This is apt to be the last of my series of columns regarding the relationship between Substantial Completion management and efficient and successful commissioning. Previous columns have addressed various reasons why projects are being declared substantially complete when the building systems are barely functional and ideas for how to improve that situation. This month’s column will look at how substantial completion is actually determined by the owner and/or owner’s representative.
What is the process for confirming Substantial Completion? Is the project substantially complete because the Substantial Completion date has arrived? Does the owner’s representative physically confirm completion of all criteria? Does the owner’s representative rely on feedback from other trusted non-contractor sources for confirmation (e.g., design team, commissioning professional, other outside professionals, etc.)? 
Does the owner’s representative accept the contractors’ assertion that Substantial Completion has been reached? What if the Substantial Completion date arrives and the owner disagrees with the contractors’ assertion? From what I have seen, that is when the owner’s resolve is at its lowest; the consequences of not agreeing to Substantial Completion are perceived to be far worse than the consequences of moving forward without contractual compliance.
Arlen Solochek, District Director of Facilities Planning and Development for the Maricopa (Arizona) County Community College, shared some of contract terms they establish prior to construction so that everyone knows what the rules will be when they get to the end.
For the purposes of this Contract, the term “beneficial occupancy” is not recognized as having any meaning or impact on defining the meaning or Date of Substantial Completion. Full or partial occupancy or use of the facility by the Owner shall not, in and of itself, constitute or be sufficient for determining a date or state of Completion. All of the following are conditions precedent for Substantial Completion:
  • Inspection, approval, occupancy and other permits issued by regulatory agencies having jurisdiction and without conditions. Conditional permits do not satisfy Substantial Completion requirements.
  • All building systems in place, complete, functional and accepted by the Architects.
  • HVAC system is tested and balanced with a preliminary balance report submitted to, and accepted by, the Architect and the Owner.
  • Odor and fume generating activities are complete. 
  • Draft submittal of O&M manuals have been submitted and accepted by the Architect and Owner, and O&M training necessary for the Owner’s personnel to maintain operation and occupancy of the facility has been completed. Contractor remains liable and responsible for any damage to systems or equipment until Owner receives this information and training.
  • Remaining punch-list items do not represent a hazard or create an adverse impact to the Owner and occupants in order for the contractor and his subcontractors to complete.
  • The Owner is able to fully occupy and utilize all portions of the Work.
These requirements are backed up by liquidated damages for missing the Substantial Completion deadline and different liquidated damages for going beyond a contractually-established time period between Substantial and Final Completion. This is an owner who takes successful and timely project completion seriously. Commissioning is inherent to Item 2 as the process for confidently accepting the building systems, thus making successful completion of commissioning testing a prerequisite for Substantial Completion. 
Ellis is president of Questions & Solutions Engineering Inc. (Chaska, MN). E-mail her at