The 60-Day Wonder—A K-12 Project Story

By Arden E. Everhart, Jr., Life Safety and Electronic Systems Design, URS Corp., Denver September 1, 2006

Following is a construction log from a fast-track summertime renovation project for the fire alarm and security system upgrade at a typical K-12 educational facility. It spells out all the challenges faced by the building team, a two-story, 207,000-sq.-ft. high school

November 2005 : The Request for Qualifications (RFQ) selection process begins. We are notified of a proposed construction renovation project for a school district in the metropolitan Denver area.

Jan. 20, 2006 : We are awarded the project. Now we have to assemble a project design fee acceptable to the school district.

Jan. 24 : We visit the school district’s records archive to secure as-built drawings that might affect our fee estimate. We copy all the existing architectural, mechanical, electrical and special systems (fire and security) drawings available.

Jan. 25 : A brief visit to the site hopefully will result in a realistic estimate of the time required for site work—surveys and commissioning services. We come away confident enough about the existing building and system conditions to put together a representative project fee.

Jan. 26 : The initial fee estimate and proposal language are reviewed internally. This is my first project with URS, and I’m being extra careful. We go over the estimate hours and the proposal language several times.

Jan. 27 : Our initial fee estimate, proposal language and work tasks are sent to the school district for review.

Jan. 28 : Review of the project contract terms starts. This is where the seemingly unstoppable force—my firm—meets the immovable object: the district. First, we propose our terms. Then, the district furnishes their standard consultant design services contract terms, which are non-negotiable. Little do I suspect that the next three weeks will involve so many internal meetings with our legal, contracts and operations departments—not to mention the sheer number of forms required for project sign-off. When all is said and done, nine out of a possible 18 internal approval signatures have been obtained for the project.

Feb. 2 : Although we don’t yet have a set fee or contract in place, we start the site survey process in order to get the design package done in time to bid the work, scheduled for the coming summer. The survey is undertaken after school hours, from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. But the school seems just as busy with activities, which sometimes run until 9 p.m. This, along with locked doors, means we only get through about 40% of the site survey.

Feb. 3 : The site survey continues the next evening. There are just as many activities going on as last night. We get through another 40% of the survey, which is enough to get the schematic design (SD) narrative and cost estimate started.

Feb. 4 : The SD narrative process begins. Due to the extremely short design time available, we proceed into design documents (DD) level drawings at the same time.

Feb. 16 : Round two of the revised fee estimate and proposal language is sent out. It’s at this point that the district incorporates additional electrical ground and bond testing scope into the project.

March 7 : The final 20% of the site survey is completed. At this point we determine that there is insufficient 120-volt AC emergency power available for the new fire alarm and security panels. We determine that a new emergency power transformer and emergency electrical panel will be required for the project.

March 10 : The final revised fee estimate and proposal language is submitted and approved.

March 14 : The preliminary SD narrative and cost estimate is furnished for district review. Since this is the first SD design submittal, which includes the updated district standards for access control and video surveillance systems, there is a good deal of revisions required.

March 20 : The final SD narrative and cost opinions are delivered. At this point we determine the project budget will not support the video surveillance and access control systems. This should not be a problem since it is funded from a separate program source. Unfortunately, we find out that this additional funding cannot be moved to an earlier point in the bond program schedule. The district, however, decides that the cabling for these future systems will be part of this project. We now have to reconfigure the project design parameters to adjust for the additional cost of this cabling.

March 24 : The 100% DD design package is furnished for review. We had to adjust about 25 security drawings to reflect the cable decision made at the SD review. We are proceeding with the construction documents (CDs) design package at the same time.

March 31 : We receive DD review comments. Fortunately, there are few required changes. The biggest change involves removing the security system equipment panels from emergency power. The project budget will not support the additional separate automatic transfer switch (ATS) and emergency generator feeders required to supply emergency power to the security systems.

April 11 : The 95% CD design package and cost opinion is furnished to the district for review.

April 12, 7:30 a.m. : The final cost review meeting takes place. We are carrying a small contingency, which puts the project about $25,000 over budget. So, we identify three alternate deducts to include in the final bid documents. District policy requires that the bid alternates be taken in order, so we negotiate in which order the alternates are to be numbered. Everyone has a different opinion.

April 13 : Request to Bid letters are faxed to pre-selected district contractors. They are sent with a request for each bidder to respond that they will or will not be bidding the project.

April 14 : Final bid documents are issued. It’s been a hectic day and a half, adjusting the 55 drawings and the spec book to reflect the deductive alternates.

April 17 : I find out that only two of the eight pre-selected contractors will bid. The rest are busy with other projects, and they feel the bid timeframe is too short.

April 18, 2:00 p.m. : After a marathon phone effort, I manage to procure commitments from a total of five bidders, by adjusting the bid date by a week. We issue Addendum 1, revising the mandatory pre-bid meeting from 3 p.m. today to Thursday. Another frantic round of phone calls is required to contact the bidders who are already on their way to today’s pre-bid meeting.

May 2, 10 a.m. : Bid opening. We receive two bids to open. Fortunately, the project comes in at about 10% under budget, allowing the entire project, including the deduct alternates, to proceed.

May 2, 11:30 a.m. : A third bidder arrives with his bid package. The original bid date time of 12 p.m. had been revised to 10 a.m. under a bid addendum. The situation immediately puts the district purchasing agent on guard for a potential bid protest.

May 2, 2 p.m. : I race back to the office to gather all the bid addendum fax transmission receipts notifying the bidders of the revised bid date, and more importantly, the revised bid opening time. I run back to the district with copies. Purchasing is now satisfied that any bid protests have no warrant.

May 3 : The bid award letter goes to the successful bidder.

May 4 : Electronic drawing files and the requested hard copy bid sets are forwarded to the contractors. They now have three weeks to prepare product data and shop drawing submittals. It feels like a marathon, but we managed to compress 18 weeks of design time into a little more than 11 weeks. We enjoy the bid success for a moment, before contemplating that we will only have 60 calendar days of construction time.

May 25 : The fire alarm shop drawings and submittals are submitted for approval to the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). Since I already did a sheet-by-sheet review of the bid documents design set with the AHJ, I feel very comfortable that there will be no required changes from the formal shop drawing review. The bid document design set included all device placements, circuiting, load calculations, details and the one-line riser diagram.

May 25, 1 p.m. : Contractor kick-off meeting. We go over the proposed contractor project schedule, the proposed work hours and the school’s scheduled activities. The contractor is required to work around the school’s summer activities. The biggest hurdle is the gym, which has basketball, wrestling and volleyball camps for the first three weeks of June. After that, the gym is scheduled for painting the second and third weeks of July. The gym floor is scheduled for refinishing the last week of July and the first week of August. The design/construction team convinces the district to postpone the floor refinishing until Christmas break.

June 1 : Last day of school.

June 2 : Demolition begins. The contractors have to work around the teachers, who are clearing out their rooms and belongings for summer break.

June 6, 8 a.m. : The first site construction meeting takes place. Product data submittals, shop drawings and cable samples are received. We discover that the record mechanical drawings, which reflected 24-volt DC smoke fire dampers, and the record electrical drawings, which reflected 120-volt AC door holders, are incorrect. We actually have 24-volt DC door holders and 120-volt AC dampers. Fortunately, we are able to make a design change correction in the meeting without a cost impact to the project.

June 6, 9 a.m. : We conduct our first rough cable inspection. A few things are noted, but everything looks pretty good. The contractor suggests building a wall in the main telecom equipment room to accommodate all the additional fire alarm and security equipment panels scheduled to be installed there.

June 14 : The district project manager is on vacation, and I have jury duty. I have already postponed the jury duty summons twice during the design phase, so I can’t get out of it a third time. Another district maintenance department technician steps in to conduct the meeting. I find out at noon that I am not selected for the jury.

June 15 : We get district approval for the telecom room wall change, and the contractor constructs the wall.

June 20, 8 a.m. : Another site construction meeting. Everything seems to be on track. The contractors are about 45% complete on the rough installation (cable and raceway). One item to note is that the security cable (special jacket striping configuration) is on back-order.

June 27, 8 a.m. : The next site construction meeting is held. The building electrical outage for the ground and bond testing is scheduled for tomorrow. The building’s facility manager is concerned that most of the computers and monitors are still running in the building. An emergency call to the district telecom department results in a technician being routed to the building that afternoon to power down all the PCs. We find out from the contractor that some pre-existing electrical deficiencies have been found above ceiling—not part of this project’s scope. Also, a portion of the fire-rated drop ceiling located above the visible drop ceiling is missing some tiles and has uncaulked penetrations. The contractor is requested to provide change order pricing to correct the electrical deficiencies. A school district architect is scheduled to take a look at the fire-rated drop ceiling issue. We are about 30% complete on the project.

June 28, 8 a.m. : Building power is shutdown for the test. Good news! The ground and bond testing results came back much better than expected. Besides a couple of minor deficiencies found in the electrical switchgear, which were fixed during the outage, no additional electrical scope or budget has to be added to the project.

July 3, 3 p.m. : We realize that the normal Tuesday site construction meeting falls on the 4th of July. A round of phone calls reschedules the meeting to Wednesday morning.

July 5, 8 a.m. : A fairly normal site construction meeting. The only item to note is that the state electrical inspector found and wrote up a few of the above-ceiling electrical deficiencies during his rough electrical inspection. The back-ordered security cable is now on-site and scheduled for installation by July 14. We are about 50% complete on the project.

July 12, 8 a.m. : Another fairly normal site construction meeting. The district telecom project manager attends the meeting and notes that the contractor did not hire one of the district’s authorized telecom contractors to install the new phone and data cabling to the fire alarm and security panels. It needs to be removed and redone. The fire alarm system programming is scheduled for Thursday and Friday this week. We are about 75% complete on the project.

July 12, 9 a.m. : During the site walk-through, the district telecom project manager notices that our newly constructed wall in the main telecom equipment room interferes with the location for the new high-speed optical Ethernet equipment that the telecom group is having done through a different contractor. We have to move it!

July 19, 8 a.m. : With a little less than two weeks to go, we have the next-to-last construction site meeting. The contractor has now relocated the infamous telecom wall. It cost three times as much this time around, since all the panels were already mounted, the raceway complete, the power connected and all cable dropped in at the previous wall location. Fire alarm programming is scheduled for completion later today, with pre-testing scheduled for later this week. The point list needs to be completed so that the district’s central station personnel can program their receiver for the new system points. The security system programming and panel terminations are starting to lag behind. We are about 90% complete.

July 20 : I receive a request for information (RFI) regarding shutdown for the six gym HVAC units. Apparently, the existing HVAC units do not have automatic shutdown capability. They can only be manually commanded to shut down by the building automation system. The contractor is investigating a viable HVAC shutdown solution for these units.

July 25, 8 a.m. : The last scheduled construction meeting. We now have only 168 hours left! The fire alarm contractor has completed his system troubleshooting and will start pre-testing later today. We still have no solution for the gym HVAC shutdowns. I make a decision that having the rest of the system fully operational is more important than fighting with these six gym units. We will address the gym HVAC situation with the AHJ prior to the test if they are still non-functional. The AHJ system test scheduled for Friday, July 28 is postponed until Monday at noon. We’re really cutting this close! The contractor will e-mail the fire alarm system database to the district central station person this evening. The security contractor assures us that the system will be up and running by Aug. 1, even though their technicians are not scheduled to start until tomorrow. We also find out that the security panel uninterruptible power supply units are on back-order.

July 26 : The security contractor begins panel terminations and troubleshooting of their system. The fire alarm contractor begins final system pre-testing.

July 28, 8 a.m. : The district decides it now wants to exercise one of the outstanding change orders, adding four additional sprinkler valve tamper control switches to the existing sprinkler system.

July 28, 4 p.m. : I receive an urgent e-mail from the contractor stating that the sprinkler contractor cannot get these additional sprinkler switches installed until Aug. 2—one day past the contractual completion date. This is acceptable to the district, as these switches were not part of the original contract work scope.

July 31, 1 p.m. : The AHJ testing begins. We get through device spot testing on half of the building (the non-classroom portion). We verify audible sound levels and visual signaling coverage patterns. Everything works correctly. We then request that the AHJ return tomorrow to complete the system testing. But tomorrow is the AHJ’s scheduled day off. We ask for a temporary certificate of occupancy for the building. Because the system worked properly during the testing, the AHJ grants our TCO request. The remaining AHJ testing is scheduled for Aug. 2 at 7 a.m.

Aug. 1, 12:30 p.m. : I receive an urgent call from the principal notifying me that they have six remedial classroom sessions scheduled for tomorrow morning from 8 until 11:30, involving around 120 students. These sessions can’t be changed. I let the principal know that I have no control over the AHJ, but I’ll attempt, as best I can, to work with the AHJ to test around these sessions.

Aug. 1, 5 p.m. : The security system is slowly coming online, but it appears that it won’t be 100% complete by midnight— the end of the contractual time.

Aug. 2, 7:30 a.m. : We discuss the student classroom situation with the AHJ. He agrees to finish up device spot testing in the remainder of the building during the student sessions this morning. We’ll finish up the audible and visual signaling testing after lunch.

Aug. 2, 4 p.m. : We receive the formal written TCO, pending re-test of five minor system correction items. The AHJ has scheduled vacation next week so the follow-up re-inspection test will take place the week of Aug 14.

Aug. 2, 6 p.m. : I’ve been working on my punch list of correction items since my meeting with the AHJ this morning. The punch list is complete for 50% of the building. The security system is now about 50% online.

Aug. 10 : I complete the punch list correction items for the remainder of the building. The security system is now about 85% online.

Aug. 11 : The electrical contractor notifies me that the final electrical permit sign-off is on hold, pending resolution of the noted electrical deficiencies found during the inspection process.

Aug. 14 : The district and I touch base with the electrical inspector and come up with a solution to release the electrical permit. We must submit a written correction plan, with completion timeline to the electrical inspector. Once received, he will release the final electrical permit sign-off. With school starting in 10 days, we will probably schedule the electrical deficiencies correction work over the three-week Christmas break to limit disruption to the school staff and students. The security system is now 100% complete and on-line.

We are awaiting notification from the contractors that the punch list correction items have been completed and are ready for re-inspection. We are also waiting for the AHJ re-inspection test date so that we can receive the official certificate of occupancy paperwork for the building.

Aug. 22 : The new school year starts.


Now that the building is signed off for purposes of occupancy, and everything is back online, everyone heaves a huge sigh of relief for a project well done. We managed to complete a typical 120- to 150-day project in 61 calendar days, while avoiding any contractual liquidated damages. Besides the remaining punch list items, and the future electrical deficiency corrections (another project), the district has their building back online and ready for this year’s students.

As busy as this summer was, it could have been worse. Last year we had five 60-day wonder projects. In 2004 we had four. Sometimes I spend more time in school during the summer than my son does during the school year.