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From Blueprints to Buildings: How Labs Get Documented, Permitted, and Built: Part 2

Part 2—The Permitting, Construction, and Closeout Phase

Altair Galgana-Wood

The design and documentation phase of the project has gone well—the Construction Documents have been submitted to the local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) for approval of the building permit, and sent to several general contractors to price—what’s taking so long? When can you finally move into your space?

The design team, owner, and construction teams collaborate extensively throughout the construction process to make the take the space from documentation and permitting to reality.
The design team, owner, and construction teams collaborate extensively throughout the construction process to take the space from documentation and permitting to reality.
Courtesy of Gensler

Whether it’s your first time working with a design team, or a seasoned veteran of the process, this second of a two-part series will give you a “behind-the-scenes” look at the design and construction process and how the team works together to make your space a reality.


See part one of this series: From Blueprints to Buildings: How Labs Get Documented, Permitted, and Built: Part 1—The Design and Documentation Phase 

Permitting

Once the Construction Documents have been completed by the design team, they are ready to be submitted to the local AHJ. The required documents will vary by jurisdiction but typically include a permit application form, construction documents stamped by a licensed architect and engineer(s), hazardous material declarations, proof of submission for accessibility review, and a declaration of support from the property owner. Depending on the scope of the project, additional forms may also be required, such as traffic flow, utility service availability, health, and hazardous waste applications.

After the application is accepted by the AHJ, the Construction Documents are then forwarded to the different review departments for their comment and approval. Each department will either approve the drawings as-is or provide comments which must be addressed by the design team, typically through revised Construction Documents. Once all review departments have provided their approval, the general contractor pays the permit fees to receive the approved building permit and begin construction.

Bidding and negotiation

While the AHJ reviews are ongoing, the general contractors who have been invited to submit a “bid” on the project are working with their subcontractors to review the Construction Documents and propose a construction budget and schedule for the project. The owner team, sometimes with the assistance of the design team, will then select a general contractor from all the bids received based on different factors including the general contractor’s experience with the project typology, the proposed cost and construction schedule, safety records, proposed value engineering solutions, and past working experiences.

One thing to note is that the process mentioned above is specific to the traditional “Design-Bid-Build" (DBB) project delivery method, where the owner contracts with the architect directly to create the Construction Documents, which are then issued for contractors to bid on. Other project delivery methods, such as Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) and Design-Build (DB), entail a different contracting and bidding process. For additional information on the various types of project delivery methods, refer to The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice1.

Construction Administration (CA)

For the duration of the construction process, the project will have regularly scheduled “Owner-Architect-Contractor (OAC) Meetings” where construction progress is reviewed together by the general contractor, design, and owner team, and any urgent project issues are discussed.
For the duration of the construction process, the project will have regularly scheduled “Owner-Architect-Contractor (OAC) Meetings” where construction progress is reviewed together by the general contractor, design, and owner team, and any urgent project issues are discussed.
Courtesy of Gensler

With the general contractor selected and the building permit in hand, the construction portion of the project can now begin. The typical order of construction is as follows: for brand new buildings—clearing the site, running outdoor utilities, casting the foundation, casting or placing the structure, then enclosing the roof and exterior walls. For the interiors portion—framing the walls, placing critical equipment, running indoor utilities, placing wall devices, framing the ceiling, placing ceiling devices, installing millwork, installing finishes, and finally, bringing in furniture and equipment.

For the duration of the construction process, the project will have regularly scheduled “Owner-Architect-Contractor (OAC) Meetings” where construction progress is reviewed together by the general contractor, design, and owner team, and any urgent project issues are discussed. In addition, information is documented and exchanged between the teams through the following processes:

Submittals are documents sent by the general contractor to the design team for approval of the products to be ordered or the configuration in which they are to be built and installed, based off the construction team’s interpretation of the Construction Documents.

Requests for Information (RFIs) are questions sent by the general contractor to the design team to address incomplete or conflicting information in the Construction Documents, or unforeseen conditions that prevent implementation of the original design.

Change orders are documents sent by the contractor to the owner for approval of changes to the original scope of work which affect the project’s cost and/or schedule. Alternatively, the owner can issue a construction change directive to direct the general contractor to make the changes and resolve the cost and schedule implications later.

Site walks are visits to the construction site performed by the design and owner team, occurring at predetermined intervals, depending on the scale and complexity of the project. Following the site walk, the design team creates a “field report” documenting general observations on the progress of construction or condition of the site, as well as issues identified during the walk.

There are special types of “site walks” including:

Milestone walks occur at critical points in the construction process to review specific portions of work completed to date, after which it becomes more difficult to correct.

Commissioning walks are performed by a third party (non-design team) commissioning agent with the general contractor to ensure that the building systems are functioning as designed. It is especially critical on lab projects for the owner’s facilities team to be involved in the commissioning process and receive formal operations and maintenance training for continued equipment and facility performance.

Inspection walks are performed by inspectors from the AHJ to observe the quality of the work, review compliance with the approved permit drawings, and provide approval to proceed with the subsequent phase of construction.

Closeout

When construction is sufficiently complete such that the space can be occupied for its intended purpose, the project is deemed to have reached an important project milestone called “substantial completion.” The general contractor then schedules a milestone walk called a “punch walk” with the design team, after which the general contractor or the architect issues a report called the “punch list,” which captures any outstanding items that need to be addressed to achieve “final completion” of the project2.

Concurrently, once the final regulatory milestone inspection walks are complete, the general contractor can apply for a “Certificate of Occupancy” (CO) with the AHJ, which certifies that the space complies with all applicable codes and is approved for occupancy. At times, there may be some final inspections not yet completed, and a “Temporary Certificate of Occupancy” (TCO) can be issued to allow for temporary occupancy of the space until the final CO is provided. Once the CO is received, the general contractor can “turn over” possession of the space to the owner.

Post-occupancy

Once the owner team is in possession of the space, they can begin moving in any owner-furnished, owner-installed (OFOI) furniture and equipment, as well as pursuing any required lab accreditations for their business, such as CLIA certification and ISO accreditation.

Within one year after receiving the CO (or TCO), the architect will reach out to conduct the “Warranty Walk” to identify any faulty workmanship and defective materials, which the general contractor must correct. This does not mean the space is only warrantied for one year—the project’s “Operations &Maintenance (O&M) Manual” will provide more detailed installer and manufacturer warranty information for each product and system installed in the project.

In addition, the architect may also request a “Post-Occupancy Evaluation” to get feedback from the owner team on the performance of their space. This opportunity allows the design team to provide recommendations to help alleviate any issues, as well as learning for additional projects in the future.

We hope that this two-part series has given you a better understanding of how lab projects are taken from blueprints to buildings, and of the critical role you play in executing a successful lab project.

References

1. Schmalz, Bill; Stewart, RK; and Bruce Toman. “Chapter 10.08 Bidding and Negotiation.” In The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, ed. R.L. Hayes (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2014), 701.

2. Atkins, James. “Chapter 10.10 Project Completion and Post-Construction.” In The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, ed. R.L. Hayes (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2014), 729. 

Altair Galgana-Wood is a Design Manager at Gensler in Austin, TX, who thrives on projects with scientists and engineers that build the cutting edge of the future. Altair’s extensive experience with public and private sector clients on labs, mission critical, semiconductor, and industrial facilities makes her well suited to work on projects with complex technical needs and mixed typologies. She skillfully and successfully manages projects of varying scale, scope, and budget, and is committed to mentorship and collaboration to make professional and project aspirations a reality.