Lessons Learned

By Joseph Raccuia

Today’s complex construction projects undertaken by parks and recreation departments demand an experienced advocate to ensure the owner’s best interests in all aspects of the work. A constructability review (CR)—an independent, structured review of design documents by construction professionals—levels the playing field among project owners, contractors, vendors, and architects. The goal of a CR is to save the owner time and money by uncovering issues that may affect construction, such as errors, omissions, uncertainties, and conflicts. The review is designed to make certain that the plans and specifications reflect the project intention and documents are coordinated to reduce or eliminate ambiguities that may negatively impact the project. Benefits include reduced costs and schedule, a smoother construction process, and a reduction in public relations and legal issues.

How A Constructability Review Works
A CR is a critical-thinking exercise. It typically occurs in four phases, and is most effective when the design is 30-, 60-, and 100-percent complete. If project owners wait until the design is 100-percent complete to begin the review, implementing proposed changes may be unrealistic because of any associated redesign costs.

Early in the design, components of the project evolve quickly, and it is difficult for all the disciplines (e.g., architects, construction managers, designers, and contractors) to stay on top of the developing design. Hence, errors can occur. For example, a sidewalk leading from the parking lot to the building is required, yet is not shown on the plans. If this is not caught early in the process, the contractor would be entitled to a change order. The objective of the CR is to minimize or eliminate these situations and delay claims during construction by ensuring that the design documents are fully buildable.

The actions of a CR may include the following:

  • Print drawings and become familiar with the project.
  • Focus on the role of each trade discipline: landscaping, civil engineering, architecture, structure, pool equipment, plumbing, HVAC, and electrical components.
  • Review each design sheet in detail and mentally build the components by following the steps a contractor would take. The CR process will determine if all of the information is included in the design necessary to build the project. If any information is missing, the reviewer will add it to the list of items that needs to be included in the plans by the designer. It is critical that the person performing the CR also has experience to actually build the project.
  • When questions or concerns are raised during the review, check to see if the answers may be found in the design document. If not, make a note to contact the designer. For example, the process should identify existing underground utilities. If the reviews turn up undocumented utilities, then the designer must locate all of them on the drawing.

Constructability reviews are not simply completed by reviewing drawings in an office. Site visits are extremely important—especially in renovation projects—to obtain a complete picture of the project. Many potential problems may be discovered during the site visit. An example is concealed items in the walls (such as plumbing and HVAC pipes). Someone experienced in CRs will be able to analyze the site conditions to identify those.

Definitions And Misconceptions
Some owners may not see the value in initiating a CR since they are already hiring professional architects and contractors to perform the work. However, the CR scrutinizes the plans through the eyes of the contractor, looking for challenges that will need to be addressed in the bid price and construction approach. Common issues identified during a CR include:

  • Concealed items, such as underground utilities, HVAC, or plumbing lines, and not identified properly (such as in the renovation example)
  • The incompatibility of construction materials (e.g., stainless-steel bolts may not be used with galvanized-steel materials because it increases the likelihood that the two materials will corrode each other)
  • Mechanical and electrical rooms not large enough to house all of the equipment specified, or that may not have the required clearances by code
  • A lack of space in ceilings that may make it difficult to install fire protection, plumbing and HVAC ducts, and light fixtures
  • Staging or construction lay-down areas
  • Space constraints during construction
  • Accuracy of the construction drawings.

Saving Time, Money, And Finger-Pointing 
One common misconception is that CRs simply add one more layer of overhead to a project. In reality, these reviews help avoid unforeseen costs and schedule delays. For example, an owner of a natatorium project did not take the time to perform a CR. After the building was turned over, the owner noticed a brown rain that fell on the swimmers during the winter months. This odd occurrence persisted for five years until it was determined that the air barrier had been penetrated by screws fastening the roof system. The barrier was not self-sealing, and once that barrier was breached, condensation seeped through the holes and corroded the screws. The rusted “rain” passed through the holes and fell on the patrons. The result: lawsuits, claims, a public-relations nightmare, and millions in repairs. This nightmare could have been prevented if a CR had shown the need for a self-sealing air barrier.

Since parks and recreation capital projects are expensive and funds are often tight, there is no room for error. For example, mechanical equipment and process equipment rooms need to be laid out with actual sizes/clearances of equipment in order to avoid unnecessary construction delays and changes if the rooms are not sized properly during design.

A CR also will help the owner develop a phasing schedule—especially when working at a facility that is open and operating during construction. For example, one project involved adding a senior wing to an existing recreation center. The specifications required provisions to minimize disruption to the areas that were in use. To solve this problem, an air and sound separation between the existing open areas and the construction areas subsequently was recommended during the CR, allowing the construction to move forward without disrupting the building patrons and increasing the safety of the facility’s guests and employees.

No matter the size, all projects benefit from a properly conducted CR. Not only does it reduce the need or scope of change orders, claims, and schedule delays, but it also goes a long way in preserving a better relationship between all parties on the project.

Joseph Raccuia, PE, CCM, LEED AP, BD+C, is a Director of Construction at H. R. Gray, a Columbus, Ohio-based construction management and consulting firm that has utilized a CR approach to ensure project success for more than 100 public owners—including many park systems—for more than four decades. Reach him at (614) 487-1335 or jraccuia@hrgray.com.