The Preconstruction Jobsite Conference
Part 1 — Getting The Construction Launched On The Right Foot
Arthur O'Leary, FAIA, MRIAI
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Starting Work on the Construction Phase
Assume for the purpose of illustration that the contractor prequalification process is completed, the bidding procedures have been concluded, the low bidder has been determined, and the contract price has been established and is within the owner’s budget. The owner and contractor have negotiated and signed the agreement and have identified all of the other contract documents by signing them. So the physical execution of the project may now proceed.
Effective and amicable communications are essential to the smooth running construction process that culminates in a successful building project.
Preconstruction Jobsite Conference: A Communication Tool
Projects would be far more efficient and successful if all of the participants knew and understood their functions and obligations under the contract documents. In the interests of improved communications, mutual cooperation with contractors, and a heightened awareness of the contract requirements, many architects and engineers regularly schedule a conference at the jobsite before commencement of construction.
The optimum time for this meeting is after the contract is signed, all required insurance is in effect, and the surety bond, if any, is issued, but before the owner has authorized the construction to proceed.
It would be best to announce in the specifications your intention to have this meeting, and most contractors will welcome it as an indication of impending cooperation and good will from the architect. The owner and contractor should both be invited to attend this initial site conference, and the contractor should be instructed to have its superintendent and representatives of major subcontractors and suppliers present.
In that this meeting will be the first construction phase visit for the architect, notes should be taken so that a written observation report can be promptly prepared and mailed to the owner with copies to all participants and interested absent parties. It should cover all subjects discussed and decided. All questions or issues raised by attendees should be answered in the report. See sidebar for a suggested agenda (page 22).
Errors in the Contract Documents
The contractor should be asked if any errors, inconsistencies, or omissions in the contract documents have been noted by the contractor and reminded that as any such irregularities are discovered, the architect should be promptly notified. (General Conditions, AIA Document A201-1997, Subparagraph 3.2.1)
Matters Pertaining to Use of the Site
During construction, the contractor will be in responsible charge of the site. Before construction starts the contractor should inform the owner how the site will be organized as to general location of materials storage, debris storage, chemical toilets, jobsite office, workers’ parking, truck parking, signs, and temporary fences. The architect and owner are free to offer alternative suggestions for the contractor’s consideration and to voice reasonable objections.
Security provisions and noise and dust control should be discussed, particularly in alteration and addition projects where the owner will continue to occupy some portion of the building or site. Consideration should be given to the effect of noise and dust on neighboring properties.
Utilities. The conditions of the contractor’s use of the owner’s water, power, telephone, and toilet facilities should be discussed.
Hours of operation on the site should be discussed and reasonable limitations decided upon. If the owner was aware of the necessity of unusually restrictive working hours, this should have been specified in the supplementary conditions to enable the contractor to price the job accordingly.
Owner’s Property Data. The owner should provide the contractor with copies of the boundary survey, topographic survey, legal description of the property, and reports of the foundation investigation. The datum points of the land survey should be identified to the contractor.
The horizontal and vertical dimensioning rationale of the contract drawings should be discussed and explained by the architect if deemed necessary by the architect or contractor.
Discussions are for the purpose of clarifying the information and requirements of the contract documents. If anything is decided that changes or extends the contract requirements, the architect should be alert to point this out to the owner and contractor so an appropriate change order can be prepared. It is poor practice to allow changes in the contract requirements to remain undiscussed, as misunderstanding and controversy will be the likely result. The owner will usually interpret silence as meaning there will be no extra cost and the contractor will assume it means that the cost will be negotiated later. Naturally the roles and attitudes will be reversed when contract conditions are eased, which should result in a credit to the owner.
The architect should make certain that the contractor has sufficient copies of all of the contract documents so that all of the subcontractors can know the full extent of their contracted obligations and their relationships with related or adjoining trades. The owner is obligated by A201 to furnish, without cost to the contractor, such copies of the drawings and project manuals as are reasonably necessary for the execution of the work. (Subparagraph 2.2.5)
The contractor should be reminded that a complete set of the initial drawings, specifications, and addenda should always be kept in good condition at the jobsite as well as a complete set of all change orders, construction change directives, and all other modifications. The documents should be marked currently to serve as a record of changes and selections made during construction. In addition, the contractor should maintain at the site a set of all approved shop drawings, product data, and samples. (A201, 3.11.1)
The architect should take this opportunity to briefly explain the design concept and objectives to the builders present. This is the time to point out and discuss the special details and features of significance and identify what is important. Models, perspective renderings, and other design presentation drawings if available will help illustrate the design intent.
Most specifications provide that all contractor-initiated substitutions be proposed during the bidding period so that all bidders can be on an equal footing. However, sometimes that proves to be somewhat idealistic if some normally available specified item is just not obtainable when needed. The architect should suggest to the contractor that purchase orders be placed with all subcontractors and suppliers at once so that unavailable specified items become quickly known. Also all long lead orders should be placed immediately to assure that the job will not be delayed later. The specification provision on substitutions and application of the phrases “or equal” and “or equivalent” should be explained. Usually they mean that the proposed alternate item should be comparable in function, capacity, quality, and appearance and approved by the architect prior to its utilization.
The construction progress schedule required by Paragraph 3.10 of A201 should already have been submitted by the contractor and should now be available for discussion. If any of the subcontractors present have any doubt about the practicality of the time schedule and their own ability to comply, they should now voice such reservations.
The submittal schedule should also be discussed and the contractors advised to commence production of shop drawings in time to meet the schedule. All product data and samples should be immediately prepared or accumulated, organized, and marked for submittal on time.
In discussing time scheduling, it would be appropriate to review the contract documents in respect to allowable extensions of time for justifiable delay such as that caused by inclement weather and other events that cannot be anticipated or controlled. The only justifiable adverse weather delay is when “weather conditions were abnormal for the period of time...” (A201, 8.3.1 and 22.214.171.124) The architect’s proposed administrative application of the contract for contractor’s time extension requests should be discussed to avoid later arguments.
Record Keeping on the Jobsite
Most general contractors require their job superintendent to maintain a daily log on the jobsite and to record all relevant information on a current basis. The superintendent’s log should be preserved as a permanent chronological record of all significant events occurring on the jobsite. In the event that the contractor on your project does not usually keep a daily log, the practice should be suggested and urged, although it cannot be absolutely required unless previously specified.
Channels of Communication
Although the communication system among the parties during the construction period is defined in A201, it is advisable to review the requirements so all may understand and abide by it in practice.
- All communications between the owner and contractor should be channeled through the architect.
- All communications by and with the architect’s consultants should be through the architect.
- All communications to or from the subcontractors and suppliers should be through the contractor.
- All communications with separate contractors should be through the owner. (A201, 4.2.4)
- The superintendent on the jobsite is a representative of the contractor, and communications given to the superintendent are as binding as if given to the contractor. (A201, 3.9.1) All important communications should be in writing or if given orally should be confirmed in writing.
Architect’s Job Visits
The architect’s intentions should be expressed as to the scheduling of periodic jobsite visits and project meetings. Some architects make it a practice to visit the site on a regular weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. Others will plan to visit only once for each contractor’s payment request or upon the completion of certain agreed stages of the work. The frequency will be based on the type and magnitude of the project, the architect’s professional judgment, and the agreement between owner and architect. The contractor or superintendent should be present for all site visitations to explain conditions and operations to the architect and to receive pertinent instructions. The subcontractors who have questions or problems might plan to be present for relevant discussion and decisions.
Construction Methods and Safety Procedures
The architect must be careful not to exceed the authority bestowed by the owner-architect agreement or the contract documents. It is the contractor’s sole prerogative to determine, control, and be responsible for the construction means, methods, techniques, sequences, and procedures and for coordinating the work. (A201, 3.3.1) The architect is specifically excluded from authority in these matters. (A201, 4.2.2 and 4.2.7)
The architect’s viewing of the work during its execution is for the purpose of determining in general if the work is being performed in a manner indicating that the work, when completed, will be in accordance with the contract documents. (A201, 4.2.2) The architect’s opinion on these matters should be expressed in the periodic written observation reports.
Safety precautions and accident prevention programs on the site are the responsibility of the contractor. (A201, Article 10) The superintendent is the contractor’s representative with the specific duty of carrying out all programs for personal safety and the protection of property unless the contractor designates some other person in writing to the owner and architect. (A201, 10.2.6)
Contractor’s Requests for Payment
The contractor should be reminded that periodic applications for payments should be only for the percentage of work that is in place prior to or on the date of the architect’s site verification. The architect cannot authorize payment of funds for work not actually observed to be in existence. Payments for the value of work in progress in fabricators’ shops or stored off site cannot be authorized by the architect unless the owner and contractor have previously agreed otherwise in writing. The architect can allow the value of materials or equipment suitably stored on the site even though not yet incorporated into the work. (A201, 9.3.2)
The contractor and architect should agree on a procedure so the architect does not unexpectedly receive payment requests with the contractor’s expectation of an immediate site visit and approval. The payment requests and architect’s site visits could be entered in the contractor’s construction schedule or submittal schedule.
The subcontractors present could be reminded that the architect, if requested, is authorized to inform them of the status of payments to the contractor in respect to the work of the subcontractors. (A201, 9.6.3)
Testing and Inspections
The contractor is responsible for paying for and making all necessary arrangements for specified materials testing and inspections, utilizing independent testing laboratories or entities acceptable to the owner. Any tests or inspection requirements imposed after bidding will be paid for by the owner. (A201, 13.5.1) The contractor should reveal the identity of the testing agencies for the owner’s consideration.
A very high percentage of construction defects are associated with roofing installation. Accordingly, many owners deem it advisable to employ a separate independent roofing inspector to observe the roofing work continuously during its installation. If this is the owner’s intention, the contractor should be informed so that appropriate scheduling can be provided.
Notice to Proceed
Construction on the jobsite should not “jump the gun” by commencing before all required insurance is activated, surety bond issued, and mortgage liens recorded. Should this happen, bonds and guarantees will have to be arranged for by the owner to satisfy the mortgage lenders, title guarantee companies, and surety. The events and operations expected to be covered by insurance or bonds would not have been covered. Therefore, A201 contains a procedure that, if followed, will obviate these serious problems. The contractor is not to start any work whatsoever on the site prior to the receipt of a written notice to proceed given by the owner. The architect, if authorized by the owner, could issue the notice to proceed. In the event that, for whatever reason, the contractor has not received a written notice to proceed, the contractor is required to give a written notice to the owner not less than five days before commencing work. (A201, 8.2.2)
If improved communications among architect, owner, and contractor can be promoted by use of the preconstruction jobsite conference then it will be well worth the time and trouble.
An additional preconstruction meeting is needed among architect, owner, and contractor to discuss other contractual matters that are of no direct concern to the subcontractors and suppliers. This meeting could be held at the time of signing of the contract documents or at the beginning or end of the preconstruction jobsite conference. Topics that could be taken up at this meeting will be discussed in the next issue of Design Cost Data.
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