mention the freight charges. If Frank had submitted a shop drawing for your review and approval prior to ordering a brand different from what you specified, this surprise could have been avoided.

Inspections

All but the simplest of projects require inspections from the various agencies having jurisdiction. The documents provided to contractors for bidding, as well as the actual contract, should designate the responsibility for requesting, scheduling, and obtaining these inspections. In most cases, this should be left to the contractor, as he or she is in control of the construction schedule and therefore the required timing of the inspections.

Let’s check on Frank’s progress . . . .
You establish a schedule with Frank for the completion of your new building at the preconstruction meeting. You agree to have your maintenance man coordinate the necessary inspections with the local building inspector, who happens to be his brother-in-law. Frank was originally scheduled to pour the concrete building footings next Monday. However, he has fallen behind schedule and to try to make up lost time, decides to move the scheduled pour up to this Saturday. He tells your maintenance man about the change on Friday morning, who now needs to change the scheduled footing inspection from Monday morning to Friday afternoon. He is unable to get in touch with his brother-in-law to reschedule, and Frank is unable to pour concrete on Saturday, even though he has his rebar and formwork in place. A big storm passes through the area on Sunday, filling Frank’s form work and excavation with water and mud. Cleaning up the mess costs Frank $2,000 and he submits the bill to you — claiming that he was ready to pour on Saturday, but you did not get him the inspection in time. Assigning the inspection scheduling responsibility to the contractor and reconfirming this fact prior to the start of construction will avoid these types of situations.

Change Orders

As we have all discovered, construction projects are dynamic and constantly changing because of unforeseen conditions or the desire to change a particular item as the projects evolves. Whatever the cause of the change in the scope of work, a contractor will usually request and is often entitled to a change order for compensation (and/or time) necessary to carry out the change in scope. The procedures for dealing with a change in the project scope should be clearly addressed in the construction contract and covered in the preconstruction meeting. Typically, the contractor is required to notify the owner’s designated point of contact as soon as a condition that may require a change in the scope of work is encountered. You then have a chance to review this condition with the contractor prior to any work being performed that will result in increased cost to either you or the contractor. If it is determined that the contractor needs to perform additional work, and is therefore entitled to additional compensation, a written change order should be prepared. A change order should outline the change in the scope of work, as well as the method in which the contractor will be compensated. The method of compensation will depend largely on the manner in which the base bid and contract are set up. The first two are most likely to be found in a contract that has a similar format (that is, a unit price change order is found in a unit price contract and a lump sum change order in a lump sum contract).

Unit price contract
Frank has been contracted to pave your parking lot for $9.00 per square yard of pavement placed. After the contract is in place, you also decide to have Frank pave the driveway leading to the parking lot. A change order should then be prepared outlining the quantity of additional paving at the established price at $9.00 per square yard.

Lump sum
Frank can simply provide you with a lump sum amount to complete the additional work. This method is best suited for situations in which the scope of the additional work is easily defined. In the parking lot/driveway example above, you might agree to a lump sum change order if a culvert (storm water drain pipe) needs to be installed under the new driveway. However, if you require that he provide a lump sum change order price, and he is not certain as to the exact amount of the work or materials which will be required, he will surely estimate high enough to cover his overhead and profit. You may end up paying for more than is actually required or delivered.

Proper planning for construction administration is just as important as the planning that goes in to developing the plans for the project itself. After all of the hard work that you’ve put in, you deserve to enjoy (and not dread!) watching your project go up. A well-planned preconstruction meeting that addresses these issues at the outset will allow you to do just that.

Matthew J. Sickler, P.E., is an associate with McGoey, Hauser & Edsall and Camp Facilities Consulting where he provides civil design, permitting, and construction consultation services to municipal and private sector clients. He may be reached at 570-296-2765 or by e-mail at msickler@mhepc.com.

Originally published in the 2002 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.

 

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