Designing and Commissioning The Pentagon (November 2000)
The Pentagon is being renovated in 1 million-sq-ft wedges, with Wedge 1 currently being reconstructed. Wedge 1 was subjected to the typical design-bid-build scenario that most government contracts favor. The remaining wedges, 2 through 5, however, will be design-build, in the hopes that this will result in a better value for the taxpayer's dollar.
And if that isn't radical enough for the government, the Pentagon will also undergo extensive commissioning, which will focus on, among other issues, the accessibility and maintainability of the equipment and energy conservation factors. The goal is to end up with a totally integrated building, using the best equipment currently available providing the most energy savings possible.
The Design-Build ApproachMany who are involved on the Pentagon renovation are thrilled to see that Wedges 2 through 5 will be design-build. One of the main reasons for choosing that method, according to Bob Cox, chief of technical staff of the Federal Facilities Division at the Pentagon, is that the powers-that-be finally realized the integration of design and construction in the old system just didn't work.
"The typical scenario was you have a design, then you bid it and build it, and the government would sit in the middle. On one side, the contractor would say the design was deficient and it wasn't going to work, so he'd need a changeorder. Then the engineer would say there's nothing wrong with the design, and no changeorder was required. The government would arbitrate between the two, and sometimes we didn't know who was right. And it was a constant, persistent, costly battle."
In addition, it just isn't feasible for the government to keep track of the minutiae involved in the renovation. "It's more efficient to let the contractor keep track of some of those things rather than a full-time government employee doing it. Especially if the contractor has an incentive, which is what the design-build contract is all about," says Tom Fontana, public affairs specialist with the Pentagon.
That incentive has been developed by the government to encourage contractors to find ways of doing things that are smarter, better, and faster. In essence, contractors are rewarded when their suggestions result in an improved design. The government must approve these changes, and they're working hard to improve their response time, so contractors won't feel like their efforts are in vain.
The design-build contract for the remaining wedges will rely on performance specifications, which is a radical change to the way things are currently done. Basically what that means is that the Pentagon won't tell potential design-build firms how to construct the building. Firms will be told what the Pentagon wants and how those requirements will be validated, but there will be no specifics on how they should achieve those goals.
Compare that to Wedge 1, in which the Pentagon produced 1,500 pages of technical specifications and 2,000 drawings for the solicitation that went out on the street for bid. "In Wedges 2 through 5, we're doing it in 10 pages. It's just exciting," says Cox. "This idea of performance-based specifications is revolutionary. It will dramatically change how we acquire and build. I can't say it any other way."
Of course, there will be challenges with design-build. "The hard part is switching the mindset to acknowledge that you're not in total control, and then you have to think in advance a little bit more of the things that you really want to see. So, yes, there have been some issues where people expected one thing and got another. In general, it's working out better on average than some of our other projects have," notes Brian Dziekonski, construction integrated product team leader, Pentagon.
Validating What's ThereAs noted above, the design-build firm will be held accountable for the systems it designs and installs through a validating process. Part of that process involves extensive commissioning, which will be performed by the engineering firm of Sebesta Blomberg, (Roseville, MN). Charlie Wendt is Sebesta's general project manager for the commissioning of the Pentagon.
"We're under contract to the Federal Facilities Division as an independent third party. Under that scope, we do everything from preparing design intent documents in the very beginning all the way through final functional performance testing. We also review the operation and maintenance (O&M) manuals and make sure the operators and maintainers get all of the information they need in the manuals," says Wendt.
Cox pushed hard for commissioning because he felt it was definitely necessary for a project the size of the Pentagon. "Buildings have become so complex and so integrated, that the general contractors themselves don't typically dedicate the resources necessary to make sure that integration happens. Then we get a building, and we spend two or three years working out the bugs of why this doesn't work like it's supposed to," says Cox.
Another typical problem the Pentagon encountered in previous projects is that the O&M manuals they would receive would be basically nothing more than manufacturer brochures. These were of little to no assistance to the O&M people in taking care of the equipment. And even though Pentagon contracts almost always called for training, the type of training that would be conducted was not reviewed, nor was it well defined. At best, the result would usually be a manufacturer's representative showing up and spending a day with the O&M people.
"This old way of approaching building and renovation didn't meet today's needs with our complex building systems. So we were looking for a method and a process that would move us from that archaic method to a total building that was totally integrated, that when it was turned over to our O&M staff, they were able to not only understand the systems but to operate and maintain them properly, and that we had actually verified that the systems worked as they were designed to work," says Cox.
That's where Sebesta Blomberg comes in.
Not Your Average CommissioningAll involved in the project are adamant in stating that the commissioning effort is not a quality assurance or quality control measure. Those programs focus on craftsmanship, workmanship, and submittals to make sure the contract is in compliance. Obviously, those issues are very important as well, but they don't go into the testing, verification, and documentation that commissioning does.
Commissioning usually starts in the very early stages of the design and continues with focused reviews throughout the design process. In this case, Sebesta was not brought on board until four or five years into the renovation, so in Wedge 1, they didn't get involved until construction started. "We didn't have any influence over the design. All we have is now after the fact as we're going forward with construction, picking up problems, reviewing the design, looking at what's being installed, and helping to solve maintainability issues as they come up," says Wendt.
Sebesta Blomberg will also focus on issues typically not performed by others working on the renovation, including accessibility and maintainability of the equipment, as well as energy conservation. As Cox notes, "We have to pay those bills as operators of the building, and we want to make sure that every piece of equipment is the most energy efficient that it can possibly be."
One of Cox's pet projects is energy conservation, and since he's in charge of the commissioning effort, he's making sure that it's a main focus of Sebesta Blomberg. Cox says that as part of its focused reviews, it's looking at sustainable design. That involves looking at the building, construction, and operations in a holistic approach that minimizes the impact on the environment and the health of the tenants.
"It's a very broad umbrella that looks at the use of environmentally friendly products, energy conservation, and a wide range of things that impact the environment and human health. That's not something that commissioning typically does, but we've incorporated that into commissioning as a way of verifying that the requirement has been met," says Cox.
This whole commissioning effort is probably a little different from many, simply because it encompasses an enormous amount of information and detail. Even those involved don't necessarily know where it's going to go next. "We gave the Pentagon a commissioning plan and a draft procedures manual, so they could see the scope and the level of rigor that was going to be required, the breadth and the depth. But commissioning means different things to different people, and I think the rigor and the scope are different to different people," says Wendt.
Wendt notes that the bottom line is that commissioning is about delivering to the owner a building that operates and is maintainable in the fashion that it was intended to from the beginning.
Still Working Out The BugsSince commissioning is a new process to many government workers, it's only logical that some are going to fear it. Wendt notes that the biggest challenge they've faced so far is education, because commissioning is not that well known, not to mention that each commissioning effort is unique.
"On this project, there hasn't been a lot of commissioning being done, and certainly not to the level that commissioning is being done at the Pentagon. We've taken great pains to provide information, discuss it, and educate people, but until you really go through it, you don't understand. We're in the middle of some of that with the subcontractors now, in that they have a fear of what it is - there's a fear of the unknown, what they're going to be required to do," says Wendt.
Some contractors feel that commissioning is simply another way to look over their shoulders. But it's really not, according to Cox, who says it's just a way to promote a consensus look at projects. "I believe what those contractors are going to find is that by following the commissioning process, they're going to turn over that facility much faster, and they're going to save money because they won't have any warranty calls. And we're going to save money, too. Our O&M costs are going to go down, our energy consumption is going to be less, but we haven't gotten to the end of the process, so they don't really understand yet. Right now they're just kind of bucking it."
But given the fact that Wedge 1 has been the first real commissioning effort at the Pentagon, both sides feel that it's going well, all things considered. Not everyone understands the process, but Cox believes that everyone will be more comfortable with it heading into Wedges 2 through 5. ES