The Church Renovation

From new mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural, elevator, and sprinkler systems to century old stain glass windows to engineers straight out of college…this project could have taken the best, out.

The Project 

The church renovation and restoration project in the heart of downtown DC consisted of renovating the 500 capacity sanctuary built in 1917, all new mechanical, electrical, plumbing, sprinkler systems, installation of new elevator and wheelchair lift, restoration of exterior granite, new theatre seats. The hundred-year-old stained art glass was restored to include specialized restorative granite patching and new award-winning theater that seats 148. 

The Premise 

I just finished a ten-story office building just three blocks away, which was ten feet away from the oldest Catholic church and had five stories underground. I will talk about that project later. The key to this project was not just delivering an exceptional project on budget and on time, but the completion of this project  

determined whether or not my employer was going to get the adjacent 10-story office building which was going to connect to the church on the second floor. It was imperative this project went well, not to mention it was in a high traffic area of the city. 

The Start 

It was quickly determined during the reconstruction phase of the project that detail mattered. 

The key to the success of this project was: building the project before arriving on site. 

Each scope of work was detailed to allow many, including small businesses and subject matter experts in preservation to be able to bid the project. The intricacies of the plaster, drywall, granite, and molding work took time and input from many designers outside of the architect.  

Collaboration in the building process prior to mobilizing on site was key. 

When I say building a project before arriving on site, I mean planning out the schedule. Mentally picturing where the project will be during the year. If we could perform work during the calendar with the changes in seasons. Will the materials arrive on site prior to the installation date? My team and I worked very hard to provide a detailed scope of work, with a cognitive and realistic schedule, that allowed bidders to ask questions and engage early on in the project. 

Time Management 

As a project manager and leader on this project, it was imperative that I exhibited and taught time management and how to maximize each hour. I taught my engineers how to plan their work and gave them my daily schedule so when I was available, we could maximize our time together. 

Available? What does that mean…? I had to perform as the Project Manager overseeing the cost, budget, and schedule AND perform as the Field Superintendent. I would arrive at the site around 5:30/6 am and work with the subcontractors on laying out performance expectations for the day. This would take about 2 hours.  This gave me enough time to know who was in the field, where they were working, what tasks they would perform during the day, and if they had any questions or needed to coordinate with other trades. At 7:30, I  would have a meeting with my engineers…who were right out of school and were very new to the construction process. By 10:30, I was back in the field to review what work was completed, answer any questions, have collaboration and coordination meetings in the field to be proactive with RFIs (request for information).  

The key here was to send in confirming RFIs to the engineers and architects rather than asking questions that could take weeks to resolve. 

I wanted to meet with the subcontractors before they went to lunch so they would have a game plan once they rested and had their lunch. 

New to the Construction Process 

This was not an understatement. I was able to positively impact the foundation in which my two engineers learned construction. It was an opportunity for them to learn time management, cost management,  preparation, communication, and all the steps to be proactive in the process. It was just three of us and we had to divide the work accordingly. It was all about the learning process. It was trial by fire. I only had so much time for instruction and it was immediate implementation. 

My engineers, became “rock stars” at the end of the project and I must say are doing great things right now. 

Whatever It Takes 

We had a specialized company that would perform the highly skilled and specific “Jahn patching” for our exterior granite. Unfortunately, due to other projects, our subcontractor dissolved their business. We were close to the scope of work, the weather was good, we needed a new contractor to get on board. While calling everyone, I ended up making the decision to hire the employee of the dissolved firm who was instrumental in the pre-construction phase. I spoke with HR, received the appropriate forms, and was able to hire this individual as a 1099 employee to get the project done! The work he performed was on time and award-winning! 

The Outcome 

The project was a success all around. The project finished ahead of schedule and under budget. We were able to give money back to the church and were also able to get the adjacent project. 

Words of Wisdom 

Construction is all about experience and exposure. If you train up your staff early in the project when there are a few trades in the field, they will be able to take on more responsibility when there are 30+  subcontractors in the field because they were trained accordingly. Project managers are the key to the success of the project. 

It is imperative to have communication, collaboration, and coordination with the field superintendent (you should have both a PM and a Superintendent), the subcontractors in the field, the Owner, and the stakeholders. 

Just remember: plan your work, work your plan 

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