Qualified, Skilled Construction Professionals are in Demand

By Jeff Makela

As we ease out of the COVID pandemic, the construction industry is experiencing a deficit of workers and this trend is posing a serious challenge for construction companies. People working in the trades are asking the million dollar question, “where did everyone go?” Speculation includes a wave of retirements, career changes, COVID-19 death and illness, and even building tiny homes on wheels and heading out to the west coast are rumored to be contributing factors. According to a model developed by the Associated Builders and Contractors, the construction industry will need to attract nearly 650,000 additional workers on top of the normal pace of hiring in 2022 to meet the demand for labor. It is mind boggling.

The labor shortage is not unique to the construction industry. Organizations across all market sectors are experiencing similar challenges – where to find qualified skilled people. In addition, many companies are experiencing employee turnover, which is at an all-time high.

Construction has always had a reputation for being a tough, physical career. No doubt about it, construction is hard work and many jobs are physically demanding. Finding key people to manage projects and put the work in place has become a focused issue. Construction work is not highly sought out as a career choice as it once was. Young adults are more apt to select higher education than a job in the trades. A recent survey from the Associated General Contractors of America found nearly nine out of 10 contracting companies were unable to find skilled workers to complete projects. All of this is creating a snowball effect – projects are now being more scrutinized and handpicked in order to meet the demands of the organization’s labor resources. This in turn drives up the cost of construction or limits projects and in the end, everyone is paying the price.

After nearly 40 years of personally working in construction and “seeing it all,” I recognize a challenge we are facing as an industry is the caliber of workers filling construction positions. Proficiency and straight out interest by young people in construction is on the decline. In a 2022 online article by ProHome Resource Center, construction work is seen as unstable, and young people are not encouraged to enter the field. Despite there being many openings and rising salaries, young people are not entering the profession at a pace that is necessary to sustain the needs of the industry.

Based on my experience, it is my opinion that a high percentage of young people are no longer being raised in an environment that demands physical work and the dependency on modern technology leaves young people unprepared for the aspect of hard labor. An online article from Prudential (https://news.prudential.com) states that 58% of young adults to the age of 30 are still living with their parents. Are people waiting for “opportunity to come knocking?” This mindset could be causing an adverse effect on the way we do work within the industry. The foundation of every successful construction project is heavily reliant on a well-grounded, consistent workforce.

Welliver knows it’s not business as usual. We recognize the challenges and understand the need to work within the parameters we have. Challenge accepted. Welliver is figuring it out, implementing innovative ways to recruit and retain our people, and grow as a company in an ever evolving industry.

So, what can we do to motivate people to build a career in construction? At Welliver, we are being proactive by sharing the knowledge and experience of our veteran workers and instilling that value in our current and future employees. We encourage our superintendents to shadow, mentor, and train our younger individuals on our projects, so they get true field knowledge. This is something that cannot be taught in a classroom. Our veteran employees share their stories and are key examples to our younger employees of how the work has paid off for them. We are checking the pulse more often and making it a point to engage with our field personnel daily to resolve situations before they become issues. Positive news: benefit packages offered by trade unions help to make the job more desirable. Pensions are being offered (which is rare in today’s job market) along with annuities and healthcare, all of which are included in union memberships.

The bottom line is we are not sacrificing our client’s project – rather rising to the challenge and coming up with creative ways to get the job done. At Welliver, we are committed to engaging with and educating our area students about the advantages of seeking out professions in the construction industry. We are thinking outside the box to attract the next generation of workers and evaluating how we can adapt to the current workforce. It is not business as usual anymore and to succeed and stay in business a company must adapt with the times.

Jeff is a results-oriented person driven by the thrill of beating a deadline at the highest level. Having learned the value of hard work at an early age, he applies lessons learned from previous experiences to motivate manpower; sustain strong project superintendent teams; deliver a customer-driven, organized, and efficient building process; and build career growth paths for workers, which is greatly needed in the construction industry. As General Superintendent for Welliver, Jeff is responsible for the overall status and facilitation of building the right project team, assigning the proper superintendent who is the right fit for the project, training, as well as managing the workforce on the project site. A lifelong construction professional, Jeff plays an integral role in building and strengthening client relationships, creating collaborative environments, and bringing construction workers and the trades into a new era of conducting business. Jeff can be reached at [email protected].

Considering a K-12 Facilities Referendum? Top 8 Reasons You Should Hire a CM Firm.

By Michael Ginalski

School districts in New York State are passing successful referendum packages at a rapid rate. With these project votes, communities are sending a message to districts that they trust them to be good stewards of their tax dollars while also trusting that they will maintain quality school facilities for their children. With this trust comes great responsibility. Districts must do everything possible in turn to stretch dollars and build what was presented to the public to continue to gain support for future referendums. Hiring a construction management (CM) firm is crucially important regardless of the size of the project. At Welliver, we got our start building schools and we have a storied history of doing it well. A school construction project has many moving parts regardless of how large or small it is and from experience, we know we make a difference for the districts and communities we serve. Our firm provides a full service, team oriented approach to districts.

Here are eight reasons why districts should hire a CM:

Allows School Administrators to focus on the core mission of educating children.

With a CM to lead the project, once a shovel hits the ground you won’t have to take time away from day-to-day responsibilities due to construction issues. At Welliver, we are the school district’s agent in the field managing all that comes with school construction. We work for the district – not the contractor or the architect.

Utilize contractors’ experience with schedule, constructability, and cost during design.

In traditional design-bid-build construction the contractor is handed plans to build as drawn. That approach has drawbacks as it limits opportunities to have contractors input from the start. Having a CM ensures that the opportunity exists as the builder is able to make recommendations about various aspects of the project to ensure project and budget goals can be met.

Allows districts to select project team based on qualifications.

This element is vitally important. Hiring the right people ensures a district is not gambling their community’s goodwill and limited resources. In school construction, the traditional approach of selecting the low bid from a general contractor comes with no promises that the low bidder will be the best builder. A CM allows districts to remove that risk and select project leadership based on qualifications. It also means gaining the builder’s pre-construction perspective on design, cost, and schedule.

Having a CM on board from pre-referendum to completion provides districts the best opportunity to meet project goals.

A CM being on board from concept to completion is a tremendous asset to a school district. A CM will see the finished design as more than a set of drawings. They will ultimately see those drawings as a description of the district’s overall goals and priorities and will gain an appreciation for certain elements from playing a role in the overall development of the facilities plan. In a traditional design-bid-build approach it can be easy to reduce budgets by cutting space or certain amenities and aesthetics. A CM has an appreciation and understanding from participating in pre-referendum planning to work to maintain certain elements that preserve overall goals and budget by finding other opportunities during pre-construction and construction to save dollars.

Collaboration between district, CM, and architect results in best value outcomes.

At Welliver, we strive to develop a quality professional relationship with the architect, the school district, and contractors. Often times in traditional school construction where a CM is not present the relationship between the architect and contractors can be adversarial. We feel that we have the responsibility to districts to work together as a team to produce the best value outcomes that will result in the lowest cost for construction and fastest schedule while producing a quality finished project.

Value Engineering maximizes budget.

Having a CM in the pre construction phase is critical for cost savings. The CM can recommend construction methods and materials that ultimately will reduce cost and improve quality. Quality value engineering can also lead to substantial time savings in the schedule.

Time is money – a CM gets it.

At Welliver, we take great pride in monitoring schedule and hitting design and construction deadlines. A good CM will keep the schedule on track and will work with contractors directly to ensure they are meeting milestones as agreed to in the contract.

A quality CM validates the solution for districts.

We bring an investigative approach to what a district is trying to accomplish and how best to deliver the solution. We are essentially turning the process into a form of a math equation and utilizing a team approach with the architect and district validating the solution with facts and numbers.

Welliver is poised and ready to assist with K-12 projects. One of our key tenets is “collaboration before a shovel hits the ground” and we pride ourselves on being a quality partner and teammate to school districts that we serve.

Mike joined Welliver as our K12 Communication Liaison after 33 years working in the K12 education sector. He brings a comprehensive understanding and direct exposure to all of the issues facing public education today. In his 13 years as the Superintendent in Corning-Painted Post (CPP) Area School District, Mike led the district through four successful referendums which led to $260M in new construction from 2010-2020. Mike bridges the gap between Welliver’s construction management teams and K12 school district superintendents, school boards, and facility directors. He provides expertise and guidance, as well as helps districts carry out capital improvement initiatives involving pre-referendum voting, budget management, community outreach, and buildings and grounds personnel. Mike can be reached at [email protected].

Construction Industry is an Ideal Destination for Young Workers

By Ryan Bettis

In an article that appeared in the March 28, 2022 issue of McKinsey & Company’s “Bridging the labor mismatch in US construction”, U.S. based construction projects are short-staffed today, and the problem is set to get worse over the next ten years.

There is a critical need for available manpower to fill positions ranging from entry level laborer or skilled positions to experienced estimators, project managers, and superintendents. When I first entered the construction industry, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. When considering working in construction, the first thing that came to mind involved swinging a hammer. It is common to think about construction and immediately think of the labor aspect or the physical trades. However, I discovered there are greater opportunities available to build a rewarding career in construction with many benefits.

I originally started out working in the residential sector in a variety of different trades. This afforded me the time to get a good feel for what I thought would be the best fit for me while kick starting my career. One thing that I observed was the constant need for manpower and skilled labor on all jobs. The struggle to find this is real. This issue has only grown since my time in the residential industry and has similar impacts to what I see now on the commercial construction side.

One reason I believe this issue is so prevalent is the lack of young people entering the construction industry. It appears young professionals are unaware of or don’t understand the quantity and quality of work opportunities the construction industry has to offer as well as how rewarding many of these positions are. Ranging from CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) drivers to carpenters to project managers, the need to fill these positions on construction sites is at an all-time high. As communities continue to grow and develop, finding skilled labor will be a constant challenge. This can impact communities and potential clients on many levels. Mostly I see this lack of manpower contributing to the rising cost of construction as the less manpower you have to spread around to multiple jobs the more expensive it is to keep said manpower on one site.

Often it goes unnoticed just how much goes into a construction project ‘behind the scenes’ — supervisors, foremen, engineers, masons, painters, safety professionals, and administrative support — each person plays an integral role in the day-to-day work that needs to be done to keep projects running smoothly and to get them to completion.

Interestingly, I have found that companies are willing and eager to recruit young professionals ready and willing to be trained in entry level positions. Construction often isn’t thought of as an industry with a lot of entry level positions but due to the high rate of individuals retiring from this industry and the need for more and more manpower this could not be further from the truth. In my experience, fresh thinkers and ideas are always valuable to the construction industry. When seasoned veterans share their knowledge and experience it can help young professionals learn and build upon their strengths that will ultimately create a successful construction experience for the client as well as positively impact our communities. As the need grows, I believe we will continue to see just how important it is to fill the roles that were once held by individuals retiring as well as creating new roles that can be filled with creative, efficient minds that help contribute to a project’s success. I believe a huge incentive to have companies recruit and train individuals is they can build their workforce around the needs of that specific company and can help grow the company based on how they train and the quality of training provided to these new hires.

Whether you are fresh out of high school, a recent college graduate, or a seasoned member of the workforce there is and will continue to be a growing need for individuals to join the construction industry. Many opportunities are available to anyone willing to work. It is often thought that the best route to follow after high school is to go to a college or university and get a degree. In many fields this is an excellent option to pursue a career but in construction many of the opportunities do not require a degree and can be just as rewarding and fulfilling with quality training and hands on experience. Trade schools and programs offered through BOCES provide excellent opportunities for people to get their foot in the door.

Ryan was first introduced to the construction industry by working as a carpenter on various small projects for several construction companies in the Southern Tier. He gained valuable exposure to the different aspects of construction as well as working with project managers, superintendents, and the variety of trades required to complete projects. Ryan has always been drawn to the idea of revitalizing communities, making buildings useful again, and seeing the results of a built facility. Getting ‘behind the scenes’ of construction is his passion. Ryan laid the foundation of his career with smaller residential projects and worked his way up to multi-million dollar commercial/industrial projects. Today, Ryan is an Assistant Project Manager with Welliver. He can be reached at [email protected].  

The Construction Site Safety Tour

By Eric Hadlock 

Recently I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with a gentleman who had expressed an interest in a career change to construction safety. This man had spent significant time in another field very different from the construction industry. He stated that he was looking for a new challenge in his life and has always been fascinated watching construction projects progress from a distance and thought he would like to become part of the process. Bringing a strong belief in safety, his goal is to embrace a role in this field. I had been asked to spend time and explain the responsibilities of a safety manager and point out what to look for during a site visit. I also wanted to explain how a safety manager communicates and works with site leaders and personnel to facilitate a safe work site. Being new to my role at Welliver, I was excited to bring a fresh perspective to our discussion.

The man expressed that he was interested in learning what happened on a construction project on a daily basis and how something that looked so hectic from afar could be done safely. After initial introductions and a safety briefing that covered the potential hazards of our active construction site tour, I ensured he had the required Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) — hard hat, safety glasses, high visibility vest, and proper footwear — all required on our construction sites. We spoke briefly about the scope of the project that we were about to walk through and headed out the door.

As we started to walk the site, he asked if I had always been involved in construction safety. Interestingly, I too made a change into construction safety after recently retiring from law enforcement. Although the two careers are very different, there are also many similarities between law enforcement and construction safety. Both are governed by a set of rules or regulations (laws and OSHA regulations), require an attention to detail after understanding the rules and a willingness to enforce those rules, require an ability to effectively communicate and most importantly, have the ultimate goal of keeping people safe. In construction that means both on the job site (the worker) and anyone adjacent to the job site (the public).

As we continued our walk through, I pointed out what to look for relative to risks, hazards, and unsafe conditions while pointing out the relevant OSHA regulations and the importance of following them. I emphasized that OSHA regulations are bigger than just “following the rules.” I have learned that many of the decisions that humans make regarding rules are governed by consequence avoidance, and in fact, are at the simplest level, a cost/benefit analysis. OSHA can certainly level severe financial consequences for not following their rules (cost), but the OSHA regulations are far bigger than that. The most obvious benefit of implementing programs to ensure OSHA compliance is a safe work site; a site free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause serious harm (the General Duty Clause). I explained that construction is an inherently dangerous profession, but the OSHA regulations helped mitigate the hazards. It has become very clear that adhering to OSHA regulations requires a great deal of organization and planning. Everyone must think through a task and anticipate the potential hazards. Many of the OSHA regulations help streamline that process by focusing on known hazards in almost all aspects of construction, and in many cases outline the equipment and training needed to maintain safety. Yes, there are a lot of numbers, measurements, tables, weights, heights, etc. to be aware of, but the result is a well thought out plan with a focus on worker safety.

Another benefit of a safe work site is a more productive work site. A safe and productive work site that incorporates effective communication and teamwork fosters increased morale. I don’t know a single enterprise involving more than one person that does not benefit from increased morale. Although that benefit is immeasurable, it is wildly apparent when morale is poor. All of this has financial benefits as well; on-time or ahead of time completion dates, lower injury (recordable/reportable) rates resulting in lower insurance costs, and most likely reduced overall construction costs. A safe and productive construction job site extends beyond your employees as subcontractors also see the benefits. Adhering to the OSHA regulations is important, but the benefits are far beyond just checking a box on a checklist.

As we made our way back to the job site trailer to conclude our tour, we discussed the balance between construction task completion and safety. In my mind, they are ultimately the same thing. There can be no division between construction and safety. Each and every task and subtask must be thought out, planned, and resourced while integrating safety. We do not do construction tasks discretely from safety – every construction task must be done safely in order to be done correctly. Our goal every day is to accomplish the tasks required to meet the goals of our customers (project owners), but just as important, to ensure all our workers walk off the project sites in at least as good a condition as they walked on. If we do that, we are all successful.

Back in the trailer, I knew he had fully grasped the message I was trying to convey when he summed up our tour. He said, “if I have understood you correctly, Construction Safety is the same thing as Construction Safely.” When I thought about it, he hit the nail on the head. 

Eric works hard to establish and promote a worksite where safety is at the forefront and successful project completion is the outcome. With every project he instills a common philosophy – we must take care of each other. As Welliver’s Project Safety Director, Eric continuously challenges himself to look for better and more efficient ways to improve the safety environment that will positively impact the lives of all on the project site. He creates an environment of personal accountability and plays an integral role in maintaining Welliver’s position as a leader in workplace safety. Eric can be reached at [email protected].

Helping K-12 School Districts Pivot in an Everchanging Economy

By Michael Ginalski

The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed America in many unforeseen ways. With that in mind, it has also jettisoned the economy into difficulties that no one could have predicted prior to the onset of the pandemic. This has definitely included the world of K-12 school construction. School districts across the country are in the midst of implementing or developing facilities projects and the state of the economy and the specific types of challenges we are facing must be considered. This is where Construction Managers (CM) like Welliver show their true value. In this era we have heard the word “pivot” used across disciplines in terms of adapting to this ever changing world. At Welliver, we are currently at the table and in the field working with our clients helping to make their dollars stretch as far as possible and helping school districts “pivot” where necessary to ensure projects are successful. 

Addressing increased costs? Schedule issues? Pre-referendum budget planning chaos? This is where a district employing a CM can effectively manage these challenges. Districts should consider the following: 

Hire a CM with a robust estimating department.  

The estimators working behind the scenes are amongst the most important players assigned to a project. It is crucially important that districts purchase services that allow estimators to work at the table during project planning to ensure that what is promised can be delivered. These professionals should be utilized during the pre-referendum phase through completion. Districts often overlook this in pre-planning. 

Value Engineering.

It is important to optimize the elements of a project through an analysis of all factors including costs, upkeep, wear and tear, aesthetic value, etc. To maximize opportunities utilizing this strategy, construction and design teams need to fully understand the project as a whole and the vision and goals for the project. Every project is different as is every client’s definition of value. 

Develop strong client/architect/CM teams.

It is often said that the CM is the agent of the school district protecting its interests during all phases of planning and construction. A good Project Manager knows districts inside and out and can save money during design through evaluation of building systems. In other words, while it may be easier to remove work done previously for construction purposes it may be financially prudent to save the client money in this particular project if the system in question is not failing or not exceeding its estimated life span.  

Page turns as a practice.

Page turns allow all stakeholders to review drawings to ensure the design intent meets the client’s needs. In my experience this can also serve as a way to save money. Page turns can serve as the last chance to make sure the features and design elements are captured in the final design to ensure that change orders are minimized. 

Develop CM/client budget teams.

Developing a close CM/client budget team is crucial. These teams should meet monthly and both should keep a side by side budget to ensure change orders and other items, in the incidentals budget in particular, are being recorded in real time to avoid surprises to the client later on. I have seen many projects run into trouble as a result of a lack of cohesion in regards to the incidentals budget. 

At Welliver we are fortunate to have gained experience working with various clients, big and small, who have utilized many of these strategies to maximize dollars and ensure a successful project. In this ever changing 21st century environment, pivoting to meet client needs is what we do best at Welliver.

Mike joined Welliver as our K12 Communication Liaison after 33 years working in the K12 education sector. He brings a comprehensive understanding and direct exposure to all of the issues facing public education today. In his 13 years as the Superintendent in Corning-Painted Post (CPP) Area School District, Mike led the district through four successful referendums which led to $260M in new construction from 2010-2020. Mike bridges the gap between Welliver’s construction management teams and K12 school district superintendents, school boards, and facility directors. He provides expertise and guidance, as well as helps districts carry out capital improvement initiatives involving pre-referendum voting, budget management, community outreach, and buildings and grounds personnel. Mike can be reached at [email protected].

The NYS Clean-Green Schools Initiative Creates Questions and Opportunities for K12 Schools

By Michael Ginalski

At Welliver, we are working with a number of school districts, both large and small across the Southern Tier, on the planning and implementation of various projects including Energy Performance Contracts (EPC) that will help to move schools to a more healthy, cost effective environment. Districts are working diligently to create healthier, cleaner, and ‘greener’ environments for students, faculty, and employees while utilizing the latest technologies to decrease costs and maximize savings.

Currently, Welliver is working in several districts to address this. In the Elmira Heights Central School District, we are assisting with the installation of LED lighting and controls along with climate control which will save that district $50,456 annually. At Corning-Painted Post, the district is midway through an $88M project in which $8M of state-of-the-art controls, mechanical system replacements, energy metering reporting applications, climate control, and lighting will begin to transform CPP into a much more energy efficient school district.

At the forefront of helping school districts become “greener”, New York State has taken a dramatic step through the creation of the Clean-Green initiative. This will advance clean energy and energy solutions to improve indoor air quality and reduce emissions for more than 600 under resourced public schools across the state. Districts can apply for this funding immediately and are encouraged to do so but there is more to come in the next fiscal year which will affect every district in the state. As a Construction Manager, Welliver is working with architects and vendors across the state in preparation for this influx of funds. In the past two years we have become very proficient in assisting districts who are utilizing outside funding sources because many districts are applying multiple federal stimulus funds designed for this purpose. For instance, we have worked closely with the Elmira City School District in expanding their capital project to begin to utilize these funds for construction. This new funding will provide the same incentive to districts to address the physical climate of their buildings.

In November 2022, New York State voters will be asked to vote on the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act. If approved, the Bond Act funding will allow the program to serve more than 1,000 under resourced public schools and benefit nearly one million students, driving significant infrastructure upgrades such as geothermal heating and cooling, solar, green roofs, and indoor air quality and ventilation. New York State has over 4,000 public K-12 schools and 2,500 of these schools are located in a disadvantaged community or high needs area. Schools and districts interested in the program should visit the NYSERDA website at www.nyserda.ny.gov.

This funding creates wonderful opportunities for districts, all of whom want to create a healthier environment for students and communities they serve. However, Superintendents and School Boards that we are working with are abuzz with the mandate which came out of the new state budget requiring that all new school bus purchases be zero emissions by 2027 and all school buses on the road be zero emission by 2035. While the state is also providing funding for this ambitious initiative and allowing districts to lease or finance zero emission buses for 12 years, the $500M provided by the Bond Act is a drop in the proverbial bucket needed to provide all districts the money to not only purchase the vehicles but the infrastructure to support charging and maintaining a 100% electric fleet.

So many questions remain, as this technology is relatively new. For instance, this could be a very heavy lift for our rural school districts. Most rural districts cover a broad area with challenging terrain and many questions remain as to how this will work in districts which cover many square miles. How many miles will a “charge” last? What does this mean for sports trips? How will these vehicles perform on hills? How can we add charging stations on postage stamp size transportation centers? The list of questions is far and long. The electrical infrastructure alone needed to support this initiative will dramatically affect districts and their transportation centers. At Welliver, we are working behind the scenes gathering the information to work with our clients in preparation for this ambitious initiative. This is just the latest thing keeping Superintendents awake at night, mainly because of those unanswered questions and future facilities projects in the pre-referendum stage currently needing to address the electric busing initiative in some manner. We are doing our part to be ahead of the curve at Welliver providing our clients the guidance necessary to begin laying the groundwork to meet this mandate.

Mike joined Welliver as our K12 Communication Liaison after 33 years working in the K12 education sector. He brings a comprehensive understanding and direct exposure to all of the issues facing public education today. In his 13 years as the Superintendent in Corning-Painted Post (CPP) Area School District, Mike led the district through four successful referendums which led to $260M in new construction from 2010-2020. Mike bridges the gap between Welliver’s construction management teams and K12 school district superintendents, school boards, and facility directors. He provides expertise and guidance, as well as helps districts carry out capital improvement initiatives involving pre-referendum voting, budget management, community outreach, and buildings and grounds personnel. Mike can be reached at [email protected].

Keeping a Project on Track – Crunching the Numbers

By Daniel A. Traina, EIT

Anyone working in the construction industry or who has been given the responsibility to facilitate a construction project, has experienced a great deal of volatility and extreme price increases in the last two years. More recently, in the past six months, this trend has continued and in some areas even become worse. Some material prices have escalated so quickly that many projects have gone from being on budget at concept or schematic design to being significantly over budget by the time design is complete and the project is ready to go to bid.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Producer Price Index for the prior one year period ending April 2022, producer prices for goods have increased by 16.3% (citation: https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2022/producer-prices-for-goods-up-16-3-percent-over-the-year-ended-april-2022.htm).  As a theoretical example using this 16.3% to put things into perspective imagine a $10,000,000 cost of construction project. The material component may be about half, or $5,000,000. So if this job is first budgeted at concept in April 2021 it would have experienced an $815,000 ($5,000,000 x 16.3%) increase in material only by the time it is ready to go out to bid. It is not uncommon for the design process to take a year (or more) from concept to the time of bidding.

These issues are difficult to navigate, even for experienced teams of construction professionals. One tool which can help to get a project back on track is the process of Value Engineering. A project team needs to collectively consider all aspects of the job and discuss all savings possibilities. This process should start with brainstorming. An idea should not be withheld or not shared for fear that another team member won’t agree with said idea. By withholding ideas some of the best savings opportunities may never be considered. A proper Value Engineering process allows the owner the opportunity to decline any given idea. In order to make an informed decision the owner should be provided with a rough idea of cost savings and any comments on impacts from the design team. Every project is unique; here is a brief list of possible items to start with the next time cost savings must be studied.

  1. Can an alternate structural system be used for either the substructure or superstructure?
  2. Can the level of finish be reduced in certain areas of the building?
  3. Are there product substitutions which are more economical?
  4. Can an alternate mechanical system be substituted?
  5. Are there alternate means of construction which could save construction time, and therefore reduce general conditions costs?

Welliver has successfully used this Value Engineering process on a number of projects in the area to help bring over budget projects back on track. Post bid I have personally gone through an extensive Value Engineering exercise on four larger projects ($10,000,000+). In one case the list of value ideas was over 100 items long and in all cases construction costs were reduced by between 10 and 15%.

Another proactive approach to protect a project’s budget is to build an appropriate escalation factor into the estimate right from the start (most often concept or program estimate). This has always been a standard practice but carefully adhering to this practice is more important now than ever. Early in a project there may be temptation by the team to cut back on markups such as escalation in order to progress a project and make financial numbers work, but given recent market conditions this approach is dangerous and may create an impossible project down the road.

Feel free to reach out to myself or any of your existing Welliver contacts for assistance with pre-construction cost estimating on your next project. Engagement early on has the biggest potential for positive impact on your project.

Dan brings more than 10 years of construction experience, an extensive cost database, and current bid market trends to every pre-construction estimate and competitive project bid. He has an impressive background in engineering and design, which he draws from when performing cost analyses, unit pricing, value engineering, and constructability reviews. Experienced working with numerous state-of-the-art technical software programs, Dan provides accurate and realistic project estimation, a proven value to his client’s decision making process. As Lead Estimator for Welliver, Dan leads the execution and delivery of estimating services for a substantial number of highly complex and significant projects for clients representing a broad range of market sectors including higher education, industrial, healthcare, and commercial/residential. Dan can be reached at [email protected].

Managing Expectations on K12 Capital Construction Projects

by Ron Gillespie

I’d like to devote this discussion to a topic recently covered at the meeting of the Southern Finger Lakes Chapter, NYS School Facilities Association held at Welliver’s corporate offices in March. The topic of the presentation was Construction Management: Expectations and Considerations related to K12 capital projects. I’d like to call out some key points from that presentation that could be helpful to districts considering future capital initiatives or planning their first project in many years. Most of this discussion is not hard fast rules, rather items and practices that might help your project go a little smoother and ensure a successful project and future plan.

When considering a capital project, the most critical part of the plan is going to be your capital project team. A portion of this team should include key district members ranging from school board to staff/parent representatives to other community members. The team also needs two other key components – the A&E and Construction Management companies. These two firms will guide and assist the district through the entire capital process beginning with planning, budgeting, and pre-referendum support; to construction through close out; and then any development of a future capital plan. It is imperative that both the A&E firm and the construction manager be selected and present on the team from the earliest possible point to provide design/planning support, accurate scope and budgeting estimates, and even pre-referendum support leading up to a successful vote. This team must function as one, be in constant communication, and always prioritize the needs of the school district and community to be successful.

As you are planning your capital project, it is important to understand that regardless of all the best laid plans, there will be bumps in the road along the way. There will be unexpected discoveries during demo that were not visible previously, possible material delays, and many other surprises that could affect your schedule and/or budget. When these things occur, it is critical you have the right team in place to work through the problem with minimal effect on schedule, cost, and project scope. With today’s volatile economy and slow delivery times and availability these issues are compounded.

How will you fund your project? What will the cost be to the local taxpayer? Although some districts receive as much as 98% state aid for capital work, most receive much less. There are many different funding resources that can be combined with a capital project that can enable you to increase scope or reduce the local share, or both. EPC’s, capital outlays, Smart Bond, federal funding, and rebates are some of the options that might provide some relief to an already strained capital budget.

When construction begins it is important to have the adequate amount of construction management to support the project. For instance, how many buildings will be involved in construction at the same time? How many days a week will contractors be working in your buildings? Do these needs change through different phases of the project? These are important considerations in ensuring that your project has the proper and efficient supervision and management to be successful.

When the work is complete and the contractors go home the work of the A&E and construction management team is not done. There are stacks of forms and close out documents that must be filed with State Ed before any state aid will begin to flow. The construction manager works closely with the district Business Official to help ensure that this process goes smoothly and efficiently. And then, the next task that is often addressed is for the capital project team to develop a capital plan that might include future projects if a long-range capital plan is not already in place.

In any case, every capital project is exciting and challenging, and in the end extremely rewarding to everyone that plays a part in its success.

Ron brings a significant depth of knowledge and experience overseeing capital improvement projects for K-12 schools. He is the former Director of School Facilities and Operations for the Corning-Painted Post Central School District. Ron cultivated a 36-year career managing all facilities and grounds, maintenance, and capital projects for the district. Ron joins the Welliver team as K-12 Project Liaison. His focus is on assisting school districts with capital planning and project execution. Ron can be reached at [email protected] 

Secure Technology Sharpens Competitive Edge

By John Owens

We are inundated with technology on a daily basis. We should take a moment to think about how technology has changed the way we deliver services in the construction industry. It is an important activity for any industry to be retrospective while having a forward view of how changes and advancements in technology will impact how we deliver to our customers. Similar to other industries, construction has evolved due to technology even within the last 20 years. Within the construction industry, items such as mobile devices, electronic project plans, and even Microsoft Excel were not commonly utilized tools at the turn of the century. It is important to remember that common technology such as Apple’s iPhone was not commercially available until 2007. Understanding when to adopt and how to secure new technologies allows organizations to stay competitive and deliver to their customers.

In the Cloud

I can almost guarantee that you utilize at least one “cloud” application, if not many, during your workday. Some examples of these include Microsoft 365, DropBox, and Google Workspace. Others that you may not be aware of using include iCloud and Google Drive, which provide backup services for your smart phone. With all the cloud-based software as a service (SaaS), we hardly think about the fact that we are utilizing cloud services. Not only are we utilizing more and more SaaS based solutions, competitive edge and speed to market require that you understand how to integrate and secure these services. In the construction industry, projected use of technology items such as safety wearables, augmented and virtual reality, and real-time reporting will further stretch the need for cloud-connected environments.

Cyber Security / Zero Trust Strategies

With all technology, new and legacy, there is an inherent cyber security risk of business interruption. If you feel like there has been an increase in cyber activity over the last several years, you are correct. In August of 2021, Accenture Security, an arm of the global professional services company, reported a “triple digit increase in cyber-attacks” in the first half of 20211. With the proliferation of computing devices and technology that improves our ability to deliver to customers and consumers, security cannot be an afterthought, but must be a primary focus of your technology strategy. It is important that companies large and small begin to adopt security strategies that allow workers to securely perform work tasks regardless of their location. The past perimeter-based network architecture that focused on securing office or data locations is no longer sufficient in today’s technology landscape and will not scale with tomorrow’s advancements in technology. Your organization should be investigating how Zero Trust strategies can help you innovate and secure technology regardless of the location of your users or your business environment.

You may have heard IT or Information Security staff within your organization discussing Zero Trust. It is important to note that Zero Trust Architecture2 (ZTA) is not a product, but an approach. ZTA is a cyber security defense strategy that realigns your technology focus from a location-based perimeter strategy to one that focuses on securing your business environment through a combination of modern security approaches. At the crux of ZTA is the concept that there is no inherent trust. No device, user, or location is treated as secure and allowed to access resources within your business, wherever those resources reside or wherever they are accessed from. ZTA allows you to approach security in a uniform process across all platforms whether they reside within your facility or in the cloud. 

It is obvious that IT strategy is no longer a practice reserved solely for large enterprise organizations. Also, there is no question that technology in all industries, including construction, will advance over the next five to ten years. It is important that your organization not only investigate how to utilize technology to provide value to your customers and improve delivery, but also how to integrate and secure your technology investments.

1 https://www.accenture.com/us-en/blogs/security/triple-digit-increase-cyberattacks

2 https://csrc.nist.gov/publications/detail/sp/800-207/final

John brings over 30 years of experience to his role as Vice President, Information Technology (IT) at Welliver. He is a technology expert with demonstrated expertise and leadership in IT infrastructure, security, and IT service management. A forward-thinking subject matter expert and skilled analytical strategist, John applies a deeper understanding and extensive knowledge base into the design of the company’s IT infrastructure. John can be reached at [email protected]

Reimagining the Student Learning Environment in the 21st Century

By Michael Ginalski

Kids can learn anywhere. COVID proved it!

While COVID-19 devastated the world in many ways, the pandemic also provided great opportunity for change and provided the impetus to rethink what the 21st century learning environment can look like. Prior to the pandemic, there had been a growing movement towards creating more flexible classroom spaces in K-12 schools. That has intensified due to COVID. Educators are calling for greater attention and resources to be devoted to creating classroom spaces that model the 21st century work environment. This means the creation of “real world” learning environments, collaborative spaces, and accessible technology geared to facilitate creativity and collaboration to help students develop skills necessary in the world of work today. At Welliver, we are currently assisting districts large and small in the creation of these spaces.

Previous generations grew up in schools where classrooms looked the same. Rows of seats facing the front of the room, teacher up front with 100% of learning being teacher led which for centuries supported the notion that teachers relay knowledge to students. This transitional model worked for hundreds of years in this country but as we have seen, the world is changing rapidly because of technology and this includes the classrooms for today … and tomorrow.

A key feature of 21st century design is flexibility. The ability to be versatile within a classroom enables students to perform real world problem solving, actively conduct experiments, and be able to gather in groups to collectively process information. Teachers meanwhile facilitate and guide activities serving as a form of air traffic controller in assisting students. 21st century classrooms generally include the following:

  • Flex seating options
  • Learner centered spaces
  • Classroom cribs
  • “Starbucking” the classroom
  • Next gen classroom design
  • Active learning environments

Welliver is working with the three largest districts in the Southern Tier, overseeing planning and construction of their major facilities projects. The leaders in each district have demonstrated the progressive leadership necessary to move these districts forward in the creation of state-of-the-art 21st century environments. In the Horseheads Central School District, Elmira City School District, and the Corning-Painted Post Area School District, planning and construction is underway in the creation of these spaces.

Elmira City School District Superintendent Mrs. Hillary Austin has led the district through a dramatic turnaround and in her time in Elmira has led the district through multiple facilities projects. In the current $80M+ project, Mrs. Austin worked with teachers and administrators in the creation of outdoor classrooms at three of the district’s elementary schools. As a result of COVID, teachers were forced to use every inch of space because of the need to socially distance. This included the use of courtyards. Teachers came to greatly appreciate these spaces and this was the driver in the creation of these outdoor classrooms. The courtyards will have artificial turf, flex seating, and full technology capability. At one of the schools, this will also include a stage with seating for plays and performances. Mrs. Austin said, “in using every bit of space, we learned that students can learn anywhere.”

In the Horseheads Central School District, Superintendent Dr. Thomas Douglas has led the district through a dramatic facilities renaissance completely changing the face of that district after many years of minimal updates and changes. Voters recently approved a $122M project which is the second $100M+ project to be approved in that district. Horseheads definitely is attempting to address the needs of today’s students through the creation of flexible spaces. The multi-media library center literally has become the virtual hub of the entire high school. This was planned to provide multiple opportunities in a safe and secure setting for students and staff to be able to learn from each other in either large group or small teams style settings in or outside of the actual structure in the high school. This is because two major courtyards were developed with external classroom seating and space for students to explore learning in a natural, comfortable, and safe environment. Because this environment is also surrounded on all sides, it provides the entire school an opportunity for flexibility and freedom of movement for the students who attend Horseheads High School. This certainly has helped students to feel a more post-secondary education experience as the district prepares them to head out to the world of college instruction, work life, and/or military service. Dr. Douglas states, “the project as a whole has led to key developments in the abilities and skills of 21st century learners. Specifically, our capital construction project has provided greater flexibility and future prospects of allowing our students to be engaged in a more active and cohesive educational environment both in school and throughout our extracurricular programming. This is never more important than now coming through a pandemic in recent years as our students have the ability to experience a variety of realities that other local school districts have in the successes of this construction and re-envision meant of the entire Horseheads Central School District.”

The Corning-Painted Post (CPP) Area School District has experienced that same ‘facilities renaissance’ in the last 15 years as Horseheads, essentially remaking the entire school district. Superintendent Michelle Caulfield, who was involved in every aspect of those efforts, is currently leading the district through an $88M project. Corning’s approach in the creation of 21st century spaces reflects Ms. Caulfield’s strengths and background in the area of program development. A major component is the creation of the state-of-the-art greenhouse which serves as a science lab for all four core sciences. This real world science environment not only includes all elements of 21st century learning spaces and state-of-the-art equipment, but a community connection as well – the plants and seeds grown in the greenhouse go directly to local food pantries for community gardens. This space is ultimately a science lab which hundreds of students work in daily that also serves the community. In addition, Corning is also constructing multi-purpose rooms at three of their elementary schools. Ms. Caulfield states, “CPP has never had spaces besides playgrounds that allow for play, creativity, or invention. These spaces will be used to work on areas outside of classroom academics such as collaborative projects, breakout rooms, or physical education activities.”

There is growing dialogue in schools regarding the interaction of physical space, teaching, and learning in a fervor not experienced previously. Superintendent Caulfield said it best in terms of creating flexible space in the 21st century learning environment – “These spaces need to evolve and change with student and teacher needs and ideas. Space is valuable and powerful when it is not locked into a specific need with a specific schedule.”

Mike joins Welliver as our K12 Communication Liaison after 33 years working in the K12 education sector. He brings a comprehensive understanding and direct exposure to all of the issues facing public education today. In his 13 years as the Superintendent in Corning-Painted Post (CPP) Area School District, Mike led the district through four successful referendums which led to $260M in new construction from 2010-2020. Mike bridges the gap between Welliver’s construction management teams and K12 school district superintendents, school boards, and facility directors. He provides expertise and guidance, as well as helps districts carry out capital improvement initiatives involving pre-referendum voting, budget management, community outreach, and buildings and grounds personnel. Mike can be reached at [email protected].