In no way has the post-regulatory era of radio broadcasting made
itself felt more than by today's wholesale movement and consolidation
of station facilities. One result of all this activity has been a
frenzy of new construction projects, in which engineers frequently find
themselves playing an intermediary role between station management and
building trades. For those experienced in such things, the demands and
frustrations of working with contractors are daunting enough, but for
the novice, the experience can be overwhelming. Here are a few tips to
help grease the rails of your next construction project.
Every construction-related move usually includes the following cast:
a client (station management) who pays the bills, a general contractor
and related subcontractors who actually oversee and perform the work,
building inspectors who inspect the work and ultimately issue occupancy
permits, and you, the engineer charged with seeing that the client
winds up with a functional facility. Although architects are typically
included on many projects, it is not uncommon for them to be cut out of
small jobs, such as renovations, in the interest of saving money. In
these situations, the general contractor actually draws the
construction plans. In either case, the challenges are the same.
Once a decision is made to move or build, the planning process
begins. This is a phase in which every engineer should be thoroughly
involved, yet all too often isn't. Try to avert this mistake by
suggesting that the client will actually save money by including you in
the planning process at the outset. As one contractor put it:
“planning is everything…it's where you maximize your return
on investment.” Radio stations are highly specialized operations,
making it critical that the architects and contractors understand not
only what has to be done, but why. Take the time necessary to
educate them about the unique need for soundproofing, room noise
reduction, isolated grounds, HVAC, electrical and low-voltage cabling
requirements. If possible, identify a local or regional facility that
you consider a model for what you have in mind and arrange a tour that
includes the key players — you'll find it to be time well
After plans have been drawn, review them carefully with the general
contractor (G.C.) to be sure there are no omissions or conflicts
between different mechanical elements such as HVAC, electrical, safety
(sprinklers/alarms) and partition systems. Remember that every
electrical circuit and outlet needs to be detailed in the planning
phase. Likewise, pay close attention to HVAC ducting and partition
design to ensure the integrity of soundproof areas. Be sure to review
the equipment grounding plan with the electrical subcontractor to see
that it will meet all applicable codes, and whether low voltage audio
and control cabling can be installed without a permit. While it's true
that you can make changes or additions during construction, the price
penalties incurred at that stage are usually substantial.
As construction begins, get the G.C.'s approval to visit on-site for
inspections and informal meetings with subcontractors on a regular
(sometimes daily) basis. Plan on getting up early — the best time
to meet with the crew is when they arrive at the job, which is often no
later than 7 a.m. Treat everyone with respect and don't be afraid to
teach them about radio as they teach you about construction —
your interpersonal communication skills can pay big dividends. And,
always be sure to bring coffee and doughnuts. Make these folks feel
like they're a part of the radio team and you'll be amazed at how
responsive they can be.
Regardless of the size of the project,
the same supervision requirements apply.
During the build-out, stay in close contact with the G.C., who may
or may not be a regular presence on the job site. Be available for
questions (via cell phone or e-mail) to the G.C. and the subcontractors
at all times. Keep detailed notes and don't be afraid to take pictures
of things you perceive to be issues. Keep in mind that the
subcontractors are actually working for the G.C. and that, while it may
be OK for you to answer their questions and provide guidance, any
actual changes in the work must be handed through a change order issued
by the G.C. — for an additional fee, of course.
As construction wraps up, work with the client and the G.C. to
develop a punch list that details the inevitable discrepancies and
omissions in work performed and provides for their timely resolution.
Be fair, courteous, but insistent that each job be completed
One on one
Often, you'll be working on smaller-scale projects where no general
contractor has been hired. The same rules apply, but now you are
responsible for overseeing all the details. Be sure to plan everything
in consultation with your contractor and put it all in writing.
Generate drawings that clearly show details and dimensions. Ask lots of
questions. For example, who is responsible for permit applications and
inspections? What exactly is the contractor providing, in terms of
hookups and testing of systems? Finally, who will clean up and be
responsible for making cosmetic fixes to drywall, paint, flooring or
landscaping? Spell all of these things out in the contract. This point
cannot be emphasized strongly enough.
In sum, working with other contractors is intense, detailed work
that requires every ounce of concentration, patience and perseverance
that you can muster. But with realistic expectations and the right
approach, you and your client will be rewarded with a facility you can
both be proud of.
Krieger, Radio's consultant on contract engineering, is
based in Cleveland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.