SPRAWL In future, facility may be expanded another 20 acres to fill the 60-acre site.
(Photo courtesy of Clark Construction)
In Pittsburgh, a city of bridges, the powers-that-be wanted architect Rafael Vinoly’s convention center design to make a big splash. Vinoly was given the opposite charge for the $875-million Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. There, all efforts have been focused on keeping an extremely low profile—literally and figuratively.

Maintaining that hasn’t been easy throughout the 45-month project, especially as the 2.1-million-sq-ft facility is the largest public building in Massachusetts and the first big public project to follow the wildly high-profile Central Artery/Tunnel project.

“There is a history in the city of big public projects taking longer than anticipated and costing more,” says Howard W. Davis, BCEC project director for the owner, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.

The job has taken longer, by six months. But it did not cost more. It would have, if not for a three-month suspension in December 2002, nine months after site work began, that trimmed $67 million from the cost (ENR 1/15/01 p. 9).

After considering a permanent shutdown and mothballing until the city’s superheated economy cooled down, or a complete redesign, MCCA decided to shrink the project. A total of $41 million was saved by scope changes, including shortening the exhibit hall by 60 ft; $26 million was slashed through value engineering; and $14 million was “found” after the state legislature authorized MCCA to spend the investment earnings on the $400 million of debt issued.

MCCA is spending $620 million on the building while the Boston Redevelopment Authority spent $255 million to acquire the land. According to MCCA, the project will end up within budget.

During the time-out, MCCA’s cast changed, with James E. Rooney, fresh from CA/T, taking over from Walter Upton as director of development and construction. Rooney proceeded to overhaul the project’s organization, which he says was too “touchy-feely” and lacked management systems. “We went underground for six months, and worked with each of the players to define roles and responsibilities,” says Rooney.

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The biggest challenge was team-building and calming everyone down, says Rooney. The team included the local office of Tishman Construction Corp., which signed on as owner’s representative in the fall of 1998; locally based HNTB/ Rafael Vinoly Architects, a joint venture that was selected in January 1999; and the local construction management joint venture, Clark/Huber, Hunt & Nichols/Berry, that signed a contract, now valued at $578 million, in May 1999.

Rooney says a key to moving ahead on the fast-tracked job was taking the architect’s “crayons away.” In July 2001, they were told suggestions for major design changes were not welcome, he says.

By all reports, it’s been smoother sailing since July 2002. Some elements even ended up back in the project. “As we proceeded to buy out the rest of the job, we saved significant money over the reset budget,” says Davis.

The entire budget situation could have been worse, had the state legislature not made the job an exception. Typically on public projects, the general contractor offers its bid based on low bids submitted by subcontractors. “It’s an arranged marriage,” says Davis. At BCEC, the CM was selected first. It prequalified subs and did not have to select the low bidder. If bids came in higher than the budget, the CM could...