Tom Székely, P.E., LEED AP

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Feb 14, 2005

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OK, We Finished All the Pretty Pictures. Now Why is It So Hard to Get the Thing Built?


Although I am a person who is not at all easily amazed, it never, ever, ever, ceases to amaze me when I find myself in a urinating contest with a Contractor.  I mean, it all starts out so well.   Well. . ., perhaps I exaggerate, just a wee bit.


Not infrequently, however, there are pre-bid meetings, and then a project kickoff meeting with the successful bidder (and his subs? Oh please, please, please!), at which the construction team gets to meet the design team, who explain the intent of the Contract Documents so clearly that the only conceivable problems encountered during construction will be those related to unforeseeable field conditions.  Furthermore, the owner, having complete trust in our collective execution of the needs/wants which led to the project in the first place, and, even more important, a crystal clear understanding  of the complexities and pitfalls in translating from paper to bricks, mortar, and systems, hangs back, writes checks as necessary, and lets us all do our job.


OK, I guess it’s time for me to get serious. In my over twenty years in private practice, I can count on one hand the number of times a Contractor went through a project with the belief that if only the design team got out of his way, all would be well, and it was only in those instances that I found myself engaged in a contest of biological hydraulics.


In most cases, the construction effort did, in fact, start out well, but in the too many cases in which things then went downhill, I found the causes to be what the Contractor considered to be little things, not worthy of my attention, particularly after he came to reach a modus vivendi on the execution of construction with the on-site clerk of the works.



Perhaps some of it’s my fault.  I take great pains to make it clear to the Contractor that I am aware he is (or should be) expert in methods of construction, and I therefore do not have to look over the shoulder of his superintendent during the course of the project.  I have seen this translate into a not uncommon attitude that submittals were not required because they would have been for “exactly what was specified.” 


Huh?  Here we have this unspoken rivalry between those who draw and those who build, and whether a Design Professional or a Contractor can design the better system, and suddenly I’m so perfect I don’t need submittals on the stuff I specified?


Another one of my favorites is discovering, when I make a field visit, that, although there’s an approved submittal reflecting the synthesis between what was specified and what will work in the field, what was finally installed has nothing to do with the original design intent, nor the compromise worked out in the submittal process, but rather, is the result of a unilateral decision taken     “ . . . to meet the project schedule”  or to   “ . . . work around just now discovered field conditions” with the result that the system/device/object as installed, doesn’t work, and it’s  now become my fault!


As I ask anyone who cares to listen, “What’s so hard about doing what’s in the Contract Documents?” (which includes the approved submittals), and then simply pointing to me and saying, “I just did what he told me to.” Then, if it doesn’t work, it’s clearly my problem to make it work.

None of this is ever anything that resembles an excuse for payments taking longer than 30 days from the date of an invoice.  If you’re truly that concerned, fire the bums. Otherwise, if you want it built on time, timely payment helps.  Stay tuned for: “OK, we got it built, now how do we get the thing to work?

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