Originally posted Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Written by Nick Dorman

In early May, Owners from across the country met in Baltimore, Maryland, for COAA’s 2011 Spring Owners Leadership Conference. The three-day conference was held at the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, which proved to be an excellent venue, and attendance set a record for COAA’s Spring Conference. The theme of the conference, “Collaboration in Action,” was evident throughout, from the session “Design Assist – Integrating Subcontractors into the Project,” which addressed the potential benefits as well as the how-to of involving subcontractors early in a project, to “Taking BIM Success Beyond Construction,” one of the sessions dealing with the post-construction applications of BIM, and “Building Envelope Design Peer Review: Successes, Failures, and Strategies,” a presentation on the University of Virginia’s initiative requiring peer review on new capital projects and major renovations and the demonstrable quality improvements and savings it has resulted in. As collaborative design and delivery methods become more prevalent, COAA has taken the initiative to ensure that the nuances and full potential of these methods are known and available to its members. “The underlying theme is that project management is a participation sport, not a spectator’s sport,” said Howie Ferguson, Senior Project Manager at the University of Florida and Chairman of COAA’s Conference Committee. “The most successful construction Owners are the ones who are not afraid to get up and try new things. We’re trying to promote, celebrate, and encourage collaboration and taking action and not just sticking to the status quo.”

Sessions kept attendees apprised of the latest developments on the sustainability front, as well, including developments in LEED and the International Green Construction Code, and, as usual, the COAA conference committee was ahead of the curve in planning session topics, ensuring that Owners received the best and most cutting-edge information available. “I was really impressed that they had the foresight to talk about topics like achieving net zero and the green building code,” said Kevin Lewis, COAA Membership Committee Chair and Director of Construction for Loudoun County Public Schools. “It absolutely amazes me every time we go how relevant the presentations are to the industry.”

“Achieving Net Zero Energy – Not As Impossible As You Might Think!,” Presented by Paul Torcellini and Greg Collette of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Dave Shelton of DesignSense, Inc., profiled the NREL’s new Research Support Facility, which at a construction cost below the 50 percent quartile for its market is possibly the most energy efficient building in the world. And the session “Green Standards, Rating Systems, and Codes – Keeping up with the Changes” rounded out sustainability topics, updating Owners on the many ways green building is being codified and what it means for their projects.

Local interest came in the form of a speedboat tour of the historic sights around Baltimore’s harbor, as well as a presentation with lessons learned on the revival of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, including past and planned economic development and construction projects. The conference concluded with a backstage tour of the Maryland Science Center. Compelling as the venue and extracurriculars were, they were eclipsed by the content of the conference sessions. Asked about Baltimore’s attractions and diversions, Kevin Lewis was at a loss: “COAA has one of those conferences that people actually come to attend. They don’t come to go golfing somewhere else, because it’s such an excellent conference.”

The final session of the conference, the Owners’ Roundtable, was, as always, a hit. This unstructured exchange of information allows attendees to gain a deeper understanding of previous session topics by raising questions that may not have been answered in the Q&A portion of sessions, or simply to ask anything else that might be on their minds. This year, participants were able to text their ideas in and participate online, as well.

The opportunities the conference presents, of course, are not limited to the session floor. The networking available at COAA conferences is unique, as it’s one of the few places one can find such a large group of Owners from across the nation gathered in a single place. “The networking opportunities are just terrific,” said Kevin Lewis. “I met a guy there who provides services in my area that I didn’t even know. And there’s always some tidbit that you pick up from someone who is doing the same thing you are and dealing with the same issues.”

For those members who could not attend the conference, the presentations are available at COAA’s website, http://www.coaa.org. Log in, select “Members Only,” then “Archives” to download the files. Don’t forget, the 2011 Fall Owners Leadership Conference will be held November 9-11 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

As a result of overwhelmingly positive feedback, COAA is presenting the “Achieving Net Zero Energy – Not As Impossible As You Might Think!” session again via webinar on August 10, 2011. Visit www.coaa.org for more information.