A Team Effort

May 13, 2013
Effective construction management helps ensure successful reclamation facility expansion

About the author: Rick Fisher is a project executive for PC Construction. Fisher can be reached at [email protected].

Integration, collaboration and innovative construction techniques were critical to the successful upgrade and expansion of the Yellow River Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) in Lilburn, Ga. Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources had a fairly straightforward objective: upgrade all treatment processes at the existing WRF, increase plant capacity from 14.5 to 22 million gal per day and improve effluent quality. While this project could be viewed as just another major treatment plant renovation, the path taken to achieve these goals was not an ordinary one.

The facility, originally constructed in 1979, needed substantial structure and equipment upgrades and replacements. The $250-million construction project included high-level advanced treatment methods to meet the stringent discharge limits required in Georgia. All work had to be completed without operational disruption and required phased decommissioning followed by new construction. 

Gwinnett County specifically wanted a fully integrated project team working together under a construction management-at-risk contract (CMR) to manage the implementation of multiple design and construction phased packages. The contract incorporated a rolling GMP that grew as the design progressed and project scope was added, allowing for increased flexibility in joint decision-making and execution of work. 

Rather than a traditional design-bid-build or integrated design-build arrangement, the county elected to move forward with a modified CMR delivery method and contracted separately for design and construction services. This decision turned out to be the defining element in the project’s overall success.

Completing the Team

The engineers—Jacobs (the engineer of record) in collaboration with CH2M Hill and Precision Planning Inc. (PPI)—were selected through a qualifications-based process in 2006. Within the next year, the project team was finalized with selection of PC Construction as the contractor.

The project team was made up of many people who brought different skills and capabilities. As work progressed, identifying individuals who were best-suited for this type of project delivery was critical. 

“The specific people on a project really make a difference,” said Mike Joseph, project manager for PC Construction. “If you throw a few of the wrong personality types in there, it just doesn’t work.”

Getting the project underway was an adjustment for many team members. Three diverse groups—the contractor, the designers and the owner—came together with preconceived notions about the contract and how the process would flow. A conscious effort was required to break down the normal barriers that exist on a traditional design-bid-build project. 

A Common Goal

The first priority was to get the teams truly working together as one unit. One of the first steps in obtaining that goal was combining the teams under one roof. Every trailer housed a mix of Gwinnett County, Jacobs, CH2M Hill, PPI and PC Construction team members. 

“The goal was that if someone walked through the door, they wouldn’t know who you worked for,” said Kristin Wilson, PC Construction’s field office manager. “You can definitely see the difference it made.”

A glimpse into the trailer illustrated the point perfectly. People sat next to others they normally wouldn’t work with. Quality control people were purposely placed in the superintendent’s trailer. Teams working under a design-bid-build project normally protect that line, but in this case, steps were taken specifically to blur that line.

The project’s accounting functions also were integrated from the onset. Utilizing an open book for all aspects of the project, the team maintained joint records and provided all project team members with access to the information. This document control system proved to be effective throughout the duration of the project.

The Green Light on Construction

The significant time invested in designing, scheduling and estimating helped shape the project’s construction phase. Challenges arose as PC Construction wanted to keep construction rolling but needed answers and support from the design team, who were, at the same time, aggressively designing other aspects of the project.  

“Sometimes we just had to back up and slow down,” said Bob Huie, senior project manager with PC Construction. “That’s all part of us better understanding what the engineer needs to do their work so that later, when we are doing our thing, it is right.”

Productivity increased all around as a result of the streamlined RFI and change management process allowed by the contract. The team was able to efficiently incorporate value enhancements and make changes to the project without the typical holdups. As design issues surfaced, the project team jointly brainstormed solutions, allowing implementation of the necessary revisions almost immediately. Once an agreement was reached by the group, an RFI was issued confirming the final decision. 

Submittals also were handled differently. PC Construction worked directly in the engineers’ 3-D models to develop shop drawings and other project documents, and had immediate access to submittal reviewers in the trailer complex to clarify details. Once the engineers received submittals, they reflected the details discussed previously by the group.

Team Successes

The flexibility allowed by the construction contract and the continuous team approach to problem solving, innovation and collaboration allowed the team to achieve many successes throughout the course of the project. 

One of the successes engrained in everyone’s mind involved the flood of 2009. The Atlanta metro area was hit by what many considered to be the worst rainstorm in nearly 300 years. The existing pump station was damaged and no longer operable, and the electrical equipment associated with the new pumps had been compromised. The team had to work fast to get the new pumps into service, accelerating the start-up process by side-stepping typical protocol. 

Working around the clock, crews had the new pumps in service within three days. What could have been a disaster turned out to be a tremendous success story and a great example of how the contract arrangement made the effort easier to execute.

Even though there was a flood and even though the plant was being impacted, a straight contract would have required PC Construction to complete the start-up by the books while the plant was down. In this case, it was as easy as Gwinnett County saying, “Put the pumps online, guys.” There were risks associated with that decision, but when one weighed those risks against unprocessed sewage contaminating the river, there was only one choice.

Project Completion

Almost 500 workers covered this congested 128-acre site during peak work periods. Together, they moved 350,000 cu yd of earthen materials, placed more than 65,000 cu yd of concrete, laid 63,000 ln ft of underground piping, placed 15 new facilities into service and brought in a complete new ofsite power service. 

The new plant was put online one year earlier than would have been possible utilizing a design-bid-build process. The collaborative nature of the project and the flexibility allowed by the contract also resulted in $11 million in cost savings. At the conclusion of the project, the plant operations staff got exactly what they wanted with unlimited input into the process, and Gwinnett County was able to realize the invaluable and positive impacts to cost and schedule.

Gwinnett County’s Adam Minchey summed up the results of integration and collaboration at Yellow River: “I have 22 years and $1.5 billion worth of construction projects that I’ve overseen, and I’ve never worked on a project that was anywhere close to this successful.” 

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About the Author

Rick Fisher

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