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Construction Observation Can Save You Millions

Construction Observation has changed quite a bit over the last 10+ years. In the past, a construction inspector/Resident Engineer (RE) may have shown up on the job, jotted down some notes, maybe checked a blueprint, and been on to the next job site. Today, REs are increasingly becoming more integral to the project management process and held to a higher standard.

Construction Observation now requires a Swiss Army knife approach. A good RE will have a number of different resources and approaches in their toolbox to ensure the project is completed per specifications and on-time. Due to budget cuts and municipalities tightening their belts (in addition to economic pressures facing the contractor and construction industry), construction observation is often an afterthought, or only considered on a part-time basis. A full-time RE is integral to risk management consideration for many communities.

Construction observation is similar to car insurance; the benefits often are not appreciated until they are needed. The role of the RE provides a great deal of risk management. The impacts can be costly from premature repairs or replacement due to improper construction methods. A full-time RE can be the difference of thousands of dollars in a project by avoiding possible pitfalls and managing the process.

The RE is an advocate for the owner on a project. The partnership created allows the owner to concentrate on their core business, not the daily construction activity at hand. With the amount of obligatory paperwork included with State and Federal funding, the RE will compile the required documentation needed for these agencies. Another role an RE fills is as a mediator with the construction company providing one contact to the owner.

Communities invest a great deal in their infrastructure. The CPI (Consumer Price Index) of goods has risen to an all-time high over recent years, and combined with prevailing wages for contractors, budgets are getting spread thinner and thinner, resulting in the ability to complete fewer improvements. Just because a project is successfully designed and bid does not insure success in the field. A good RE can ensure that the specifications are being followed, the intended quality of the equipment or product is being used, and construction installation is occurring as required providing an increased asset life for the client.

Having a firm that understands the long term needs of the community is essential. Consider a recent Fehr Graham project in Freeport, Illinois. Fehr Graham played a role in a $20M IEPA project. Their role included construction observation for the installation of new water main, 500,000-gallon water tower, 15 miles of sanitary sewer lining, installation of approximately 12,000 City-wide water meters with a City-wide wireless system, a new well house, and new 1,500-gallon-per-minute deep well.

During the project, the City of Freeport had some unexpected staff turnover which left the new Executive Director of Utility Operations at the City of Freeport's Water & Sewer Commission, Tom Glendenning, as the project manager. Needing assistance, he was able to identify some project areas of need and contacted Fehr Graham. Darin Stykel, working in the RE role, and Adam Holder, principal owner, discussed options and agreed to take on a greater role in order to assist Mr. Glendenning and the City of Freeport with the management of the project.

Fehr Graham agreed to help with the project management/RE role, allowing Mr. Glendenning to return to his advisory-focused role. In addition to projects being stalled because of staff turnover, the IEPA paperwork requirements were in need of attention. Fehr Graham worked continuously on bringing the paperwork and payables to an acceptable level with the help of community development specialist, Bridgette Stocks. Mr. Stykel took over the PM role and became the main contact for the numerous projects, answering questions, problem-solving, and finding a great deal of cost-savings for the City of Freeport. Fehr Graham worked hand in hand with Mr. Glendenning and provided new levels of partnered communication which led to project success.

Glendenning had high praise for the Fehr Graham team and the important role construction observation played in the project. He said, “I was impressed at the way the whole Fehr Graham team dove in and went above and beyond to help in every aspect. The sheer volume of work, in addition to the resources available firm-wide, has made me a believer in both the observation role as well as Fehr Graham.” He added, “I would trust them with any of my projects and look forward to furthering our working relationship.”

Fehr Graham was able to more than pay for their construction observation services through keen observations and negotiations with various contractors and agencies involved in the project. Through Fehr Graham’s inspection services, over $1M of documented savings were realized, delivering the project on-budget.  

Construction observation is a critical step in any project. It is a key to protecting the investment you have made in the design and later in the actual construction. In the end, even with skilled contractors and perfect design plans, there are issues typically associated with any project. Construction observation is not a guarantee that your project will be problem-free, but instituting a full-time RE is the one of the best ways to ensure potential issues are identified as early as possible and reasonable solutions can be crafted. It is important to make sure full-time construction observation is included in the budget at the outset. Including these services in the budget will allow the client to minimize the future risk of construction dollars and maximize the life of the assets.  Effective quality inspection provides the opportunity for the completion of a successful construction project that will stand the test of time for the community investing in its infrastructure.  It may also make the difference between a project that is on-time and on-budget and one that is not.

If your community is in need of construction inspection services,or any of the various services Fehr Graham provides, please contact us.
About Fehr Graham
Fehr Graham is a premier provider of engineering, environmental, and funding solutions for commercial, industrial, institution, and government clients with ten Midwest office locations in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa.  For more information, visit www.fehr-graham.com.

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