DEFECTS. Almost every project that we build has construction defects. Some are fairly major, such as in a multistory building where a contractor failed to install 98% of the brick ties needed to keep exterior brick from falling onto the sidewalk. At a parking structure, a contractor left out or misplaced much of the reinforcing steel needed in columns and post-tensioned beams. And at a major new laboratory that we wanted to use to aid in anthrax research, we cannot because the cracked, ostensibly airtight walls cannot contain airborne bacteria and viruses.
Believe me, we tried to prevent such errors by using supervising architects, field inspectors and testing laboratories. But we erred in that all of us wrongly assumed that the crews who were installing the work knew what they were doing and cared about providing construction quality.
Too often, facilities owners blame construction defects on architects who release incomplete drawings and specifications. We seem to have forgotten one simple fact. The constructor, whether a general contractor, construction manager at-risk or a design-builder, has complete responsibility for the proper and timely completion and installation of the work.
Even if a project's architect did not provide any inspection services at all, the project's constructor is still expected, indeed required, to perform inspections to insure that the work is installed properly. Isn't that what the project superintendent is supposed to do? Isn't he or she supposed to supervise the work instead of just making sure that the subcontractors show up? Doesn't the contractor have to have a quality control individual?
We all know about the duties and responsibilities under construction agreements, but haven't we forgotten one important point? Who is responsible for the proper construction of the project? To whom do we look to complete the work? If not the constructor, then whom?
I've seen a lot of changes in the construction industry in the past 30 years. Construction systems have become more and more complicated. Disciplines have divided and subdivided and whole new trades have sprung up. The whole concept of the general contractor, like the master architect, is becoming a thing of the past. When was the last time you had a project that didn't have a project manager, a project engineer and a superintendent? Did any of them do anything more than push paper? Did any of them walk the jobsite to make sure that the folks with the hammers and nails weren't putting holes in the roof?
Today's general contractor seldom self-performs a substantial portion of the work, and functions instead as more of a construction manager than a GC. To make matters worse, subcontractors are beginning to do the same by hiring their own subs to actually perform the work. With tier upon tier and with responsibility spread around, whom do you deal with when you have a problem on site?
How many times have you heard your GC's superintendent say, "It's not my fault, it's the specialty contractor's. Why didn't the owner's architect catch the problem. Didn't you have an inspector on site?"
I say that the people who pay the bills need to demand that constructors meet their obligations to install the work right. We need to put the responsibility for proper completion back where it really belongs. So what am I doing to address this problem? Besides increasing the quality and quantity of inspections performed by our designers and project managers, I'm trying to put the emphasis back on the constructors.
CONTROL. I'm changing the terms of our contracts to limit the "construction planning period" to just the first 60 days after the award of the contract, before the notice to proceed. During that period, contractors will be required to review and comment on the plans and specifications, forcing them to actually look at them. They'll be required to prepare and submit construction management plans, to think about what resources they need and about where they need to put them. They'll have to submit detailed project schedules using the critical path method. And most importantly, they'll have to develop quality control plans, which they and all of their subs must sign.
I know that these requirements won't solve all the problems. I'm only addressing the symptoms. The disease is lack of training and loss of pride. The symptoms are construction defects. The solution is craft training. Quality construction ultimately depends on the men and women who drive the nails, tie the steel, pour the concrete and lay the bricks.
I'm working with the National Association of State Facilities Administrators as well as the Associated General Contractors of America to publicize the pervasive lack of construction quality. I'm also looking for ways to improve the training and competency of craft labor. Won't you help?n Georgia, where I oversee the majority of the state's major construction projects, general contractors are not performing their duty to provide quality construction. My agency, the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission, sells approximately $500 million in general obligation bonds annually, primarily for new construction. This year, our governor recommends doubling that sum. But even as a fairly large player, my agency struggles to ensure quality construction.