Whitepaper: 09.20.2016

Smooth Starts

— David Heyde, P.E., LEED AP BD+C

91st avenue waste water treatment plant

Planning for construction of water and wastewater treatment plants can be a daunting task. There are many complicated factors to consider, including selecting the best delivery method for the project, determining how the construction will be sequenced, figuring out how to interface with existing plant operations and, ultimately, planning for startup.

Both hard bid projects and alternative delivery projects, including construction manager at risk and design-build delivery methods, allow for pre-bid walks. While hard-bid projects provide owners the opportunity to see the design beforehand so plans are easier to visualize during a pre-bid walk, the drawbacks are that the design is set, details are specified and there is no input from the builder until after the contract is awarded.

Alternative delivery projects, on the other hand, may not have any design documents developed except for an engineering study and the owners’ ideas of what needs to be built and processed. These types of projects allow input from the builder to address constructability, start-up and commissioning items during the preconstruction/design phase. The builder becomes an integral partner with the designer and owner and brings more experience and expertise to the table early on, promoting a team approach from the start. This ultimately reduces construction and design coordination issues during the construction phase, thereby also reducing additional costs and delays that are associated with making field modifications during construction.

Regardless of the delivery method that is selected, there are four keys to successfully transitioning water and wastewater treatment plants from construction to operation: start planning early, develop start-up checklists, maintain open communication and promote accountability.

Start planning early

While it may seem like backward thinking, start thinking about the end at the beginning. Knowing what the project goals are makes it easier to detail the path forward. During preconstruction, when the equipment and systems are being selected, determine with the project team what the requirements are for functionally testing the equipment. Once this is determined, work with the project team to incorporate items into the design that will benefit the start-up process and add value to the project for the owner.

A skilled general contractor will start planning early, ensure all stakeholders are engaged and champion collaborative problem-solving sessions that leave no possibility unanalyzed and no assumption unquestioned. The owner is an integral part of this team and needs to be involved in the planning of the project from the beginning. When a builder can collaborate with owners and designers early on during preconstruction, the best skills of design engineers and builders are brought together with a clear vision from the owner creating a culture of commitment, communication and trust, which results in a project with the highest quality that can be delivered on time and at the best final cost.

During the $106 million 91st Avenue UP05 Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion project in Phoenix, early planning during preconstruction saved the City of Phoenix hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars by multitasking Maintenance of Plant Operations (MOPOs) and combining shutdowns whenever possible. The largest effort combined 27 MOPOs in seven different locations into a single, coordinated effort.

“Malcolm Pirnie, McCarthy Building Companies and the City of Phoenix, as partners, committed to jointly plan and construct our project through open communication, consistent coordination and enthusiastic collaboration at all levels. The success of this partnership resulted in a well-executed project, completed ahead of schedule, under budget, while achieving the five-city Sub-Regional Operating Group member requirements, meeting foreseeable regulatory mandates and the projects goals – an unprecedented result for a project of this magnitude,” said Rick Shane, Project Manager for the City of Phoenix.

Develop start-up checklists

In addition to early planning, it is important to develop detailed start-up checklists during preconstruction. These checklists provide identification of the various components of all the systems. As construction progresses, tracking the status of these items will enable the team to determine readiness for actual start-up and commissioning. Without these checklists and the ability to manage the overall progress of construction, items are often unaccounted for or missed. Finding out about missed items later on can potentially delay start-up and requires the additional costs of rework.

Developing the checklists during preconstruction is also a great way to ensure coordination between the design documents. Detailed flowchart checklists are being utilized on a collaborative regional pipeline project, the Southern Delivery System Water Treatment Plant project in Colorado Springs, CO, which is currently under construction and will process 50 million gallons per day (MGD) upon completion with a capacity for 96 MGD. The checklists (see example) provide a quick visual for any team member (owner, general contractor, subcontractor, design engineer, vendor) that outlines the status of each process system as it pertains to checkout and being ready for startup.

Getting shop drawings and operation and maintenance manuals submitted and approved in a timely fashion is also critical to start-up planning. Proper receiving of equipment, storage prior to installation, installation, preventative maintenance and checkout will all facilitate a much smoother start-up. These items can also be incorporated into start-up checklists so they can be tracked and managed.

Ultimately, the main goal of planning for start-up is to ensure the highest quality project is turned over to the owner with equipment and systems that function as designed and perform properly for the expected lifecycle.

Maintain open communication

Developing and properly managing the plan requires the buy-in of all the team participants. This includes the owners, engineers, inspectors, contractor, subcontractors and vendors. All of these individuals have expertise and experiences that can assist in the development of the plan. But that only happens if there is open communication from the start and everyone is bought into the successful execution of the plan.

The best way for people to understand and buy into a plan is if they participate in the development of the plan. When team members are tasked with working toward goals and objectives that they developed, it becomes second nature to them and tasks are more easily understood.

Communication of the plan is also critical to ensuring safety in the implementation of the plan. At the Chandler Airport Water Reclamation Facility expansion project in Chandler, Ariz., the team took safety planning to a new level. The team was working on a $105 million large-scale expansion project at the site that was completed in fall 2014, which expanded the facility from a 15 MGD wastewater treatment plant to 22 MGD.

The Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH) Consultation Department named the City of Chandler Airport Water Reclamation Facility a “STAR Site” through the Voluntary Protection Program. Companies and jobsites that are awarded the STAR designation demonstrate exemplary and comprehensive safety and health management systems.  

“Our team’s detailed planning allowed the project to thrive during the construction and execution of high risk tie-in and bypass activities,” said John Pinkston, Wastewater Facilities Superintendent for the City of Chandler.  

One positive result of maintaining open communication is that it leads directly to promoting accountability among team members.

Promote accountability

Although planning is critical, we’ve all heard the familiar saying “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” This happens particularly when the plans are not implemented and managed properly. People need to be held accountable for their part in the development and execution of the plan. This includes not only the work in the field but the verification and documentation of the status and completion of tasks.

There are numerous ways to manage accountability. Excel spreadsheets are a typical way to manage checklists and status updates. The problem is that usually there is a master hard copy and it isn’t easy to communicate updated information to others in real time although websites like Google Docs or Dropbox have helped make online coordination easier.

McCarthy utilizes a program called BIM 360 Field to manage start-up plans and checklists. BIM 360 Field allows the team to identify all the tasks associated with the plan and then monitor progress by having individuals verify and sign off on tasks. This information is accessible across the Web and is updated in real time through the use of tablets in the field. Status of tasks and reports summarizing the overall progress can be easily generated. BIM 360 Field is an effective tool for managing the completion of start-up activities and serves as a means for holding people accountable for their tasks and responsibilities.

On the $134 million Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) project in Denver, the start-up plans and checklists were developed in preconstruction. The inspector initially wanted hard copies printed so the items could be physically signed off. After introducing and familiarizing the project engineer and inspector with BIM 360 Field and web-based management of the start-up checklist, they quickly realized the benefits of the system. Ultimately, the management of the start-up process ensured all the items were performed and verified, which led to a higher-quality project for the owner.

Planning early, developing start-up checklists, maintaining open communication and promoting accountability leads to the smooth transition of water and wastewater treatment plants to owner/operators. The owner’s operating personnel gain a better understanding of how the systems were started up and tested, which leads to a greater understanding of how they should be operated and maintained.

David Heyde, LEED AP BD+C, is a Senior Project Manager/Start-up Manager for McCarthy’s Southwest Region, located in Phoenix. McCarthy’s Southwest Region has completed more than 55 water and wastewater treatment projects worth more than $1.5 billion in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Texas.

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