Originally posted Wednesday, 02 September 2015

Written by Chris Towery

In May, COAA members from across the country gathered in Baltimore, Maryland, for the 2015 Spring Owners Leadership Conference.

In May, COAA members from across the country gathered in Baltimore, Maryland, for the 2015 Spring Owners Leadership Conference. Running from May 13-15, the event was held at the Hilton Baltimore, which is centrally located just across the street from the legendary Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The conference was jam packed with valuable educational sessions, interactive discussions, and networking opportunities designed to help Owners hit a home run with their next project.

Integrate and Collaborate

The first session on Wednesday, “Soaring to New Heights in Project Delivery: Let’s Talk About It,” was led by Walt Disney’s Bill Seed, and it discussed how Owners can make their projects more collaborative and efficient by adopting Integrated Lean Project Delivery. While Integrated Lean Project Delivery is one of the industry’s most cutting-edge processes, many Owners have little experience with it, so Seed outlined exactly what it entails and talked about how Disney has made the method work for its latest projects. Seed’s knowledge and enthusiasm for this collaborative approach was infectious and left attendees inspired to use a more integrated style within their own organizations.

“Bill Seed is a visionary and an evangelist,” said Jeffery Lynch, Director of Client Services at Wagman Construction, Inc. “Bill is leading the way to new thinking about how to make project delivery more collaborative, and this presentation showed that.”

Following Seed’s presentation, attendees were given the chance to pick key topics related to Lean and engage one another in carousel roundtable discussions. The carousels were led by seasoned facilitators and centered around published white papers on the topics. Once the carousels concluded, everyone met again for an out-brief session and open forum on the topics. These discussions provided attendees with practical take-home lessons for adopting such methods in their own projects.

“The carousel-style breakout sessions were dynamic discussions that leveraged the vast experience in the room,” said Sue Klawans, Vice President and Director of Operational Excellence and Planning with Gilbane Building Company. “In these discussions, we shared what works as well as our ideas about how to overcome obstacles.”

Historical Adaptation

One of the conference’s most popular sessions was Friday’s “Adaptive Reuse At UChicago: Overcoming Obstacles To Create a New Campus Destination.” Led by the University of Chicago’s Larry Blouin, the presentation detailed how the Owner and his team successfully transformed a 100,000 square-foot theological seminary built in the 1920s into a vibrant campus hub featuring lecture halls, offices, study areas, and meeting spaces.

Undertaking a project like this came with many inherent risks, including the building’s age, the lack of as-built documents, historic preservation considerations, site logistics, and budget constraints. In spite of these challenges, the team was able to adapt this historically significant space into a thoroughly modern facility, while maintaining much of the building’s traditional charm. The session covered the main strategies the Owner used to overcome these obstacles, including facilitated partnering, design assist with key subcontractors, and the establishment of a collaborative culture and team-oriented approach.

Making Design Assist Work

The benefits of using design assist were also highlighted in Thursday’s session “Design Assist From a Subcontractor’s Perspective,” which was led by Southland Industries’ Victor Sandivo. Although the construction industry can be highly fragmented and often inhibits clear communication, Sandivo explained how Owners can use design assist to engage with trade contractors early on in order to streamline design as well as increase understanding and efficiency. The session proved an attendee favorite, and one of the reasons for this was due to the practical nature of Sandivo’s discussion.

“Vic gave a lot of actionable information and insight,” said Lynch. “He backed up his ideas with real data and provided some great ideas we can use in our own projects. Some of the solutions I liked most included using the ‘A3’ solution/ format to document all decisions, establishing project targets very early in the process, and eliminating unnecessary ‘electronic junk’ in the models.”


The National Aquarium

One special benefit of holding the conference in Baltimore was its proximity to the National Aquarium located along the city’s Inner Harbor. Established in 1873, the National Aquarium is the nation’s first public aquarium and was initially housed in Wood’s Hole, Massachusetts. Over the next century, it was moved to various locations in Washington D.C. until it found its current home in Baltimore in 1981. On Friday morning, the Aquarium’s Dale Schmidt hosted the conference session “National Aquarium Renovations: Swimming With Sharks And Coming Out On Top,” in which he shared the best practices his team developed while constructing two of the aquarium’s newest exhibits, Blacktip Reef and Living Seashore.

Both the Blacktip Reef and Living Seashore are incredible, one-of-a-kind exhibits, and the design and construction of both came with a number of challenges due to their unique purpose and the number of internal stakeholders involved. To facilitate the success of these two projects, Schmidt described how the aquarium created integrated project teams that strived for transparent and open communications.

By clearly communicating and valuing the vested interests of the individual stakeholders as well as the Aquarium’s overall project goals, the team was able to make value-added decisions and deliver these state-of-the-art exhibits, while staying true to the aquarium’s corporate mission. Moreover, following lunch and the Owners Roundtable on Friday afternoon, COAA members were treated to a behind-the- scenes tour of Blacktip Reef to see the breathtaking results of the National Aquarium’s superior project management efforts.

“The new exhibit was really intriguing,” said Jack Mumma, Construction Contract Administrator at Michigan State University.” I heard comments on people flow, accessibility, and function of the space. It was valuable to see how a fellow Owner dealt with issues that we all have, even in a very different venue.”


Merging BIM and BAS

As always, the spring conference offered multiple presentations devoted to the latest advances in technology, and the session “BIM Meets BAS: How Technology Integration Is Leading The GSA To Smarter Buildings” provided insights for getting the most out of two extremely high-tech tools—Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Building Automation Systems (BAS). The session was led by the GSA’s Steve Devito, who explained how Owners can achieve enhanced value from BIM and BAS by getting the two platforms to “talk” with one another. Devito discussed how the GSA has married BIM with BAS in one of their mid-Atlantic facilities and how they plan to use a similar approach in future projects.

Attendee Lisa Ferreira, Associate Principal with Goody Clancy, said she was particularly taken by how the GSA managed to implement such progressive practices given the amount of “red tape” a federal agency typically encounters.

“The GSA is one of the largest bureaucratic entities in the country,” said Ferreira, “so if they can manage to modify and stretch their processes to achieve such excellence, it should really be easy for the rest of us. I was also impressed by their ability to achieve net zero on a historically significant structure.”

Facilitating Conversations and Connections

In addition to the tour of the National Aquarium, conference attendees also had the opportunity to catch a Baltimore Oriole’s game on Friday evening. The Major League Baseball matchup saw the Orioles take on the Los Angeles Angels, and although the home team ended up losing 4-5, the opportunity to attend a ballgame at historic Camden Yards and mingle with other COAA members in a festive atmosphere was quite a memorable experience.

Of course, even those who didn’t catch the game had plenty of chances to network with other attendees. Outside of the sessions, COAA conferences always offer many of casual opportunities for members to connect, including catered breakfasts and lunches, happy hour-style receptions, and numerous breaks held throughout the event. Indeed, by giving attendees the chance make new friends and connections, these networking opportunities can prove just as valuable as the educational sessions.

“I’ve been coming to COAA conferences since 2008,” said Clay Hanks, Director, Texas A&M Health Science Center. “The conferences provide an intimate networking environment that is both welcoming and collaborative. It’s great to have the opportunity to interact with other Owners and our industry partners in the different settings. I find that discussing projects and sharing on-the-job experiences with new friends and old is invaluable. In short, the professional relationships developed through COAA provide tangible value and purpose.”

For those members unable to attend the Baltimore conference, the presentations are available on COAA’s website, www.coaa.org. To access the conference files, log in and select “Members Only Content” and then “Archives.” While online, don’t forget to reserve your spot at the 2015 Fall Owner’s Leadership Conference, which takes place November 4-6 in Henderson (Las Vegas), NV.