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Owners want teams to stay, help during closeout

Owners want teams to stay,
help during closeout

"Project Closeout used to last as long as you could see the contractor’s taillights as he drove away. That has changed in the last five to 10 years" -- Montie Garrison, RLB

by MIKE BORDENARO, with MATT ABELES | Oct 9, 2015

When people talk about the explosion of technology in design and construction, they usually focus on the way it has enabled unprecedented levels of collaboration among architects, contractors, subs and suppliers. Ironically, the folks most often left out of the conversation are the ones who sign the checks.

But the more complex building projects have become, the more complex those buildings are to operate and maintain once they have been turned over to the owner. So, gone are the days when the contractor could just hand over the keys when a project was completed. For owners now, that in many ways is the day school really begins. "Project closeout used to last as long as you could see the contractor’s taillights as he drove away," joked Montie Garrison, associate principal, Rider Levett Bucknall. "That has changed in the last five to 10 years," as the concepts of building life cycle and performance measurements have taken root across the industry, he added.

FOR OPENERS: The panel that started it all included (from left) moderator Montie Garrison, RLB; James Mladucky, Northwestern Memorial Healthcare; Boyd Black, University of Chicago; Travis Kuehner, Advocate Health Care; Sean Spellman, Opus Development Co., and COAA-IL Presidet Chris Rogan, University of Illinois. (Photos by the author.)

FOR OPENERS: The panel that started it all included (from left) moderator Montie Garrison, RLB; James Mladucky, Northwestern Memorial Healthcare; Boyd Black, University of Chicago; Travis Kuehner, Advocate Health Care; Sean Spellman, Opus Development Co., and COAA-IL Presidet Chris Rogan, University of Illinois. (Photos by the author.)

Garrison made his comments at a recent "Project Closeout Workshop", sponsored by the Illinois Chapter of the Construction Owners Association of America, and hosted by COAA-IL member University of Chicago (UofC). There, construction owners and other stakeholders shared success stories and lessons learned and addressed commonly encountered problems. The event also featured two break-out sessions and lively interaction between speakers and attendees. Those on hand included reps from hospitals, universities, government agencies, law firms, architects, contractors, and tech providers.

In a series of panels and breakout sessions, presenters stressed the need for improved communication and attendees responded in highly interactive workshops and networking opportunities. One theme was struck early by host Boyd Black, UofC's assistant vice president of capital project delivery. “Planning for closeout begins at the kickoff meeting,” he said. At those meetings, "I ask contractors if project closeout is an item on their agenda. If not, I tell them that they need to begin planning for it. A project closeout checklist should really be included during the design phase," he said.

BW's Matt Abeles worked with COAA-IL's program committee to plan the event, which drew 60 attendees.

BW's Matt Abeles worked with COAA-IL's program committee to plan the event, which drew 60 attendees.

“Who makes up the checklist? The owner, the contractor, the trades on board," noted Travis Kuehner, manager of construction for national owner Advocate Health Care. He also suggested that all stakeholders really need to have input on that checklist. ”Once the building opens, you don’t want people asking, ‘How do I clean this type of floor?’” explained Kuehner. “Sometimes, it is good to have a soft start, so you can run through the building operation processes" before everyone moves in.

To get all stakeholders on the same page, Opus Development Co. has been making an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) project documentation web site available to owners for about three years, said Sean Spellman, Opus VP & General Manager. Previously, it had only been an internal site, but is now open to the entire team. “Meeting minutes are kept there along with design documents and approvals,” noted Spellman. "With all proceedings clearly available, it is obvious who has to do what, and when they have to do it. It's a different form of 'checklist', kept on file for years after closeout."

striving for a better zero

Project closeout productivity was a topic for a separate panel on technology. “Cost overruns and the punch list can become a distraction to many," noted Clay Goser, director of program management for UofC's Medicine & Biological Sciences Facilities. "If there was a focus on 'Zero Punch List' instead of 'Zero Change Orders', there could be dramatic improvements in productivity."

Moderated by Jennifer Suerth, an integrated construction manager for Mortenson Construction, the tech panel included Chuck Mies, and Gary Lane of Autodesk; Damen Loew, of Kahua; Katie Briggs, from Bluebeam; and Chris Ried, of Patrick Engineering. Said Suerth, “It is not all about BIM and model deliverables. A project execution plan is now more important than a BIM execution plan.”

She also noted that using technology to improve all communications is a key to successful closeout.

Think about process first and technology second... have technology serve the process.
— Chuck Mies, senior manager, autodesk

Mies, who is both an architect and an Autodesk senior manager, surprised many when he said, “Think about process first and technology second, and have technology serve the process.” In other words, determine what data is to be captured and how it is going to be used and maintained in operations.

His colleague Lane, a BIM360 industry strategy specialist, reinforced this approach. "Try to understand how owners want their data – how it moves through their operation,” he advised. Lane said using an API (application program interface) to get the data moving in the manner that supports owners’ long term visions, not just as a short term fix. 

Bluebeam's Briggs suggested creating an online project owner’s manual so that there is one version in one place to eliminate the problem of circulating hard copy drafts that cause version conflicts. With an online document, there can be a linked table of contents within the O&M Manual, she explained.

COAA-IL program chair Greg Meeder, Esq., a partner with Holland & Knight, facilitated the discussion on how technology has helped and hurt closeout. Not knowing what technology to invest in and how much to spend was one concern raised. On the plus side, the use of real-time data has been a positive game-changer, noted one panelist. However, another said that getting maintenance and operations personnel actually to use all the new data collected or them at closeout was still a challenge.

A final session allowed all attendees to share highlights from all the breakout sessions. COAA-IL promises to make the notes from those breakout sessions publicly available at a future date.

The authors both sit on COAA-IL's planning committee. Bordenaro is co-founder of the BIM Education Co-op, and Abeles is co-founder and managing director of BuiltWorlds.

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