COVID Exposes Need to Address Long Standing Facilities Inequities in Rural Schools

By Michael Ginalski

It is often said that crisis creates opportunity. Another thing that crisis definitely creates is a bright shining light on inequities across society. The last 18 months of the coronavirus have demonstrated that State and Federal lawmakers must make a financial commitment to address the long standing facilities inequities that our rural schools have experienced for decades. Rural schools are often the hub of their community and these districts provide a great product to the citizens and children of those communities often doing the most with the least. However, schools and districts in rural areas face a number of issues with their facilities including the age of buildings, a lack of 21st century technology infrastructure, a lack of energy efficiency, and various environmental issues all of which were fully exposed during the pandemic. This does not even begin to address educational needs as basic infrastructure needs continue to be a high priority. These issues are not easily solved as rural districts have lower bonding capacities and leaders who wear many hats so financing, developing, and managing a facilities project is very challenging.

As we saw the stories of students having to connect to the internet for virtual school at the local volunteer fire department or in front of the local McDonald’s, as a nation we were horrified. Children in the United States of America in the 21st century should have broadband access. However, many of our rural communities do not which creates quite the uneven playing field in comparison with students from urban and higher population centers. While our rural schools do have access to internet, access to devices is limited. Trying to learn from a teacher who is instructing from a cell phone is not the same as having a laptop device with high speed internet. Technology access in the rural school environment is just one of the myriad of infrastructure issues brought into the open by COVID. Is a 1:1 computer initiative possible in a rural school? Possibly, but many rural schools are older and were not built to support the infrastructure to power and utilize an entire building logging onto the internet simultaneously.

Air filtration issues became a very high priority during COVID as the coronavirus is airborne. Because of this, well functioning air ventilation systems were a must. This proved to be challenging in some schools because the existing infrastructure was not designed to do what State education departments and health departments directed schools to do. The issue of air conditioning in schools became a hot topic this Spring as temperatures increased. Students were in masks as directed and keeping doors and windows open is not the option that it once was because of school safety concerns.

But, there is a path forward. First and foremost is the creation of a solid five to ten year facilities plan. At Welliver, we can help rural districts develop Facility Master Plans and the technical assistance to begin to attack these issues in rural schools. This includes assessing existing facility conditions and educational needs and capital funding opportunities. In rural districts, districts leaders often have multiple direct responsibilities unlike district leaders in larger districts. Employing a Construction Manager (CM) who can act as the agent of the school district in all aspects of planning and implementation is a must. Maximizing dollars is paramount. In smaller rural districts the CM can work with the district’s architect ensuring that plans are developed that not only meet all identified needs but do so in the most cost effective manner possible.

The recent stimulus funding to districts was a nice start to begin to help our rural school districts. However, as Federal leaders are actively negotiating an infrastructure program for the US, which includes roads and bridges, it is crucial that additional funding for rural schools be part of that package. During the pandemic, all school districts were deemed responsible to not only provide daily instruction and social emotional support but to also feed students while in a crisis. This demonstrates the importance of schools in American society. Rural schools are the center of their communities and future investment is crucial to ensure kids in those communities have an equal opportunity to their peers in larger and richer communities.

Our rural school districts in the State should stand up in pride for the job they do every day for the communities and children they serve. Rural schools are not broken or deficient. Frankly, these communities often support their schools and districts at a higher level than larger schools and districts. This is not a zero sum game and doesn’t mean more affluent or larger districts should suffer. However, rural communities deserve the same 21st century facilities that other communities have. COVID exposed the inequities further and the time is right to fix these long standing issues.

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].

Building Resilience – Reflections on Health & Safety in Construction

By Dale Partridge

As construction companies, we find ourselves not only being committed to our client’s success but also committed to the safety and welfare of our employees and the entire worksite.

When we look back at the past 12 to 16 months, we see that a critical new emphasis was placed on safety and health in the workplace. COVID-19 has had all of us taking a long hard look at our existing safety policies, new policies and procedures, as well as compliance concerns from a number of enforcement authorities. Some items were temporary additions such as an increased number of handwashing stations and the abundance of hand sanitizer. Obviously, the usage of hand sanitizer along with social distancing and facial coverings has been an integral part of keeping our employees safer during the past year. In addition, we are now faced with the growing availability of vaccines. With this new added and more permanent layer of protection, we should be more insulated against mass outbreaks. At all times our employees and worksites must put safety first.

Most all construction companies are far too familiar with weathering the storm of inspections from multiple agencies. However, this past year has brought about a whole new emphasis in regard to COVID-19. The pandemic forced us to reevaluate how we work as a company and also as a member of a team. Corporate directives along with Federal and State guidelines/mandates dictated how we worked for the past year.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we were all asked to follow a long list of changing protocols. Social distancing, facial coverings, and quarantines were all part of the process. At the same time, we were expected to design, develop, and initiate a COVID-19 Safety and Response Plan. I believe OSHA to have had a direct positive impact in getting companies to comply with the necessary requirements to keep their employees and worksites safe. As a result of the policy changes and Safety and Response Plans, I believe that companies will keep some of the policies in place for emergency situations in the future.

When the directive to prepare and implement a COVID-19 Safety and Response Plan first came to us, we were already up to speed with having the input for safety protocols from both the New York State Department of Health and the CDC. In addition, we had already prepared multiple plans involving our work environment, working from home, facial coverings, etc. Having this information made the task of developing a Safety and Response Plan a little less troublesome. The expectation of being inspected by OSHA compliance officers assisted with any timeline issues for completion.

When we take a step back and look at the above paragraphs it is easy to see that most all of our dealings with COVID-19 were reactive. Being prepared is an overstatement when we look at the COVID-19 pandemic. It truly is something that none of us had ever experienced in the past. However, it was not the first disease outbreak for most of us. In 1981 we dealt with HIV, in 2014 Ebola, and in 2016 the Zika virus. When we first faced this pandemic, our company was already putting protocols and policies in place for the entire organization. We took practical knowledge from years past, some on the spot education, PPE, and common hygiene practices and used that to protect and educate our employees and worksites.

When the time came for a COVID-19 Safety and Response Plan, it was easy to put the practical applications into a formal document. As information changed, the policies and procedures changed. For example, our facial covering requirements changed along with, when, and where to social distance. In order to give our employees a healthy and safe workplace, our documents needed to be fluid and have the ability to be modified. The results? Extremely safe workplaces where COVID-19 cases were kept to an absolute minimum.

When you have the commitment for safety starting at the executive/owner level, it is always easier to maintain a certain safety standard.

This type of commitment is especially needed as OSHA has launched a National Emphasis Program (NEP) that directly relates to an employer’s responsibility to protect its employees as it relates to COVID-19 and the protections that go along with workers reporting unhealthy or unsafe conditions. NEP means that OSHA will be looking at how employers are handling this emphasis across the nation. If a deficiency is detected, then the employer risks getting a citation for noncompliance. Welliver has always been in line with OSHA compliance. In fact, at times Welliver has already had policies/directives in place before OSHA put out their mandates.

An employer does have a responsibility to its employees and its worksites. This responsibility is a lot easier to manage having the company’s management team on board with safety. When safety starts at the top it filters throughout the company like a moving body of water. This is what allows any construction company to meet the commitment of safety to its employees and the commitment to their clients.

Dale is a subject matter expert on the topic of safety and a veteran professional with a diverse background in compliance and quality control. Paired with an extensive list of OSHA training and certifications, Dale is responsible for the overall status and facilitation of Welliver’s safety training programs, as well as safety compliance, tracking, reporting, documentation, and oversight of all on-site safety managers. He creates an environment of personal accountability, and plays an integral role in maintaining Welliver’s position as a leader in workplace safety. Dale is Welliver’s Director of Safety and can be reached at [email protected] 

Building Blocks to Effective Project Leadership

By Michael Ginalski

In this multi-media world of the 21st century, we are bombarded with references associated with how to be a leader and what constitutes great leadership. One thing that is certain is the ‘quality’ of leadership is the differentiator between success and failure, regardless of the endeavor. When thinking about leading an actual facility construction project, those individuals involved must be prepared to perform at a very high level. The goal is to build confidence and trust with clients. Great leaders do this naturally. A true partnership with trust as the foundation is key.

Characteristics of exemplary project leadership include:

Communication. Communication. Communication.

There is no such thing as over-communication with owners and the project team. Good news, bad news, all news needs to be front and center to ensure a true partnership develops holistically.

Treat the client’s money like you would your own.

Managing all aspects of a project budget can make or break a healthy relationship with clients. Utilizing dollars wisely and conservatively, sharing concerns and problems, and working through the inevitable ebbs and flows of a project budget are critical. Poor budget management can destroy relationships. Budgeting is the companion to direction setting and serves as the reality check for all.

Safety on the job.

A true commitment to supervision of the actual worksite not only ensures solid production but protects all entities involved thus contributes to building confidence. Leadership here must have a zero tolerance approach to all potential protocol violations.

Manage time realistically.

Time is always in short supply and yes, time is money. Great project leaders know that trying to squeeze too much into a limited time period often backfires. This can lead to owner/client unhappiness. Be real about time constraints and do not over-promise.

Recognize and accept as a leader that you will not always have the answers.

You may think you should be “all knowing.” Truly great project leaders recognize that it is ultimately their job to help the team find the right answer. A true commitment and appreciation of the power of collaboration is important.

Work every day to build a healthy team culture with clients.

Demonstrating integrity with an understanding that trust is a contract which needs to be continually renewed will ensure happy clients. When a high level of trust exists, problem solving and strategizing are maximized. A true team approach with leaders who value and demonstrate the elements associated with being a good teammate creates a positive customer experience.

If the goal is to build customer confidence and great projects simultaneously, it is imperative that project leaders not only do great work as individuals but commit to these basic principles. A commitment to all builds trust and confidence and ensures client/customer relationships are long lasting.

Mike brings a comprehensive understanding and significant exposure collaborating with construction firms after working 33 years in the K12 Education market sector. 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. A graduate of the Harvard Change Leadership Group, he knows a thing or two about building confidence and how to recognize quality project leadership. Mike is Welliver’s K12 Communication Liaison and can be reached at [email protected]

School District Facilities Master Plans – Long Range Building with a Purpose

By Michael Ginalski

School Superintendents are often faced with significant facilities challenges at some point in their careers. Imagine this scenario – a district has two 100 year old middle schools, which were designed for high schools when Woodrow Wilson was the President and became middle schools later because of a district consolidation in the early 60’s. There were no real playgrounds, a significant lack of food service and cafeteria space, office space is limited, and staff are in all available closets and storage areas as a result. Special education space is heinous at best and related service space was in hallways or any available area during a given time. Technology is severely restricted as a lack of wall and ceiling space coupled with a lack of electrical power necessary to power machines is also a major concern. These schools are completely landlocked and have been the focal point of many failed referendums which have significantly divided the community. By the way, these are two schools out of twelve …. all twelve of which are outdated and in desperate need of attention because none of them are appropriate for 21st century instruction.

I was faced with this scenario in my first year as Superintendent and as a result, we needed to take dramatic action quickly. We chose to develop a long range Facilities Master Plan which guided us through 15 years of successful construction which turned the school district around. The key was the plan we developed in the early stages which guided our work going forward.

Many districts which struggle to maintain their facilities share the same thread of no real identifiable and documented planning process. The pathway to decision making for many districts often looks like the disjointed, incremental planning based on the needs of “right now” at the expense of a solid planning process to set a district up to address future needs.

Facilities Master Plans should always be developed within an umbrella of a living, district-wide, multi-year plan as the foundation. The concept of the plan being a “living” plan requires annual review and adjustment to keep up with changes in state requirements, demographics, technology, and safety. New programming adopted by districts must be reviewed as well and considered in terms of impact and potential future facilities considerations.

A district must as one of the very first steps, hire an architect and construction management (CM) firm. The hiring of an architectural firm is an obvious step but the decision in terms of the CM can make or break a project. Having the CM at the table during planning is crucial. In traditional design, the general contractor will not review the design for issues of cost and constructability in the early stages of the work. In this scenario, without a CM owners lose the chance for oversight which can reduce construction cost, save time, increase the return on investment, and prevent costly maintenance expenses. The CM basically serves as the school district’s agent in overseeing and collaborating with architects during pre-construction, prepping all bid documents and once construction begins, overseeing all general and subcontractors. The CM collaborates with the Master Plan team during planning to provide feedback on potential schedules, validate budgets, cost management, and the phasing of work all of which are necessary to have a successful plan.

A solid Facilities Master Plan evaluates current school facilities through the use of the Building Condition Survey. The plan also serves as a communication vehicle to staff and the public regarding future facilities needs and the next steps associated with addressing those needs. These plans are generally five years in duration at a minimum but a district can create a quality 15-20 year plan if leadership is consistent. In addition to having your architect and CM as resources during planning, the school district’s financial consultant must be at the table to develop a parallel financial analysis to help Boards and Superintendents with decision making.

The key elements of a Facilities Master Plan include:

1. Community Analysis – describes the demographic and economic trends within the community which helps conceptually in terms of evaluating potential changes.

2. The Building Condition Survey is completed every five years and is the key component of Master Plan development.

3. The enrollment and projections section is generally a demographic study extending 15 years into the future. A demographic study is a necessity for long range facilities planning.

4. The instructional plan review is completed to ensure that buildings can meet the educational needs of today but also can meet the demands of the future as well. Utilizing a school district’s instructional personnel and leadership are key here.

5. The Plan is the culmination of all of the work noted above and highlights specific actions every five year period to ensure a district does not fall behind.

By spending the time to develop a Facilities Master Plan, districts can avoid the random “solve the problem of today” plan which can result in a waste of resources and ultimately, confuse the public. A good Facilities Master Plan allows districts to make the maximum and effective use of fiscal, human, and facility resources which align with and support the educational plan of a district.

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].

Construction Innovation in Schools: Protecting Our Future

By Steven Morse, Project Manager

K-12 schools across New York State have been taking on a lot more outside threats than usual.  Currently, containing COVID-19 is at the forefront. Aside from COVID, schools have been continuing to explore and implement ways to make their buildings and campuses safer. To effectively learn, students need to feel safe and comfortable.

Regardless of a school’s size, location, and reputation, school security is at the forefront of concern.  Innovative security technologies are now being designed and constructed into school infrastructure when at all possible. Campus Notification Lockdown and Access Control Interconnect are a couple examples of technology that provides security solutions.


Campus Notification Lockdown

This infrastructure system involves audio and visual devices that puts the building in lockdown and notifies law enforcement. The device shown in the image is installed in corridors, classrooms, business offices, and other large gathering spaces. Once the administrator deems the school to be in lockdown, it prompts the network server to notify local law enforcement and will broadcast a lockdown message on the device shown. This quickly initiates classrooms and other spaces to go into a practiced and pre-rehearsed lockdown hiding.

Additionally, lockdown will trip all doors that are ajar and are connected to the fire alarm system. This ensures that all classroom doors are locked shut and all corridor doors are closed similar to a fire. The features of this system are expanding with the capability of sending notifications to mobile devices. My opinion is the Campus Notification Lockdown system is a great asset for schools.

Access Control Interconnect

This infrastructure tool enables the school district to grant access via key fob to specific spaces for specific individuals. This security solution does not allow anyone (outside of faculty and staff) to enter a school building freely. For example, at one of Welliver’s more recent projects for the Addison Central School District, we played out how someone unaffiliated with the school would enter the building. When entering the school, the individual has to ring a video monitored doorbell signaling back to the main office, who can identify the individual through either a window or the video door bell. Once the main office grants access, the individual is able to enter the building’s vestibule area. When in the fully enclosed and locked glass vestibule, employees of the main office have another full body visual of the individual asking permission to enter the school. The main office can then trip the electric strike to allow the individual to enter. The school’s main office is also a secure space that would require the employee to trip another electric strike in order to release the door entering the actual school.

This example provides three (3) measures of security: 1.) the front door of the school is locked with vestibule access required, 2.) the school’s vestibule area is locked with main office access required, and 3.) the main office is locked with school access required.

Whether it’s upgrading video surveillance, door hardware, or even lighting controls signaling security breach, innovative technology in supporting school safety is going to play a big part in school construction for the foreseeable future. The two security measures mentioned above have a visible security presence, places student security at the fingertips of our school administrators, and contributes to protecting our students in school where they should feel safest.

Steve is a construction management professional who has managed projects of all sizes for clients representing diverse industries, including K12 Education. His broad range of expertise in architecture, quality control, budgeting and schedule, construction field inspection, as well as construction technology has brought significant value to his project management and construction competency. Steve’s motivation to learn and enhance new skills in construction management keeps him highly driven to take on complex projects. His ability to define the project and execute in the best interest of the client has built long-term professional relationships. Steve can be reached at [email protected]

Solid Pre-Referendum Planning: a must in K12 School Construction

By Michael Ginalski

A retired NFL coach by the name of Bill Parcells once said “you don’t get any medals for trying” and that phrase holds true in planning for a successful school referendum. To achieve support from a community, Superintendents and Boards of Education must recognize that the idea of “trying hard” isn’t enough. A very high level of strategic planning is necessary which addresses multiple factors which influence everything from how the project meets student educational needs to recognizing the socio-political forces within a community that can impact a vote. Starting from day one, here are five key elements to consider before launching your facilities planning effort:

What’s the plan?

Every district needs to consistently review and update their facilities Master Plan which includes Building Condition Survey (BCS) information. Ultimately, this plan must ensure that future construction supports the instructional plan of the school district. A long-term facilities Master Plan is definitely preferable and ensures districts stay on track.

Trust is a must.

Teamwork and a trusting relationship between the Owner, Architect, and Construction Manager is vitally important to the success of a vote. The three entities must be moving as one as directed by the district to ensure needs are met and the project is a success. Without this, a referendum will likely not be successful.

Communicate. Listen. Share.

Engaging the staff and community during this phase is vital. Teachers, staff, and community can help districts during this phase eliminate potential blind spots both in the development of the project proposal and managing forces within the community. A consistent commitment to communicating with the staff and public is absolutely necessary.

Finances, of course.

A thorough review of debt limit, state aid ability, maximizing dollars, and controlling costs in developing the plan is a very necessary step in the pre-referendum process. Solid estimators, bond counsel, and school business officials are a district’s best friend in this phase.

Walk the walk!

Make sure you follow through on all promises made during this phase. Complete transparency and being honest about choices creates trust and buy in. One of the worst things that can happen in this phase is to gather feedback and not use any of it. Or worse, being dishonest about decisions made. This can make a referendum effort turn sideways in a hurry.

A successful school referendum can transform a community. Doing the hard work up front the right way will ensure that opportunity is maximized.

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].

Patient Centered Construction

by Doug Bailey, CHC, PMP

Patients come first. With hospital expansions and renovations on the rise, many healthcare facilities are challenged with protecting their occupants. Working in construction for the healthcare industry, you quickly realize that the focus is always on the patients. They are the reason why we set up and monitor infection control protective barriers, why we cover our carts before hauling construction debris through the hospital, why we check and verify that the plug-in on the other end is not a life support system before shutting off the breakers, why we confirm the fire and smoke barriers are properly sealed, and why we ensure proper negative/positive pressure and air exchanges in the hospital rooms.

Throughout the construction process it is critical to work closely with hospital staff, figuring out how to work through issues, and complete the project all without having a detrimental impact on the patient. Together, the top priority is keeping the patients safe during construction. One way to minimize the effects construction will have on patients is to implement mitigation strategies that will help to minimize dust, noise, vibrations, and shutdowns. One of the major concerns is the risk of infection caused by dust and other contaminates that may flow from the construction site into the patient areas. To avoid this, the Infection Control Risk Assessment (ICRA) matrix, developed by the American Society for Health Care Engineering (ASHE), can be used to identify the level of precautions required on the type of construction and the risk-level of nearby patients. With the proper barriers in place, it helps to keep the job site clean, carts covered, and barriers checked to keep any contaminates from patients. Arguably, there are not many ways to limit construction noise and vibration. However, our task is to figure out how to reduce the noise so that patients are not at risk or in discomfort from lack of sleep. This may be accomplished by rotating work shifts around patients, using less powerful/noisy tools, and using separate entrances/corridors away from patients to enter the work site. The shutdown of utilities is another critical item that requires close collaboration with hospital staff. It is important to give them time to prepare and institute effective life safety measures for patients effected by the shutdown. Unexpected shutdowns, such as cut cables, power lines, or gas lines are serious problems. This may not be critical in a standard commercial project. In a hospital, it is a matter of life or death.

As we continue working through the COVID pandemic, there has been more of a shift on the construction project to increase the HVAC air exchanges, increase the 99.95% HEPA Filters, and/or add Needle Point Bipolar Ionization (NPBI)) that reduces airborne particles and cleans the air. The goal is to increase the patient’s comfort level to come in and see their doctor and/or schedule surgeries. We are all adjusting to the challenges of the ever evolving rules that may be causing delays and, at times, substantial shutdowns that further postpone the delivery of much needed built medical space for hospitals and patients.

Below are examples of first-hand experiences.

We were constructing a small, four-story addition on top of an existing hospital. As the equipment was being moved, and the steel structure was being erected, an eye surgeon was performing surgery on a patient four floors down. The vibrations from the work were felt throughout the hospital building forcing the shutdown of the project. As you can imagine, any slight movement will affect the outcome of the surgery. Who would of thought there would be issues with a four-story separation? As a solution, we collaborated with facilities staff and performed work on the project around surgery schedules in order to eliminate any risks.

On another project we were working below an active Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Along the ceiling below the ICU, the team was installing duct work supports, conduit runs, sprinkler supports, and drop ceiling supports up into the concrete floor above. Needless to say, we were shut down several times due to the noise and vibrations resulting from drilling up into the concrete deck and then running the anchor up in with an impact drill. We had to sit down with the hospital staff and figure out how the project could be completed while creating less disruption to the patients and their families. Our solution was to break up the project into quadrants in which we would install everything we could into these areas, one at a time while moving patients into less active areas of the ICU.

With the standards and requirements becoming more and more complex, patient centered construction requires a deeper level of expertise on how to eliminate construction related infections and ensure patient comfort. Health and safety should be at the forefront of healthcare construction projects. Although smart planning and extensive communication play a key role, patient care takes precedence.

Doug has been a champion of the patient for more than two decades. Leveraging long-term professional relationships with clients in the healthcare industry, Doug brings significant expertise in construction, scheduling, field engineering, commissioning, and management leadership. He brings a deep portfolio of experience working on construction projects in healthcare environments where he’s managed projects ranging in size from small facility upgrades to multi-million dollar stand-alone building construction. A project management professional (PMP), Doug is well versed in the rigorous process that complex projects require at all phases of construction.

K-12 School Districts: Construction Manager vs Clerk of the Works

by Ron Gillespie

Your school district has the results of your Building Condition Survey and a capital improvements project has been deemed necessary. The district has prepared a five-year plan and identified facilities needing renovation or replacement. Now what?

Do you need a Construction Manager (CM) or a Clerk of the Works for your upcoming project(s)? This is a question that many districts struggle with when considering a capital project. However, there is no finite answer due to varying factors at each district. There are several factors to consider early in the process to help you make the right decision that fits best for your project and your district.

What is the scope and size of the project?

A project with a value of $2-3 million that can easily be completed over the summer months may be adequately managed using clerk of the works services. This method typically only provides project supervision during the construction phase of the project. However, a project valued at $5-15 million and more with multi-year schedules require much more expertise and planning services. Examples include coordinating work in your buildings during the school year, managing multiple contractors in many different trades, as well as managing and tracking project costs. This is where a construction manager (CM) may be a much better value for the district and the project.

The main difference is the depth of resources available to make the project efficient and successful. A construction management firm can provide multiple staff experienced in complex construction projects as well as support services to document and track schedules, budgets, and progress of large projects. A CM is typically involved in the project early on and through to final completion of the process. The CM is also involved in the planning and design phases of the project as well as the construction phase. A construction management firm, working in partnership with the district, can provide pre-referendum and pre-construction services such as estimating and value engineering that can maximize the district’s investment. These services and resources are not normally provided through a clerk of the works.

What if my project is small but complex in design and duration?

Some firms offer hybrid services that can include pre-planning assistance and clerk of the works services for the construction phase. This can be a good option for financial efficiency while providing the safety net of resources, if needed, that a construction management firm can provide.

So, what is the right choice for your district and your project?

Each district should evaluate their vision pertaining to facilities. If it’s a small, short term project then possibly a clerk of the works is the best choice. If it is a larger project or part of a long term facilities plan, my advice would be partner with a construction management firm that will be on your team from the early beginning to provide all the resources needed and ensure a successful journey to meet your facility goals.

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]

Construction is one of the most innovative and adaptable industries.

by Drew Bloss, Project Manager

Innovation and technological advances within the construction industry are changing the way in which we work on a daily basis, and are helping us as construction professionals to produce stellar projects in an unprecedently efficient manner. I’m currently working on the North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE) project at Cornell University and out of all of the projects I have worked on throughout the past 8 years, this project leverages the industry’s latest advancements and innovations more so than any other I’ve experienced in my career. Prefabrication and LEAN Construction techniques are two areas specifically that this project excels at, so I feel it would be interesting to share a few high-level examples of each.

Prefabricated Materials

At the conclusion of the NCRE project, there will be just over 2,000 new beds available to Cornell freshman and sophomores across 5 separate buildings. With this many occupants comes the need for a whole lot of bathrooms. From framing and rough-ins to the finishes and fixtures, constructing stick-built bathrooms is typically a very time-consuming process as nearly every trade has to contribute in some way, shape, or form.

At NCRE, we have streamlined this process by having the bathrooms premanufactured off-site and delivered when they are needed. Premanufactured bathrooms will be installed in most suites and individual residences throughout the buildings, totaling to a count of 432. We refer to these bathrooms as PODs, as they look like a framed box from the outside, but on the inside, they are fully finished bathrooms.

A few of my colleagues and I took a trip out to Ohio where these PODs are being manufactured to review the process. The production is set up in an assembly line fashion and at any given time, there are approximately 50 PODs on the line in various stages of assembly and finishing. It takes roughly 26 days for a single POD to make its way from the start of production to punch list completion, and every day 2 PODs come off of the line and two new PODs are added. This results in a production rate of 10 finished PODs a week, a timeline that would be tough to match with traditional on-site construction methods. On average, we set anywhere between 4 to 6 bathroom PODs in a single day and once a POD is set, there is minimal work that needs to be done until the PODs are framed in with the rest of the floors. By assembling bathrooms off-site, their production can be independent of the tasks that are occurring on-site, and visa-versa. This saves a substantial amount of time, and frees up manpower to focus their efforts elsewhere.

Prefabrication has also been utilized for the buildings’ exterior envelopes. Exterior wall systems can vary greatly in how they are constructed and the time it takes to bring them together, so manufacturing all of the necessary structural components and control layers of exterior walls off-site in controlled environments is an obvious time saver and allows for more aggressive scheduling. The majority of the buildings on this project have envelopes that are made up of pre-cast concrete wall panels. Across all of the buildings, there is a total of 1,570 wall panels, accounting for approximately 220,000 SF of building frontage. Each wall panel is comprised of an interior wythe of concrete, polyiso foil-faced insulation, an exterior wythe of concrete, and individual terracotta tiles that make up the architectural face of the panels. All of these components are cast together in two phases to create a unitized exterior wall panel. When they arrive at the job site, they are set one at a time by a crane and locked into place, immediately forming an insulated exterior wall. From there, panels need to be caulked from both the in and outside, and windows are installed in their designated openings. At a rate of roughly 8 wall panels a day, this process quickly encloses the buildings, which is a critical milestone for all downstream tasks within the building.

LEAN Construction

An essential aspect of managing construction projects is to always know where the project is in relation to the master schedule. It’s extremely hard for a project to be successful if milestones are not closely tracked and tasks not scheduled on a weekly basis. At the time that I am writing this, we have nearly 300 people on-site every day, working in all 5 buildings. The buildings are all in various stages of construction, anywhere from foundations and steel erection to taping and painting, and everywhere in between. It was essential that a process be put in place early on in the project that would enable Welliver as the CM, as well as all of trade partners and the client to understand what stage of the project we were in at any given time, and what tasks would be coming up in the near future. It was also important to be able to break down a 3-year long project into more manageable and less overwhelming chunks.

Ultimately the decision was made to utilize a LEAN Construction technique known as Pull Planning. As part of the Pull Planning process, we meet 3 days a week with the foremen, superintendents, and project managers of all trade partners to collaborate and develop a sequence of tasks that ensure that the project as a whole is staying on schedule. The purview of a Pull Planning meeting is typically 3 weeks ahead, although we often plan for certain milestones that are several weeks to months out. With this approach, everyone is made aware of what each trade’s tasks are and what they need in order to get it done. It is also extremely helpful in identifying potential issues well in advance since there are so many different perspectives that are involved in the planning process. We are nearly a year into the project at this point in time and so far, this process has been extremely successful. It creates a sense of teamwork between contractors and the CM, which breeds an overall culture of focus, accountability, and comradery.

Prefabrication and LEAN Construction techniques are only a few of the many examples of how the NCRE project is taking advantage of the latest innovations and technologies that the construction industry has to offer. It’s important to note though that although these things help to make the construction process more efficient and effective, it takes an extremely dedicated and organized team of people to make it all work. Between my colleagues on the CM team and the trade partners putting the work in place, the NCRE project has a truly impressive group of individuals that put their best foot forward on a daily basis to ensure that this monumental project is a success. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of it.

Drew has been applying advanced construction technology to projects for nearly a decade. He recognizes that every project has its own set of unique variables such as the weather, availability of materials, cooperation from project members, changes in scope, and constructability issues. One of the most challenging aspects of being a project manager is identifying and handling those variables while maintaining the project budget and schedule. Leveraging significant experience working with construction technology and innovative methods, Drew applies this knowledge to make the construction process more efficient.

Construction is open for business. Focus is on safety.

by Dale Partridge

Every business is now faced with the challenges of these unprecedented times. We as employers in the construction industry must move forward to the re-opening of our businesses – to complete our projects on time and bring our employees back to work all while complying with New York State guidelines and ensuring our job sites are safe for everyone. Construction has been able to continue to operate in a limited capacity through these challenging times while navigating the numerous changes and protocols.

When looking at re-opening we need to consider a multitude of items that effect how we will now conduct business. We have input from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), New York State Department of Health, New York State Executive Orders, as well as guidance from the State and Federal level.  It may seem a bit overwhelming, however the requirements from all these sources and more can be met with good planning and investment from your companies top management through to the newest hire.

Right from the beginning, Welliver formed a committee to stay abreast of the latest protocol and orders regarding safety on our job sites. We had just one chance to get it right and we enveloped this situation and information to ensure that we did. Without covering the natural progression of events over the past three months, I will explain how we are operating today.

Priority number one was the open communication to all our employees and educating them about the COVID-19 virus. We have come to learn that when employees are better educated on a topic they are more compelled to comply with changes. In addition to the education component there are a number of posters which also explain the signs and symptoms of the virus, how to maintain good personal hygiene, social distancing, proper wearing of face coverings and more. In fact, some of these posters are required to be present in multiple locations on job sites.

This new “normal” has left us with new procedures, policies, and protocols. We are now faced with having a COVID-19 Policy/Plan for every job site. For those that hire Union employees like Welliver, it may be best served to collaborate with other construction corporations to ensure a consistent policy and best practice is being followed throughout your region. We collaborated with other companies and the end result was a very positive message that we were all going to share the same information with our employees. In addition, Welliver was able to offer an already implemented COVID-19 Safety Plan to the other members of the group to use as a template for their respective companies.

We have been fortunate to be able to work throughout this pandemic at one location or another. With that we have continued to gather information and learn as we progressed. Once our initial foundation was set with our employees the rest was administrative changes to policy and procedures. Again, the changes were able to be made without resistance because of our continued open line of communication. Welliver has been very successful with the handling of this pandemic. We have made and continue to make our job sites a safe and healthy place to work.

For additional information, go to OSHA’s website. It provides coronavirus-related guidance for construction industry employers and workers. The guidance includes recommended actions to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus while on a job site or at the office.

Dale is Welliver’s Director of Safety. He is a subject matter expert on the topic of safety and a veteran professional with a diverse background in compliance and quality control. Paired with an extensive list of OSHA training and certifications, Dale is responsible for the overall status and facilitation of Welliver’s  safety training programs, as well as safety compliance, tracking, reporting, documentation, and oversight of all on-site safety managers. He creates an environment of personal accountability, and plays an integral role in maintaining Welliver’s position as a leader in workplace safety.