How an Owner Rep Can Fill Gaps Between Designers, Builders

by Taylor Williams

By Evan Wyner, Senior Director of Commissioning and Energy Services, Colliers Project Leaders

Designing a building can be a busy, chaotic and somewhat messy process.

It is a complicated negotiation between theory and practice in which architects create the vision and the aesthetic of the building and its related spaces, structural engineers develop the bones that ensure the building is sound. Mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers develop the systems that help create the experience of the space and keep people comfortable, productive, healthy and safe in the most energy-efficient manner possible.

And then there are the owners, who are praying that all this can be done within their budget so they can deliver a building they are proud of to their stakeholders.

Evan Wyner, Colliers Project Leaders

The design team brings order to this chaos by following a program, developed closely with the owner, to ensure that spaces meet the needs of the occupants. Whether a project is a residential high rise with one-, two- and three-bedroom apartment units or a mix of different office types with open spaces, private offices and a multitude of conference rooms, the design team delivers guidance to achieve a functional space that meets the vision of the owner and the needs of the occupants.

Operations, Maintenance Planning

Even with all this careful planning, not everything gets addressed in the design process. One area often overlooked is building operations and maintenance planning. Operations and maintenance teams are not typically represented in the design process and therefore their concerns are rarely addressed, which can have major consequences over the life of the building.

The commissioning provider (CP) fills these gaps in the typical process. As a representative of the owner, the CP documents the concerns of the operations and maintenance teams in the owner’s project requirements (OPR). The OPR is a living document developed with the owner and his or her operations team highlighting the most important operational issues. It is provided to the design team for incorporation into the project design.

COVID-19 transmission prevention provides a whole new set of challenges for CPs. Since there is no “zero-risk” scenario, it is important for CPs to understand the owner’s intention and work with the infection control specialists and the design team to identify the potential prevention measures and their impact on the energy and operational aspects of the building.

Since this potentially impacts the energy goals, filtration levels, security policies and equipment selection, it is critical to have these conversations very early in the design phase and to ensure that the CP is uniquely suited to facilitate these early discussions.

Owner’s Project Requirements

The OPR addresses and focuses on many issues important to the owner that CPs are uniquely qualified to address based on their backgrounds in design, construction and operations, which are also often overlooked in the course of a project design.

Examples of OPR items include equipment access, energy targets, carbon goals, integration with existing campus systems, renewable energy requirements, maintenance requirements and equipment cost and life cycle.

CPs understand the relationships between building spaces, operations and maintenance. They review access requirements for equipment and systems, advocate for them in the design process and review the drawings to ensure they are addressed. Without this focus throughout the design phase, routine maintenance can become unexpectedly difficult and expensive.

Energy consumption and carbon reduction are increasingly at the forefront of owners’ minds. Various regulations and rising costs of construction mean that reducing a building’s carbon footprint, while at the same time balancing energy cost, is essential. ‘

Similarly, understanding how renewable energy systems will work and interact with a building is critical to achieving functional and effective systems. During the design planning process, CPs can also use operational knowledge of the various energy distribution systems commonly used to advise on how the building will interact with the existing infrastructure in place.

Each Project Is Unique

While there are common issues that all operations teams share concerns over, each owner has his or her own unique approach to these obstacles.

For example, one owner may be focused on carbon reduction even if it means increased energy consumption relative to the best carbon-based systems. Another owner may insist that all equipment be accessible from an eight-foot step ladder, even if that means limiting some ceiling heights. Yet another owner may insist that all rooftop air handling units have service vestibules, even if that means sacrificing something else in the budget.

The key takeaway from all these principles of design is that when a project is complete and the design and construction teams finish their checklists and leave, the owner still has the building. The design may take 12 months and the construction may take 18 months, but the operations and maintenance will take 25 years or more. The CP is there to ensure that the building the owner gets is something the owner can successfully operate and maintain for years to come.

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