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By: Orion Doscher

Published: February 26th, 2020

All buildings eventually require exterior maintenance. Perhaps the building is beginning to leak or no longer complies with the Façade Inspection Safety Program (FISP) codes. Maybe the building wants to go green or make the roof a public terrace. Whatever the case may be, it is important for property managers to start planning their projects in advance – approximately two seasons in advance. Planning ahead will not only allow for a smooth construction process and diminish the impact of common delays but can also significantly reduce the cost of the exterior restoration work.

The first step to starting an exterior project is for the owner or property manager to retain an Engineer or Architect; these design professionals will perform the design services throughout the project. Once the Engineer or Architect is retained, they will visit the site to examine and record the building’s conditions and deficiencies. With this information, CAD drawings are curated to illustrate the specific locations of conditions and their corresponding repair details. These drawings will be utilized throughout the project lifecycle, which includes the Contractors’ bid development, the Engineer/Architect’s on-site review of the construction work, for contractual compliance and the required filing(s) with the department of buildings for city review and compliance.

A qualified building envelope consultant will typically perform a comprehensive investigation during the design phase in order to develop a defined scope of work, a realistic project schedule and budget estimate for the Owner. This investigation may include probes, which can reduce the probability of unforeseen conditions or issues that result in extensive change orders, additional costs, prolonged project timelines. If essential information is acquired upfront the smoother the project will go.

The design phase generally includes an initial inspection, the development of drawings and specifications, and contractor selection; and is followed by DOB filing. Once the drawings and specifications are complete, it is time to select a contractor. By inviting 4-5 Contractors to bid on a project, it helps to ensure there are at least 3 bidders, if a couple are not able to bid. Additionally, 3-5 bidders helps ensure competitive pricing is obtained and the Owner can feel confident that they are a good fit for the building. The Contractor will be there every day until project completion, so the building should feel comfortable with them!

A pre-bid walkthrough is scheduled so the Contractors can visit the site and get a better idea of the scope of work, logistics for mobilization and determine the level of difficulty for site access. The bids are typically submitted within a couple of weeks after the site walkthrough. It is important to note that contractors bid projects differently depending on the time of year. Prices are typically higher when bidding close to the summer season. The further a project may be bid in advance of a busy season where a contractor may have a back-log, generally the quotes are more competitive. Further, the cost of construction labor, materials and insurance inevitably increases every year, so putting off a restoration project to the last moment can become a financial burden. We recommend that design services are performed in the fall/winter months and the bid process conducted during the winter for the purposes of planning, contractor availability and obtaining the most competitive quotes.

Once a Contractor is selected, the contract is reviewed by both parties’ attorneys, revised if necessary, and executed upon agreement. Be aware that the longer the Contractor selection and review process takes, the more likely it is for the Contractors to book other projects, resulting in personnel reassignments and potential delays.

The next step in the pre-construction timeline is acquiring the necessary work permits from the Department of Buildings (DOB). This lengthy process has many components and can take several weeks or more, depending on the time of year. Due to the nature of this filing phase, there is a high risk of delays. One potential delay is asbestos testing. Once the scope of the project is defined, the areas of work must be tested for asbestos and other potentially hazardous materials. If asbestos containing material (ACM) is present, abatement must be performed prior to the start of work and proof of abatement must be submitted to the DOB. The size of the building can also impact the project timeline; if a Site Safety Permit is required, an additional 4 weeks can be tacked on before construction can commence. If a building is registered as a landmark or happens to be located within a landmark district, separate forms, proposed restoration plans, means and methods of construction, and materials (to name a few), must be filed and approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC); the LPC process may take many more weeks to finalize. Even if all of these items are taken into account, the DOB can have objections to the project plans, which require drawing revisions and subsequent plan reviews.

Once the job is filed with the appropriate authorities, construction begins shortly after. Although everything appears perfect on paper, delays are still possible. For example, if a landmark building is approved for repair, material samples must still be submitted and approved by the LPC. These samples include everything from color to mortar tooling to texture of the replacement masonry. The Contractor crew may be on-site with a work permit and equipment, but the materials are awaiting LPC approval and the material lead-time is delayed due to the high demand. If an underlying condition is uncovered during construction, different repair strategies may need to be researched and further reviewed.

If there are no issues or delays, the timeline of pre-construction work may span approximately 3 months. However, as you read, logistics, unforeseen issues, and material approvals can extend the pre-construction and construction phases by days, weeks, or even entire seasons. If your building requires exterior work in the near future, get a head start with some proper planning to avoid having to be reactive to a critical or time sensitive restoration effort.

Feel free to contact Sullivan Engineering with questions about exterior restoration projects at (973) 706-8584 or via email at tkhoudary@sullivanengineeringllc.com.

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