That was the challenge facing the Mid-Continent Public Library (MCPL) team in Kansas City, Mo. Tasked with projects ranging from renovation, additions, and new-builds for 35 facilities over a six-year time period, the team took a calculated approach to not only understand the entire scope but also its impact on a tri-county area before finalizing the phased plan.
Assessing the Plan
The first step was interpreting the designer’s master plan to determine the best approach and adjust the plan accordingly. We started by touring 27 buildings with the owner and design team and prioritized the need by county, so there would be projects always running in each—as well as an open library for residents. The team performed detailed cost evaluations of the scope for each branch and assessed the order in which the branches should be completed. “We followed MCPL’s lead on building sequencing,” said Senior Project Manager Bobby Miller. “They took great care to maintain an equitable balance across the three-county region, so we could proceed with planning once the sequence was set.”
Due to the varying scopes, the decision was made to utilize JE Dunn’s Project Solutions (DPS) group to handle the smaller scale projects. This allowed us to stay nimble while executing the smaller renovations and gave us the flexibility to better manage staffing as projects wound down and others ramped up at the same time.
The DPS Advantage
Focused on collaborating early in the process on preconstruction and design decisions, JE Dunn’s Project Solutions (DPS) team specializes in smaller tenant finishes—but with the manpower of multiple project managers and superintendents to work on multiple buildings at the same time. The DPS option made perfect sense to meet Mid-Continent's accelerated construction program. DPS has a solid track-record of working with local trade partners who also specialize in smaller projects. These relationships proved beneficial due to the geographical range and evolving design throughout construction.
By allowing DPS to run the renovations, we were able to use a standard MSA (Master Service Agreement) with trade partners, maintaining consistency with repeat trade partners who were accustomed to the renovation pace of DPS project. “By utilizing DPS, we were able to buy out multiple buildings in each work package to meet the master plan schedule, all while maintaining a consistent group of trade partners to execute the work,” said Ryan McConnell, DPS project manager. “Working from the DPS MSA and Work Order arrangement reduced the formality and increased the flexibility of incorporating changes along the way.”
Although running each project with DPS teams allows for efficient phasing and staffing, the sheer size of the overall program requires collaboration on a whole new level. Throw in the learning curve of an
unfamiliar, client-selected project administration platform, and communication and consistency became crucial from project to project. “Typical projects have the meetings broken up into separate phases – the Architect runs the meetings during design phase, and the Contractor runs the meetings during construction. Because we were doing these activities simultaneously, all meetings were combined into one weekly OAC type meeting to make it efficient for the entire project team,” said Miller. “We became more efficient with each project, but we could be touching five libraries simultaneously, so we had to be more deliberate in our meetings to make the best use of time as well as ensure all parties were on the same page.”
Consistency is Key
Consistent communication increases collaboration, but consistency of staff builds trust and improves efficiency as the overall plan progressed. To ensure seamless transitions as we moved to different phases, we tried to use the same superintendents and project managers on each facility. A master project timeline with all 35 buildings is kept up to date and includes activities starting from land acquisition all the way through branch opening. By keeping all the information on a single sheet, it makes it easy plan for every aspect of a single building but also ensures we don’t overload any certain portion or entity. A staffing plan was then generated to align with the master program schedule and ensure that there was a consistent flow of staffing from one project to the next while minimizing overlaps and gaps. This helped us to maintain a consistent team while minimizing staffing costs.
“Now a few years into construction, the team is a well-oiled machine, often finishing each other’s sentences,” said Miller. “We have a great relationship with the design team, and—because of the consistency in staffing—the owner and field staff have a similar working relationship, which helps each project run smoother than the last.” Brad McKenzie with Sapp Design Architects echoes how integral relationships are to the overall success of the project. “We have become such a great team, produced some fantastic buildings, and developed relationships that no doubt have improved results for such a large-scale program,” said McKenzie.
Importance of Client Partnerships
Adding to the complexity of the MCPL program is the preparation and planning to house the books from each library during construction. While the team carefully phased each project, the client needed to remove and store the books while ensuring the community had at least one branch available as each one went offline. The project team considered storing the books inside each building during renovations to reduce the effort and cost of decommissioning, storing, and recommissioning the materials, but when the scope of the renovations encompassed the entire square footage, it proved to be more beneficial to store the materials. Having the Owner's activities integral with master schedule was key in making the partnership work.
“While consistency was key during this master plan, the Design Team and JE Dunn had to stay flexible and receptive of the Owner's needs. Design and construction start dates were balanced with the Owner's ability to manage their collection. While we would have liked to push the design and
construction faster, we would have overwhelmed the staff and caused branches to be closed longer than necessary—and that would have not been beneficial to the Owner's patrons,” said Miller.
Positive partnerships go a long way in tackling challenges together and alleviating potential pain points but maintaining a consistent project team across the board from the Owner, Design Team and Construction team helped the project run smoothly. “Providing reasoned and proactive communications with appropriate parties went a long way to developing the trust needed to be successful on such an evolving project,” said Miller. “The team also did a fantastic job of establishing a relaxed and team-centered tone for the project that reduced potential tension points and made a challenging project fun for everyone.”
A Future Blueprint
In the beginning stages of the project, we used the old saying “How do you eat an elephant, one bite at a time?” That’s the approach we took to sequencing and executing the project—trimming it down to manageable work packages to improve efficiency while maximizing budget. Traditional methods would have been to perform a single work package at a time, spanning 15 years. Straying a bit from traditional methods for this type of work, we applied best practices from multi-phase projects similar to school bond programs. This allowed the project team to take the accelerated approach, evenly spreading the work over a six-year span and saving approximately $29M of the total project costs. While many lessons learned will be applied to future projects, the collaboration and willingness to take a different approach is one that can benefit projects in every industry.