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Exploring the Unique Engineering Considerations of Higher Education Clients

When you consider all of the details involved across the various sectors of a major build, it's easy to see the extraordinary level of expertise and oversight required to bring projects in on time, on budget, and in full compliance with all relevant regulatory standards. To achieve those goals, the primary contractor must certify that every subcontractor, materials supplier, and tradesperson on the job provides high-quality, timely, and fiscally responsible services. Verifying that assertion, however, is a project in and of itself -- one that all contractors must complete, but that many wish to delegate if they have an available, trustworthy party they can rely on for impeccable construction-support. The team of construction and civil engineering experts managed by Josh Lehmen, Director of Construction-Support and Geotechnology Services at Engineering Survey & Services (ES&S), is available to perform and guarantee those verification services. In addition, their presence on the job site may reduce liability risks for owners and contractors if something goes awry during construction or after the project's completion. 

Code Compliance Assures Construction Integrity

The International Building Code (IBC) governs the construction metrics of virtually every building and facility in the country. If your construction projects involve the installation of fuel gas, "green" or environmentally sensitive products, sewer lines, or mechanical processes (among many other construction elements), your architecture must comply with IBC rules.

According to Lehmen, the ES&S Construction-Support Services (CSS) platform of technical, trade, code, and protocol resources provide Missouri's public sector entities, private owners, and construction industry clients with a supplementary pool of capabilities that enhance their on-the-job performance: 

  • Trade- and service-specific professionals provide expert IBC-informed inspections, investigations, and testing to confirm accuracy and adherence to contract and code requirements. 
  • Team members are certified in their fields by accreditation boards, so they are well qualified to confirm that all workers, materials, and procedures on the job site comply with IBC construction quality assurance (QA) and construction quality control (QC) standards. 
  • Technicians and technical teams are available from day one of the project and stay engaged throughout its term until it receives final approval.

In addition to its skills and competencies with IBC regulations, ES&S is also certified by the Missouri Department of Transportation, and the US Corps of Engineers validates the accuracy of its lab results on a biennial basis. 

Missouri Relies on ES&S 

In Missouri, the specific construction-focused services offered by ES&S are particularly valuable when evaluating the sufficiency of the state's tornado protections. Missouri ranks 10th in the country for the number of annual tornadoes, averaging 32 per year since 1950 (the year that official record-keeping began). In 2006, the state experienced a national record of 102 such storms. Five of the country's deadliest tornadoes occurred there, including three of the top 10 most damaging tornado events.

The worst Missouri tornado occurred on May 22, 2011, when a massive twister hit the small city of Joplin. Rated the highest danger level of 5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale for tornado intensity, the storm injured more than a thousand people and killed 161. Economic losses rose to almost $3 billion, including damage to or total losses of 553 businesses and 7,500 homes.

The subsequent investigative report about the disaster issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) addressed the building and construction failures that contributed to those high loss values. It recommended significant improvements in the state's tornado shelter construction standards to prevent future losses and recommended comparable enhancements to national construction standards.

In addition to suggesting advanced technological and geographical tools for predicting and measuring tornado activity, NIST encouraged:

  • Creating performance-based guidelines for tornado-resistant building design.
  • Developing guidelines for tornado-relevant design methodologies.
  • Establishing standards for existing tornado shelters.
  • Reviewing tornado vulnerability assessments for critical facilities. 

Missouri used the report's information to mandate enhanced tornado protections in all school-based tornado shelters. ES&S is one of the contractors hired to inspect existing refuges and inform the design of new ones. Their work entails testing current and new systems to ensure they operate smoothly during crisis events. Accurate, concise evaluations of the functioning of electrical, ventilation, water, and other systems let the government, schools, and parents know children can evacuate to a safe, secure shelter when the next tornado roars into town. Further, ES&S's extensive knowledge of Missouri's geography provides an extra layer of confidence that each safety zone is specifically designed and suited for its location.

Learning From Loss

The Missouri event was a wake-up call for all of that state's building and construction community. The volume and expense of losses due to construction failures revealed why using a construction-support team can save a contractor's business:

  • The financial risks alone flag the need for an additional set of expert eyes at every job site. Even if a tornado disaster isn't likely, Lehmen asserts that equally expensive damages can occur when a subcontractor's errors or omissions require costly repairs or complete do-overs. Something as simple as a non-conforming, substituted material can cause significant fiscal pain down the line.
  • Cutting corners with materials or labor can drag out the project's timeline. Processes must flow consistently on a busy worksite to keep projects on track. Delays anywhere in those operations can slow or stop all progress, and every delay costs money as workers idle waiting to get back to the job.
  • Inadvertent omissions are also a concern, especially for the primary contractor, who holds ultimate liability for everyone's work. Even small projects comprise thousands of details spread across dozens of trades and tradespeople. It is almost impossible for the lead manager to maintain a comprehensive, analytical eye on all of those elements while overseeing the bigger project. ES&S can perform these critical evaluation and analysis services to keep all project stakeholders confident that the build will achieve its compliance and performance goals.   
  • Not least significant is the risk of loss of life when construction workers don't follow conventional building procedures, construction best practices, or relevant safety codes. In addition to the liability facing the building owner for the construction failure, the contractor may also be held liable for wrongful death costs owed to the deceased's family.  

In light of these potential risks, it's no wonder that ES&S clients embrace their services as a form of "insurance" to confirm that the project is well-executed -- and has the proper documentation to back it up. 

Your organization may benefit from ES&S consulting services if it's embarking on a new project or wants an analysis of ongoing work. Contact them directly to speak with Josh Lehmen or another ES&S professional about your project. 

If your enterprise is involved (or plans to be involved) with a public works construction project, you'll want to check out our upcoming post about how ES&S services help government entities maximize their publicly funded investments.  ​

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