Can you dig it? Possibly, but site civil engineers can help determine if construction can rock on without running into rocky situations. Thorough site civil due diligence is the foundation for developing a project with minimal delays. Keeping land development projects moving forward — especially during construction — requires highly informed due diligence processes and expertise when it comes to approvals and plans.
Site civil engineering design with constructability in mind can support general contractors while streamlining the overall bidding and construction process. But what are best practices when it comes to ensuring a successful project?
REBusinessOnline spoke to two experts who specialize in high-quality construction documents: Benjamin Plumb, P.E. project manager, and Keith Simpson, director of engineering, work for Bohler, a land development consulting and technical design company.
You Never Know What You’ll Find Before You Dig — However, These Tips Can Help
Uncertainty is part of any development project, but Simpson outlines two scenarios that make up the majority of the challenges he sees: 1. Existing underground utilities that are not reflected in plans. 2. Soils that differ from what was expected from the geotechnical report. In some cases, slowdowns are unavoidable and will cause delays, but due diligence can help alleviate many situations in which slowdowns arise.
Soil considerations and earthwork can alter designs, so geotechnical due diligence early on can provide clarity regarding non-utility obstacles: groundwater, buried objects, rock and more. While performing test pits or scanning with ground-penetrating radar can be expensive, these processes can save a lot of money later on if they keep construction from running into problems. Conceptual grading plans and projections on bringing or removing soil also provide firmer information on costs and strategizing development.
Simpson also suggests a thorough review of existing utilities on the sites by involving a utility specialist. Utility coordinators can obtain additional plans from electric and fiber companies, rather than just relying on old or outdated plans. Locating utilities and getting a good picture of where they are horizontally and vertically can help provide a clearer picture of the site.
Simpson stresses that, especially in dense urban areas, things can get very crowded, very “spaghetti”-like. Designers are sorting through landscaping, water, sanitary utilities, stormwater materials, fiber, gas and electricity — and those are just some of the manmade considerations.
Simpson notes that the ubiquity of underground fiber cables makes up-to-date information even more essential before digging. “These days, fiber cables are everywhere. They’re hard to find, and they’re expensive to fix.”
Utility profiles provide a vertical “map” of the utilities underground, including depths and intersections. Profiling adds an additional review to ensure proposed crossings do not conflict, allow for proper distance between objects, confirm the proper slopes for sanitary piping and more. Well-thought-out utility profiling can also let contractors adjust their timelines accordingly in the event of a delay.
The stakes for not profiling are higher too. With the pace of construction, profiling helps avoid time-consuming change orders, ordering additional parts or digging into less accessible areas. A well-thought-out utility design plan can move construction along quickly and avoid the need to modify plans on-site. Planning materials and approaches ahead of time can prevent costly changes later.
Helping construction go as smoothly as possible means clarity on all fronts. Simpson explains, “For the projects that Bohler’s involved in, quality documents lead the way: clear, legible, well-thought-out designs mean that there’s less room for error.” Detailed construction documents add peace of mind by presenting data on the depth and orientations of buried utilities. Easy-to-interpret plans and documents let contractors consider constructability well before they begin.
With multiple representations of obstacles and utilities to hand and mapped in an easy-to-comprehend manner, contractors can consult plans at any time — from bidding to construction in the field. Better construction documents mean contractors can project more accurate costs and develop more exact timelines. Contractors will need to ask fewer questions and submit fewer requests for information (RFIs) or change orders later. Costs and supply logistics remain difficult to predict, so confidence in ordering and planning can minimize one source of concern for contractors and owners.
“With the clearest possible directions, contractors’ jobs should go a lot smoother,” says Simpson.
“Working through the construction documents with the contractor ahead of time, so that they fully understand all our details, helps the process start off right,” says Plumb. “If contractors feel that there’s information missing or they have questions on the way something might be achieved, we can provide that background while on site. It’s much better to have these discussions during the kickoff meeting, rather than halfway through the construction process, where not having information may be detrimental to making quick progress. In-person, on-site kickoff meetings are a big part of why we’re successful in streamlining construction.”
Thorough field reports and documentation of the construction process benefits owners and ensures best practices are used throughout the construction process. Detailed records also avoid surprises or delays, especially during permit closeout.
Resolving Difficulties Quickly
Sometimes even the best utility profiling or geotechnical surveys cannot anticipate every eventuality, but Simpson outlines a graceful approach to encountering an unforeseen delay: evaluate timelines to see if redesigning can avoid the area, try to reuse as many structures as possible, implement what is already on site and plan to minimize impact on the contract when ordering new materials.
Ben Plumb explains the importance of field presence and strong relationships with contractors to help keep things on track, even in situations where delay is inevitable. “Often contractors are willing to call us and work out solutions — that way we can go to ownership with a joint approach and present a problem and a solution together. We can say ‘We’ve talked through all the possibilities. Here are the best ways to solve this issue.’”
In this way, the site civil engineering consultant can form a unified approach with the contractor, giving the owner or developer peace of mind and saving them time. Owners and developers can rest assured that whatever solution the contractor provides, it’s the right one, right from the start.
Cutting Out Delays
The best ways to move construction forward quickly all require in-depth local knowledge.
Understanding your jurisdiction’s process is a great way to streamline. Bohler’s in-house permit expeditors assist with workflow and can help create realistic timelines, avoiding situations where clients have plans but can’t get to construction.
“Having local relationships, especially in some of the harder-to-develop areas in the country, means we can rely on local expertise,” says Simpson. “Bohler, as a national company, can bring in experts in specific industries from various offices and match them up with a local team to ensure we have what the client needs and what the jurisdiction needs.”
Ben Plumb agrees.“With multiple offices throughout the country, we have intimate connections with building inspectors, with engineering departments, with local municipalities and ancillary agencies, public transport, county, public works, inspectors, etc. All of those groups need to come together to get a project underway.”