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Working contractor to contractor
In no way has the post-regulatory era of radio broadcasting made itself felt more than by today's wholesale movement and consolidation of station facilities. One result of all this activity has been a frenzy of new construction projects, in which engineers frequently find themselves playing an intermediary role between station management and building trades. For those experienced in such things, the demands and frustrations of working with contractors are daunting enough, but for the novice, the experience can be overwhelming. Here are a few tips to help grease the rails of your next construction project.
Every construction-related move usually includes the following cast: a client (station management) who pays the bills, a general contractor and related subcontractors who actually oversee and perform the work, building inspectors who inspect the work and ultimately issue occupancy permits, and you, the engineer charged with seeing that the client winds up with a functional facility. Although architects are typically included on many projects, it is not uncommon for them to be cut out of small jobs, such as renovations, in the interest of saving money. In these situations, the general contractor actually draws the construction plans. In either case, the challenges are the same.
Once a decision is made to move or build, the planning process begins. This is a phase in which every engineer should be thoroughly involved, yet all too often isn't. Try to avert this mistake by suggesting that the client will actually save money by including you in the planning process at the outset. As one contractor put it: “planning is everything…it's where you maximize your return on investment.” Radio stations are highly specialized operations, making it critical that the architects and contractors understand not only what has to be done, but why. Take the time necessary to educate them about the unique need for soundproofing, room noise reduction, isolated grounds, HVAC, electrical and low-voltage cabling requirements. If possible, identify a local or regional facility that you consider a model for what you have in mind and arrange a tour that includes the key players — you'll find it to be time well spent.
After plans have been drawn, review them carefully with the general contractor (G.C.) to be sure there are no omissions or conflicts between different mechanical elements such as HVAC, electrical, safety (sprinklers/alarms) and partition systems. Remember that every electrical circuit and outlet needs to be detailed in the planning phase. Likewise, pay close attention to HVAC ducting and partition design to ensure the integrity of soundproof areas. Be sure to review the equipment grounding plan with the electrical subcontractor to see that it will meet all applicable codes, and whether low voltage audio and control cabling can be installed without a permit. While it's true that you can make changes or additions during construction, the price penalties incurred at that stage are usually substantial.
As construction begins, get the G.C.'s approval to visit on-site for inspections and informal meetings with subcontractors on a regular (sometimes daily) basis. Plan on getting up early — the best time to meet with the crew is when they arrive at the job, which is often no later than 7 a.m. Treat everyone with respect and don't be afraid to teach them about radio as they teach you about construction — your interpersonal communication skills can pay big dividends. And, always be sure to bring coffee and doughnuts. Make these folks feel like they're a part of the radio team and you'll be amazed at how responsive they can be.
Regardless of the size of the project, the same supervision requirements apply.
During the build-out, stay in close contact with the G.C., who may or may not be a regular presence on the job site. Be available for questions (via cell phone or e-mail) to the G.C. and the subcontractors at all times. Keep detailed notes and don't be afraid to take pictures of things you perceive to be issues. Keep in mind that the subcontractors are actually working for the G.C. and that, while it may be OK for you to answer their questions and provide guidance, any actual changes in the work must be handed through a change order issued by the G.C. — for an additional fee, of course.
As construction wraps up, work with the client and the G.C. to develop a punch list that details the inevitable discrepancies and omissions in work performed and provides for their timely resolution. Be fair, courteous, but insistent that each job be completed properly.
One on one
Often, you'll be working on smaller-scale projects where no general contractor has been hired. The same rules apply, but now you are responsible for overseeing all the details. Be sure to plan everything in consultation with your contractor and put it all in writing. Generate drawings that clearly show details and dimensions. Ask lots of questions. For example, who is responsible for permit applications and inspections? What exactly is the contractor providing, in terms of hookups and testing of systems? Finally, who will clean up and be responsible for making cosmetic fixes to drywall, paint, flooring or landscaping? Spell all of these things out in the contract. This point cannot be emphasized strongly enough.
In sum, working with other contractors is intense, detailed work that requires every ounce of concentration, patience and perseverance that you can muster. But with realistic expectations and the right approach, you and your client will be rewarded with a facility you can both be proud of.
Krieger, Radio's consultant on contract engineering, is based in Cleveland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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