By Joan Kibler
Middle East District
Anytime the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commits to delivering a construction project, it relies on a bevy of partners.
At the forefront of that group is the construction contractor.
"We rely on contractors to help us carry out our business," said Roger Thomas, chief, Construction Operations Division. "We rely on them to construct projects in remote locations, to know how to conduct business in foreign countries using local rules and laws, to follow the terms and conditions in our contracts, to carry out projects at locations where we can't put Army civilians, to even go to war with us. They are our partners."
Corps of Engineers and contractor relationships -- like all relationships -- require some care and feeding, especially when jobsite conditions can be rife with strife.
"Partnering improves teamwork on construction sites," Thomas said. "When we don't have formal partnering sessions, the district and the contractor may drift apart over the course of the construction period and lose focus."
Thomas believes that time spent in partnering meetings helps to ensure project success.
"When our contractors understand how their work impacts the United States' ability to carry out its missions in our region, they want to fully meet their contractual requirements," he said. "When we understand some of the problems contractors are facing, we can help resolve those problems. There are times, though, when the government and the contractor reach an impasse. In most instances, partnering helps avoid that failure."
In addition to contractors, the partner list may also include customers, host nation representatives, and other agencies that have a role in delivering the project, such as an Army agency installing targets on a range or a furniture supplier.
The district usually holds a partnering session shortly after construction starts and again during the life of the project. Recently, the district held meetings with contractors about projects in Bahrain and Qatar. Attending were members of the area and resident offices; customer representatives in some instances; and Construction, Project Management, and Contracting personnel from the district headquarters.
"Some of the district's largest programs are in Bahrain and Qatar, with both having several large packages to be awarded within the next year," Thomas said. "We have to meet schedules for the current construction projects for the sake of our customers -- but also for us to be ready for the next phases of construction."
Partnering sessions were held with:
- American International Contractors Inc. for the close air support parking apron.
- Rizzani De Eccher USA, for two contracts -- facilities replacement and phase II of the Blatchford-Preston Complex.
- Contrack International Inc. for phases I and II of the waterfront development project.
During the partnering session on the close air support parking apron, Vernon Crudup, MILCON (Military Construction) resident engineer, led the government and contractor team in discussions about completion schedules, the connection of the fuel system, and lessons learned. The $56 million apron is scheduled to be complete in May.
Todd Shields, AICI project manager, said that the firm is "committed to giving the Air Force a quality facility that's usable when it's needed." The government and contractor team committed to developing a solution for testing the fuel system that preserves the equipment until it's needed by the customer.
In a discussion about activities that went well and those that could be improved for future contracts, AICI and district representatives talked about design processes, value engineering, specifications, site conditions and access, and base rules.
"Capturing lessons learned from our partners helps us deliver projects better," Thomas said. Citing the non-confrontational nature of the discussions, he thanked the participants for openly communicating.
In a meeting with Rizzani on both the facilities replacement and the Blatchford-Preston Complex contracts, Thomas said, "We started this journey and set common goals a year ago -- to deliver quality projects safely and within budget. We're here to refresh our goals and to make sure the contractor and government team is in alignment. Both projects are important to the Air Force for carrying out its mission here."
The $65 million facilities replacement contract provides a hangar, back shops, security building and other facilities, consolidated in one location and replacing temporary facilities now being used by the Air Force. Phase II of the Blatchford-Preston complex provides two additional dormitories and a warehouse.
The group discussed schedules, submittals, subcontracts, and equipment deliveries for both projects. There was plenty of communication and agreement about ways to facilitate submittals and shop drawings, respond to requests for information, and address correspondence -- all aimed at meeting the scheduled construction completion dates.
"We need to work these issues together," Thomas said. "These sessions give us that opportunity. We need our contractors to be forthright -- that's the only way we can solve the tough issues."
The partnering session with Contrack International Inc. for the waterfront development project focused on the near-term completion of the phase I project, a $51.3 million contract with utilities, operations and maintenance facilities, and vehicle storage.
Open communication was a trademark of this session as well.
"We (the government and contractor team) have communicated well and often about the issues on this program," said John Bishop, Bahrain resident engineer. "We may not always agree on the solution, but no one is shy about expressing opinions. We're committed to professional teamwork."
Mark Wittrock, Bahrain area engineer, expressed his appreciation to Contrack International representatives for their cooperation and the quality of their documentation when the protests in Bahrain impacted construction early in the project.
He also said that USACE must always be realistic in managing the customer's expectations regarding schedule. "Sometimes there are external factors which may affect our ability to meet our schedules -- especially when we rely on others to provide utility hook ups, for example. We have to prepare the customer when this may be a factor."
Neal Thibault, chief, Operations Management and Support Branch, reiterated Wittrock's comments. "We have to be open and honest with our customers, and we must keep them informed of delays. If we have issues that we aren't discussing with our customers, we are setting ourselves up for problems."
Thomas emphasized that the team "must keep the customer engaged, especially through the Red Zone process."
Red Zone starts the last 60 days before a project's beneficial occupancy date and requires the project delivery team to address construction and financial closeout issues while the project is still under construction.
Thomas said that communication is the key to effective partnering. "It's the hardest thing we do, and we have to communicate to solve problems together. Problems don't get better with age. We must keep the lines of communication open at all stages of a project."
Project delivery depends on it.