Transparent and informed preconstruction leads to collaborative construction management success
Preconstruction services led by industry veterans provide enormous benefits for owners and designers by mapping out a clear vision of delivery and resolving potential challenges before they arise – saving potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in schedule and cost overruns.
Highly successful construction projects are the result of a well-balanced blend of interchangeable cost, schedule, and budget considerations. Developing the construction management skills and know-how to complement each of these components and integrate a myriad of potential issues ever present in the industry requires individuals with a passion for the work, a history of hands-on ingenuity, and a “team-driven” mindset.
F.A. Wilhelm Construction (Wilhelm) believes strongly in the “team-driven” approach providing integrated construction management from more than a dozen seasoned preconstruction providers housed in the midst of seasoned estimators, builders, and tradespersons – all well-versed in construction delivery.
Phil Kenney, Wilhelm’s president says, “Wilhelm’s integrated approach has made the company a leader in the delivery of preconstruction services.” But, according to Kenney, “His company’s success in preconstruction is also built on 93 years of construction experience.”
Integration is key to delivering value
Early inclusion of the construction management team in collaborative development sessions with owners and designers ensures the end project incorporates the goals and vision intended from the onset. This all-inclusive approach sets the tone and structure for how team members impart and share knowledge and work together in a transparent environment focused on the project’s ultimate success.
One of Wilhelm’s value-added preconstruction services is bringing additional resources in relevant “non-traditional” expertise to the table. Wilhelm includes key individuals from it’s in house trade-specific builders, to specialty subcontractors and equipment suppliers, to client advocate leaders dedicated solely to ensuring the building process itself is enjoyable.
Says Kenney, “Wilhelm’s approach to preconstruction integrates staff from other areas not typically considered part of the process. This is what sets Wilhelm’s preconstruction services apart from other companies.”
Doug Gebhardt, a dedicated client advocate and business development manager at Wilhelm, agrees. “At Wilhelm,” he said, “we take a holistic approach to the preconstruction process. At its core, the process is relationship-based – a collaborative effort.”
Traditionally, the industry standard was for business development staff to remove themselves from the process once the opportunity landed. In contrast, Wilhelm’s business development managers stay engaged with the project. Said Gebhardt, “We stay involved at a higher level and become internal client advocates focused and dedicated to the project’s success.” As projects move through preconstruction and construction, client feedback meetings held by business development gauge satisfaction and inform the process. “We continually assess project performance to ensure client expectations are being met. We listen, we ask the right questions, and we pursue solutions that are in the client’s best interests,” said Gebhardt.
Another traditional standard is operations staff engaging at the time of construction in lieu of during design development leaving wide knowledge gaps between designer, preconstruction and construction activities.
Andrew Litke, Operations manager and lead construction manager for healthcare services explains that it is critical for operations managers and project managers, and even superintendents to be involved early. “Once construction begins, these individuals serve as conduits for transferring information between the preconstruction team and construction crews on site. We’re there to share with the construction team why decisions were made and what the client is looking to achieve. And we’re there to communicate with the clients so they are getting exactly what they want and expect,” Litke said.
Litke also stressed that preconstruction does not end when construction begins. He said members of Wilhelm’s preconstruction team can often be found on site, helping to navigate any issues that might require changes in the design or cost of the project. Kenney said that, like the business development and operations staff, the preconstruction team also stays engaged, conducting site visits and reviewing lessons learned as the project winds up.
Resources are critical
One of the biggest challenges facing many projects and construction managers today is the lack of abundance and availability of skilled labor. In looking at changes in 2016, Dodge Data & Analytics’ 2016 Construction Outlook predicted a 6% growth in construction with project values potentially reaching an estimated $712 billion. This high growth, coupled with a steady decline in young talent entering the construction trades, are leading to global strains in staffing availability.
Employing a construction management firm with local, long-standing partnerships in the area can really benefit owners challenged with delivering projects in a labor-stretched economy. And, engaging a firm who can self-perform major portions of the work double insulates owners from the impacts associated with not having the right type of labor available.
With Wilhelm’s depth of unmatched resources, they are able to weather labor ebbs and flows using a four-tiered approach. First, as the largest employer of construction labor in Indiana, they house a deep bench of skillsets on hand at all times. Secondly, they embrace diversity – from both an internal and external perspective – drawing upon the expertise and abilities of large multicultural communities. Third, their history of ongoing, fair and collaborative work with subcontractors, vendors and suppliers ensures maximum bidding participation. And lastly, Wilhelm supports and encourages growth of talent in the industry – throughout mentorships, educational opportunities, and financial support – working hands-on to promote and encourage the next generation of builders.
In tight labor markets, clients experience a shortage of in-depth preconstruction services as well. Often firms rely on busy subcontractors and industry experts to provide feedback on scope, budget, schedule and material items – resulting in delivery delays and dated information. A resource-laden preconstruction team is not hindered by harried schedules; instead it is able to produce “as-changes-occur” pricing and scheduling impacts.
Kenney said, strictly speaking, “Wilhelm’s preconstruction team consists of about a dozen people. However, the resources beyond that include several hundred,” he said. “Where we are different is in the number of in-house experts we have able to self-perform the different services that go into a construction project – everything from excavation to commissioning.” Kenney said, “Our preconstruction team has all these resources available to them. When they have a question, they sit down with fellow employees to find the answer.”
In preconstruction, it is essential to understand how a building comes together and how all components mesh. A good preconstruction team has the ability to build the project in their minds and then develop high level estimates with what is often times very limited information. According to Gebhardt, “That’s particularly true early in the process when there may not be much done yet in the way of design.” Wilhelm’s preconstruction team helps clients develop a reasonable budget using what they know about the potential project, or project and its components. Some of that comes from historical databases,” he said, “And, some of it comes from experience.”
One question owners often ask is when should preconstruction services be used? A good answer to this question is based on the project itself, the project goals, and the timeline. Construction management delivery works extremely well on complex projects with tight timelines. Essentially, the bigger and more complex the project, the bigger and better the benefits realized from preconstruction services.
Healthcare is one of the key markets benefitting from preconstruction. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare is the fastest growing industry in the country with more than a million new jobs expected by 202. This growth is in turn fueling the need for new healthcare construction and renovation of existing facilities.
While this is good news for the construction industry, Gebhardt points out that healthcare projects are unlike most other types of construction projects. “Healthcare is not a commodity construction effort”, said Gebhardt.
Litke shared that healthcare projects are more complex. He explained that medical offices, hospitals, emergency rooms, urgent care clinics and nursing facilities all have unique requirements that make preconstruction critical to their successful construction or renovation.
Bob Kaiser, Executive Director of Design and Construction for IU Health Bloomington said one of the most important things in healthcare construction is an understanding of hospital regulations and requirements relative to construction. He said that when his organization was deciding on a company to build the IU Health Morgan facility in Martinsville, Indiana, “We were also focused on a background of experience in renovation and an understanding of sequencing and infection control guidelines.”
IU Health hired Wilhelm as construction manager to turn the 40-year-old Morgan County Hospital into a state-of-the-art ambulatory care facility that would meet the needs of people requiring urgent care and outpatient care.
Litke said there are a lot of small details that preconstruction must work out to ensure a successful build. He said sound deadening is a good example. “Federal requirements dictate that facilities protect private health information,” Litke said noting that “Part of this is ensuring they have a way to protect private conversations about their patients’ health.”
The mechanics of the construction are equally complex. Spaces above ceilings are a big consideration in healthcare projects.” These space must accommodate all utility lines for the floor above, as well as, the ductwork and transfer stations for the pneumatic tubes used to quickly move medicines and paperwork throughout the facility. “You also have to factor in the unique air movement requirements and number of exchanges for the different types of rooms that a healthcare facility might have which also dictates the size of your ductwork,” Litke said. He noted for example that in operating rooms, the ductwork for air supply and return is bigger than it would be for other rooms in the facility. Patient rooms and operating rooms each have their own design criteria.”
Adrianne Rhoades, preconstruction manager for the IU Health Morgan project said that one of the primary goals of preconstruction is to maximize the owner’s budget. “Here at Wilhelm,” she said, “we have a core group of people with extensive experience in healthcare.” Rhoades said that having this kind of knowledge in-house helps teams quickly align budgets to ever-evolving design changes.
Citing the IU Health Morgan project as an example, Rhoades said preconstruction for healthcare facilities is complex with “multiple factors in flux at any given time.” She said the project had to go through several design changes. “It was a very dynamic process,” said Rhoades, “To make it successful, you have to be flexible and able to move with the project.”
Kaiser said working with Wilhelm on this project was highly beneficial for IU Health in a couple of ways. First, Wilhelm worked with IU Health and its architects to balance the project budget. “We had a fixed budget for this project. The number was established well before we knew the total scope of the design. Wilhelm helped balance what we could afford based on our budget and project needs.” Wilhelm’s preconstruction services also provided sequencing to minimize disruption in the hospital and deliver the project as quickly as possible.
It’s all about relationships
Wilhelm’s relationship with IU Health dates back more than a decade with several Indiana projects including the IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, IU Health North in Carmel, and Arnett Hospital in Lafayette – the last large hospital built on a green-field site in Indiana.
Kenney said working with IU Health on the Arnett project was instrumental in the evolution of Wilhelm’s preconstruction division.
“It was this project with IU Health that really kicked off our preconstruction efforts,” Kenney said. He explained that what is now Wilhelm’s preconstruction services division was born 11 years ago when IU Health selected Wilhelm to construct the Lafayette Arnett facility. Kenney said, “Although we had provided preconstruction and construction management services for years, we never called it that. He said the Arnett project and all the good feedback from IU Health was instrumental in helping Wilhelm formalize its preconstruction processes.
Kaiser said, “Wilhelm has done an excellent job for IU Health. The depth of knowledge that Wilhelm has adds value in being able to expedite the construction process,” he said, adding that top executives at IU Health recently “shared their support of all the team has done at the IU Morgan facility.”
Kenney attributes the successful preconstruction efforts for the IU Health Morgan facility to the passion of his people. “Our preconstruction managers take a huge interest in the outcome of a project, both from an individual client perspective and for the project as a whole. It’s very personal for them because they’re so passionate about it.”
And speaking of passion
At the end of the day, the core of Wilhelm’s preconstruction services stems from a passion to serve people – by providing well-built facilities designed for living, working, learning, playing, discovering and healing. Through open collaboration and shared project goals with owners and designers, Wilhelm’s preconstruction and construction management teams deliver optimal spaces that accommodate all the ways people interact with and use facilities.
The upcoming issue of Wilhelm Works will feature the ways technology is improving the preconstruction process
 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics