Originally published Wednesday, 04 September 2013

By Owners Perspective

This past May, Owners from across North America descended on Atlanta, Georgia, for COAA’s 2013 Spring Owners Leadership Conference. The three-day event was held at the Grand Hyatt in Buckhead, and it proved to be COAA’s largest conference ever, with 246 attendees from 33 different U.S. states and Canadian provinces.

This past May, Owners from across North America descended on Atlanta, Georgia, for COAA’s 2013 Spring Owners Leadership Conference. The three-day event was held at the Grand Hyatt in Buckhead, and it proved to be COAA’s largest conference ever, with 246 attendees from 33 different U.S. states and Canadian provinces. The event’s theme was “Hot Trends, Cool Ideas,” and as the title suggests, the conference was loaded with a wealth of meaningful sessions and presentations covering the most pressing issues facing today’s Owners.

Begin With the End in Mind

One area that nearly every Owner is challenged by is project closeout and facility turnover. While reaching the closeout phase means that a project is in its final stages, this “homestretch” period can often be quite challenging for Owners. To help Owners better manage this phase, COAA dedicated all of the conference presentations on Wednesday afternoon to closeout and facility turnover. With three different sessions and an Owner roundtable, attendees were provided with a series of lessons learned and best practices for improving the process of completion, inspection, commissioning, correction, acceptance, training, documentation, and initial occupancy.

“The presentations made it clear that project closeout and facility turnover is probably the most stressful and important part of a project for the Owner,” says Architect Alan Burcope of Finfrock. “This phase is when their staff and the building’s users are most active, and expectations and demands are highest.”

Rebecca Koller, Assistant Vice President and Director of Facilities Planning and Management at University of Nebraska, says the Wednesday sessions were valuable specifically because closeout can be such a trying time for Owners: “Late change orders, phased construction, equipment installation, and differing view of what constitutes ‘substantial’ completion all complicate this stage of the process.”

Augmenting Reality

While COAA Owner’s Leadership Conferences nearly always feature sessions devoted to the latest construction-related technology, Thursday’s opening session, “They Shoot, They Score! Advanced Visualization for Penn State Ice Arena” took this high-tech focus to the next level. The session featured a panel of speakers from Penn State who discussed how the university utilized advanced visualization technologies, like Computer Augmented Virtual Environments (CAVE), to design the new Pegula Ice Arena and help facilitate its long-term operational success. Beyond simply offering a graphic model of the facility, the virtual reality tools used by Penn State allowed both the project team and end users to literally immerse themselves inside a life-sized, 3D virtual representation of the facility. This incredible technology not only helped enhance the project’s design, but it also improved Penn State’s marketing, recruiting, training, and facility operations. The successful use of such futuristic technology on a capital construction project made the session a big hit with attendees.

“The session on CAVE was mega cool,” says Koller. “I had not seen this technology before, but now I’m checking with resources in Nebraska to see what we have and how it might be utilized.”

“There’s no question that visualization tools can greatly benefit Owners,” says Burcope. “Virtual reality tools like CAVE represent the next evolutionary step in design and the process of envisioning the product before constructing it.”

Selecting the Right Tool for the Job

Another popular Thursday session focused on a topic that was a bit more down to earth, albeit no less important—project delivery methods. The session “Selecting the Right Project Delivery Tool” featured a discussion about how the City of Phoenix, Arizona, has used alternate project delivery methods, such as Design-Build, Construction Manager at Risk, and Job Order Contracting, to successfully build more than $8 billion in capital construction over the past 13 years. The session offered a variety of best practices explaining how large public agencies can choose the best project delivery method for any given project.

Robert Doran, the Director of Planning and Campus Development at the University of New Mexico, found the session both interesting and informative, especially coming from a similar public institution.

“The session provided me with a sense of comfort, knowing that our use of various project delivery tools is in line with other institutions,” says Doran. “The growing use of Construction Manager at Risk for UNM and other institutional Owners is demonstrating the support for delivery methods that move toward the full incorporation of IPD. I believe that developing contracting and purchasing tools that create a fully collaborative and contractually responsible integrated owner, design and contracting teams would be in all of our interest.”

Keeping Up With Code

One session on Friday that proved to be especially valuable for Owners was “Get Smart: NFPA and IBC Code Changes that Owners Really Need to Know.” The session focused on recent updates to the International Building Code (IBC) and the National Fire Protection Association Life Safety Code (NFPA 101). These code changes have the potential to make Owners and their designers rethink certain design elements and features, and the session examined the code updates that stand to have the most impact on capital construction projects.

“This was the best session I attended,” says Koller. “It featured extremely important information for major projects that can extend over a number of years—particularly the potential for dedicated fire elevators. For me, this session alone paid for the conference.”

“I think that these code changes, especially those relating to elevators, will have a dramatic impact on mid-rise and high-rise building design and cost,” says Burcope.

Expanded Education

Like the Fall 2012 conference, at the spring conference COAA hosted several new Owner Training Institute (OTI) courses on the Monday and Tuesday prior to the main event. This time, COAA launched three new OTI courses: “Project Management: An Owner’s Perspective,” “Design Process Management,” and “Construction Process Management.” Each of these classes featured a three-person team of instructors led by an experienced Owner, who was joined by an architect and contractor. Teaching the course as a team, the instructors were able to provide the unique perspectives of each of the major parties involved with a project, giving participants a more complete picture of how all of the parts of a successful job fit together.

“In the PM course, we went through a checklist of things for Owners to consider when they’re deciding what delivery method to use. Then we gave them an example of an actual job. This gives them a chance to go through the thought process: ‘What would I do in this kind of project, what method would I use given these factors?’” says Terry Cook, Senior Associate Vice President for Administrative Services at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the Owner instructor for the Project Management course.

COAA plans to launch two more new OTI courses this coming December in Baltimore, Maryland. These two courses will be “Design-Build” and “Project Closeout,” and they will be held on December 12th and 13th at the Four Points Sheraton BWI Airport. Following that, the full suite of 14 OTI courses will be available in 2014, which coincides with COAA’s 20th anniversary. For more information or to register for a course, visit www.coaa.org/oti.

Forging Relationships

While the sessions and other educational offerings are a big draw for attendees, sometimes the most valuable part of a COAA Leadership Conference is the connections made with other attendees. Many Owners face similar challenges on their capital construction projects, so it can be a huge benefit to meet someone who has already successfully dealt with an issue you’re currently working on.

“I always enjoy the networking available at COAA conferences,” says Koller. “It’s not only about connecting with old friends, but also meeting new Owners and associates that are working on similar projects and issues and learning alternative ways to deal with these challenges. I’m really thankful we have such an opportunity.”

Living Laboratory

Following lunch on Friday, attendees had the opportunity to tour the G. Wayne Clough Learning Commons, an advanced new educational facility located in the heart of Georgia Tech campus. Awarded LEED Platinum certification, this 220,000-square foot building exemplifies the ultimate achievement in sustainability. Some of the building’s most important sustainable features include an innovative water recycling system with a projected 89-percent reuse, a 1.4 million-gallon underground cistern, locally sourced materials, a green roof, native landscaping, and a rooftop solar panel array.

“I was thoroughly impressed with the building and the campus,” says Koller. “The new facility is a living laboratory and a true leader in sustainability.”

Developed as an alternative to the traditional classroom setting, the facility offers a unique, comfortable environment where students can take advantage of hands-on, collaborative, and technologically advanced learning and teaching opportunities. In total, Clough Commons features 41 classrooms, ranging from intimate seminar settings to tiered lecture halls; two 300-seat auditoriums; a day-lit common areas with more than 2,100 seats for individual studying and group work; as well as modern science labs for all foundational courses.

For those members unable to make it to the spring conference in Atlanta, the sessions are available for download on COAA’s website, www.coaa.org. To access the files, follow these steps: log in, select “Members Only Content,” and then “Archives.” While you’re there, don’t forget to make your reservation for the 2013 Fall Owners Leadership Conference, which will be held October 30th to November 1st in La Jolla, California. See you there!