Archive for March, 2010

Housing Authority Gives Site to Feds, Yields $2m in Stimulus Funds

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

A housing authority director in Malden, Massachusetts, federalized a 50-plus-year-old facility and picked up $2 million in federal stimulus funds. Here are the first few paragraphs of the March 24 story by Alix Roy on boston.com.

Linden Homes residents will enjoy improvements to the complex and lowered utility costs thanks to some careful reading by Malden Housing Authority executive director Stephen Finn, who spearheaded a plan to federalize the public housing facility, making it eligible for millions in stimulus funds.

The federalization of the Linden Homes complex, which is located at the intersection of routes 60 and 99, was announced last week by city and state officials. The complex, which contains 220 units, was formerly subsidized by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.

The city’s efforts to federalize the complex began after Finn noticed a clause in the federal stimulus bill authorizing public housing authorities to use federal funding to “construct or acquire” new federal units. The clause appeared to circumvent a Congressional act limiting the number of federally assisted properties an agency maintains in their portfolio.

The money will go toward several projects, including drainage improvements, accessibility upgrades, updated bathrooms and kitchens, new basement windows and revamped electrical and ventilation systems. The state also committed $1 million for the renovation.

Floodless Coup for Somerville Avenue – Infrastructure Investment Pays Dividends

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

SOMERVILLE, Massachusetts – Water, water everywhere…except on Somerville Avenue.

The weekend storm that flooded basements and closed roadways all across New England caused barely a ripple on Somerville Avenue, which has historically been a watery nightmare for city residents and area businesses during even moderate rainfalls.

A vital commercial roadway that connects Porter Square and Union Square, Somerville Avenue is undergoing a massive reconstruction project that has included replacement of its antiquated underground infrastructure. Design of this major roadway improvement project, led by Somerville-based Design Consultants, Inc. (DCI), was completed in 2007 with construction anticipated to end this spring.

The $20 million project passed its first major test last weekend when the oft-flooded roadway held up remarkably well under almost 10 inches of rain. This on a street that many once called “Lake Somerville” during major storms, and that experienced manhole covers blowing off due to the pressure on the drains, sinkholes, and frequently flooded businesses all along the route.

While everyone can see the results of the reconstruction project in terms of beautification, traffic flow and now flood mitigation, the unseen aspects of the work may be even more important, says David Giangrande, president of Design Consultants.

The old combined sewer system was over 100 years old, and it couldn’t handle a heavy rainfall,” says Giangrande, whose business has been in Somerville since its founding in 1980. “The water would push right through the manhole covers and catch basins, resulting in untreated sewerage flooding onto the street. I hate to think of what would have happened on Somerville Avenue in this storm if we hadn’t rebuilt the system.”

DCI’s design work for Somerville Avenue included the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the existing brick arch combined sewer system, a new five- to seven-foot drainage system, new water mains and rehabilitation of separated sewers, full depth roadway reconstruction, and sidewalk and pedestrian improvements. The roadway drainage and signal improvements were paid for by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, while the sewer and water improvements were funded by the City of Somerville through MWRA.

In recent years, many other documented incidences of serious flooding occurred during storms that were far less intense than the one this past weekend. In a 2005 report to the City of Somerville, DCI reported that “between 1994 and 2000, a partial history of DPW records indicates that significant flooding occurred at least 18 times over a six-year period. In recent year, it has been observed that significant flooding still occurs at an approximate rate of three times per year.”

Conversely, following the weekend storm, a local newspaper blog reported: “These past few days, Somerville Avenue didn’t turn into Lake Somerville. The intersection of Medford Street and School Street wasn’t a wading pool. Dozens of other locations across the city didn’t flood out roadways for the first time in many, many years. That’s progress.”

A Glimpse into PSMJ’s AEC Issue Briefing on Integrated Project Delivery

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction to my new publication, PSMJ’s AEC Issue Brief: Integrated Project Delivery, which you can only find exclusively here at AEC Insight (or in the book, if you buy it!). It is the publisher’s March “Book of the Month.”

Introduction: Why You Should Care About IPD

When I first started writing about design and construction in 1993, a new concept in project delivery gripped the industry’s attention. Its passionate supporters presented it as the next big thing, an innovation that every large and mid-sized project would someday incorporate into the delivery process.

We saw the future of project delivery and its name was partnering.

I remember thinking that the idea of bringing together all key participants in a major project at the very beginning sounded good. In theory, it would allow everyone on the project team to understand the expectations and ideas of the others, while opening communication lines and creating personal relationships.

At the same time, I wondered if partnering would ever gain widespread acceptance in an industry where time and money are of such critical importance and at such a premium. How could architects, engineers, contractors and owners— people with barely enough time to return a phone call, with schedules booked solid for weeks and months ahead— drop everything for several days to live in huts and sing “Kumbaya” around a campfire (which is how partnering’s many skeptics often described these events)?

Seventeen years later, partnering hasn’t exactly taken the construction world by storm. Do a Google search on “partnering on construction projects”; you’ll find that most of the books and articles on partnering came out a decade ago or more (or that the word is used in an entirely different context). Few people in the industry, and almost no one in small and midsized firms, have ever participated in a partnering session as we then knew it.

It is true that some clients and projects still practice partnering in various forms and to varying degrees. It is even possibly an ancestor to other collaborative planning techniques, including Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), the subject of this publication. But partnering in 2010 is no more a staple of the design and construction industry than TQM (total quality management) or BPR (business process reengineering), two other ideas that sounded good in theory.

It’s fair to say that partnering didn’t live up to the hype.

The hype is now buzzing relentlessly around IPD. It is the increasingly frequent subject of seminars and webinars, conferences and workshops, articles and books, organizations and associations. If you’re not talking about, learning about or thinking about IPD, you’re living in a figurative cave.

“IPD is hot! IPD is now! IPD is the project delivery method of the future, so you better get on board now or the train will leave without you.”

Just wait until architects, engineers, owners and contractors actually start using it on real projects.

You see, despite the incredible “hotness” of IPD, relatively few projects in the U.S. have actually used this delivery method. And, depending on how you define IPD (more on that later), the “few” may be even fewer.

So while IPD is currently the toast of the industry, it is a distant, mysterious concept to the vast majority of professionals working in the estimated one and a quarter million AEC companies in the United States. Some AEC firms may even be working in IPD arrangements, at least as some define the term, and not even know it.

This begs the question, why write this treatise on IPD if it is possibly just another fad? Why should you, the reader, waste time learning about something that could wind up being this generation’s version of partnering?

First, it’s important to remember that not everything about partnering went the way of the Discman, Spuds McKenzie and other 90s fads. Many people credit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) with originating partnering as we came to know it. And while the terminology has changed— the Corps now seems to prefer the term “Collaborative Planning”— remnants of partnering live on in some large USACE projects. They’re not alone on this, either.

Collaborative planning is a good term that strikes at the essence of both partnering and IPD, without the “touchy-feely” baggage that grew to accompany the former. In 2010, collaborative planning among project team members survives in a number of forms, including as a basis for some of IPD’s principles (e.g., collaborative innovation, mutual respect and trust, open communication).

So even if IPD eventually goes down the same path as partnering, some of its better elements may survive to help create the next industry trend.

More importantly, IPD is not partnering.

Partnering and IPD both grew out of the commonsense concept that projects benefit from the people involved cooperatively considering the process and the product before creating too much of either. Both are the backlash of an industry that has unintentionally built distrust, inefficiency, and finger-pointing into the system.

A major difference between the two is that partnering addresses mainly the “softer” side of the problem, where IPD can affect many of the harder elements of a project, such as the contractual terms.

The 65-page briefing delves into several aspects of IPD, including how it is defined, how IPD projects work, the history of IPD, some sample IPD projects, and the outlook for IPD.

As I wrote at the end of the intro, “The overriding charge of this PSMJ AEC Issue Brief is to offer an entirely unbiased, agenda-free perspective on IPD and the role it plays— and is likely to play— across the wide AEC industry.” I believe the document lives up to that mission and hope the readers agree.

Bunning Takes One for the Team

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

With Democrats relishing his gift of gaffe and fellow Republicans supporting him the way Gatorade did Tiger Woods, lame duck Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning has ended his game of political solitaire. Bunning, an MLB Hall of Fame pitcher in his younger days, today backed off his refusal to allow a vote on a spending bill extension. This means nearly 2000 furloughed DOT workers will be back on the job on Wednesday, and fears of massive stoppage of federally funded roadway projects can be set to rest…for another month anyway.

WASHINGTON (AP) – A Republican that had been stubbornly blocking a stopgap measure to extend help for the jobless relented on Tuesday under withering assaults from Democrats and dwindling support within his own party.

Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky had been single-handedly blocking the $10 billion measure, causing federal furloughs and threatening the unemployment benefits of hundreds of thousands of people. He was seeking to force Democrats to find ways to finance the bill so that it wouldn’t add to the deficit, but his move sparked a political tempest that has subjected Republicans to withering media coverage and cost the party politically.

The bill is now slated to come to a vote Tuesday night. It passed the House last week and is likely to be signed into law immediately by President Barack Obama so that 2,000 furloughed Transportation Department workers can go back to work on Wednesday. They’re likely to be awarded back pay once the program is revived.

A law that provided stopgap road funding and longer and more generous unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for the jobless expired Monday. Without the extension, about 200,000 jobless people would have lost federal benefits this week alone, according to the liberal-leaning National Employment Law Project.

The measure to be voted on tonight would extend through the end of the month several programs that expired on Monday, including the jobless aid, federal highway funding and help for doctors facing cuts in Medicare payments.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_budget_impasse

“Screwball” Bunning’s Obstruction Leads to DOT Furloughs, Halts Construction Projects

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post today wrote what a lot of people inside and outside DC are saying about former MLB pitcher and current Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning.

In his 17 years pitching in the big leagues, Jim Bunning was known for his graceful curveball, his rising slider and his sidearm fastball. Now 78 years old and about to retire from the Senate, the Republican of Kentucky is apparently down to only one pitch: the screwball.

Bunning’s solitary opposition to an extension spending bill has, among other things, resulted in nearly 2000 DOT employees being told to stay home Monday.

In a press release, the DOT said it “will furlough nearly 2,000 employees without pay Monday, temporarily shutting down highway reimbursements to states worth hundreds of millions of dollars, national anti-drunk driving efforts, and multi-million dollar construction projects across the country. The action comes as a result of Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning’s decision to block key legislation that would have extended several critical priorities for middle-class families. That legislation covered tax credits for COBRA health coverage, unemployment insurance for 400,000 people, as well as the short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund. The Fund supports all surface transportation programs for the nation—highways, bridges, transit and safety inspections.”

Here’s more of Milbank’s take on Bunning:

For four days, he has been on a one-man campaign to cut off unemployment benefits, kick the unemployed off of health insurance, cut Medicare payments to doctors, deny satellite TV to rural Americans, shut down federal flood insurance and highway projects, and furlough thousands of federal workers.

Democrats can hardly believe the gift Bunning has given them by single-handedly shutting down these popular programs. Bunning’s fellow Republicans are aghast. If this were baseball, the Hall of Famer would be on his way down to triple-A. But this is the Senate, where any one of the 100 members has the ability to bring proceedings to a halt, and Bunning continues to hurl his wild pitches.

The ornery Kentuckian said he was merely insisting that Congress find a way to pay for the $10 billion, 30-day extension, but that was difficult to square with his recent votes against attempts to rein in debt and spending.

This left people puzzling over Bunning’s motives. Was he taking revenge on his senior colleague from Kentucky, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who helped to push Bunning into retirement? Or was he just being, well, crazy? This second possibility cannot be dismissed out of hand. With the Phillies and the Tigers, he had enviable accuracy, boasting one of the best strikeout-to-walk ratios. But since his reelection campaign, in 2004, Bunning has had some serious control problems.

He said his opponent looked like one of Saddam Hussein’s sons. He suggested that he and his wife had been roughed up by “little green doctors” at a political picnic. He refused to debate in person, instead doing so by teleconference from Republican National Committee offices in Washington, where he used a teleprompter.

Just over a year ago, Bunning resumed his erratic form when he predicted in public that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would probably be dead from pancreatic cancer within nine months.

Yet, with the possible exception of that perfect game in ’64, the events of the past week have been Bunning’s most visible.

You can read the full column here.

The USDOT, including fellow Republican Ray LaHood, also didn’t hold back its criticism of Bunning:

“As American families are struggling in tough economic times, I am keenly disappointed that political games are putting a stop to important construction projects around the country,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “This means that construction workers will be sent home from job sites because federal inspectors must be furloughed.”

Because of the shutdown, federal inspectors will be removed from critical construction projects, forcing work to come to a halt on federal lands. Projects span the country, including the $36 million replacement of the Humpback Bridge on the George Washington Parkway in Virginia, $15 million in bridge construction and stream rehabilitation in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, and the $8 million resurfacing of the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi. A full list of the FHWA construction projects affected by the furlough is below.

You can read the full release, including a list of affected projects, here.

St. Petersburg Times: “What construction slump? USF is booming”

Monday, March 1st, 2010

One of the key findings from PSMJ’s 2010 AEC Firm U.S. Market Sector Forecast was that the higher education market would likely be off a bit, but still remain relatively healthy overall. Here’s some news from South Florida about one school that is keeping the capital construction program alive:

From the St. Petersburg Times:

Construction is booming at the University of South Florida. Four projects will add nearly 475,000 square feet to the campus, about as much space as in a 35-story skyscraper. So how can USF afford $179 million in construction during a recession? Most is being paid for with state public education capital outlay funds, utility tax revenue budgeted years ago specifically for construction. Contractors are hungry, so “we really get to stretch the dollar,” provost Ralph Wilcox said. And USF needs the space, administrators say. They cite a state analysis projecting that in 2012 USF will rank last among Florida public universities for having enough classrooms, teaching labs and especially research labs.

Note the reference to “hungry” contractors, which is helping the school stretch its dollars. Could be a trend.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/college/article1076403.ece