Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Traditional Markets in Decline, Firms Look to Break in New Regions

McGraw-Hill Construction Research & Analytics Number of Top 225 Firms Reporting Backlog Changes

McGraw-Hill Construction Research & Analytics Percent of Change for Top 225 Firms Reporting Backlog Related Links: Full Report: ENR's 2011 Top 225 International Contractors Top International Contractors Basic Rankings Top Global Contractors Basic Rankings Related story: Massive Gigaprograms Come with Layers of New Risk

The global shift in the international construction market can be seen in the results of ENR's Top 225 International Contractors list. The Top 225 as a group generated $383.66 billion in 2010 contracting revenue from projects outside their home countries, down only marginally from 2009's figure of $383.78 billion. On the domestic front, 2010 revenue for the Top 225 rose by 10.8% to $688.71 billion, led by China's major growth among contractors working on that nation's massive infrastructure program.

Contractors are shifting their focus to new and emerging markets, which can be seen in the Top 225's regional revenue breakdowns. International revenue fell 6.6% to $94.18 billion in Europe. It also fell 6.6% in the Middle East to $72.43 billion and 6.5% to $32.61 billion in the U.S.

By contrast, international contracting revenue rose 25.6% to $34.05 billion in Latin America and the Caribbean, 6.7% to $60.59 billion in Africa and 4.7% to $76.64 billion in Asia and Australia. This shift in focus is leading to upheaval for major international contractors.

International construction firms have not escaped the recent turmoil in international markets. "The main impact has been in the U.S. and the European Union," says Pierre Duhaime, CEO of SNC-Lavalin Group. However, SNC has been traditionally strong in developing countries such as those in Africa, softening the impact of the downturn on the firm. "Latin America, the BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] countries and Southeast Asia are certainly all regions where we see great opportunities for the future, and we are actively targeting these regions for business growth."

The sovereign debt crises hitting some European countries have hurt many construction programs. "Construction-related spending from the economic stimulus programs was stopped earlier than expected or not passed at all, instead being replaced by austerity packages to help slow the national debt," says Hans Peter Haselsteiner, CEO of Austria's Strabag SE. However, he says there has been an uptick in investment from private clients and German developers.

Philippe Quoilin, COO of Besix warns that the budget woes in the U.S. and the European Union may have an indirect impact on other countries' spending. The sovereign debt crisis has limited many countries' ability to invest in costly projects, and countries in good financial shape have "received the warning and will not make the same mistake. They will be prudent in investing in construction development," he says.

Europe's construction community underwent major change this summer as Germany's largest contractor, Hochtief AG, fell under the control of Spain's ACS Group. Hochtief's CEO, Herbert Lütkestratkötter quit and was replaced in May by Frank Stieler, an executive board member since 2009. Hochtief will continue functioning as a separate company, helping ACS enter new markets like Asia Pacific, according to one bank analyst in Frankfurt.

Hochtief will increasingly focus on energy, transportation infrastructure and urban construction sectors, says Stieler. It will increase "asset turnover," particularly by selling public-private-partnership investments. Hochtief is on course to sell its airport business by this year's end, he adds. The firm has interests in airports in Athens, Budapest, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Sydney and Tirana.

Alain Bonnot, chairman and CEO of Vinci Construction Grands Projets (VCGP), is uncertain how its relationship with Hochtief will change. Until now, Hochtief teams have been "good competitors and good partners," he says. "ACS/Dragados has been very aggressive ... because they have an internal market which is completely destroyed."

Competitive Pressures

The downturns in many major regions have caused an increase in competition as more firms enter unfamiliar markets. "We see crowding of markets as some local players aspire to be global players," says Ravinda Kansal, regional CEO of India's Punj Lloyd operations in Africa, the Middle East and the Commonwealth of Independent States. He says that many major contractors are holding back in the face of new competitors making unrealistic bids in unfamiliar markets.

One such situation arose in June. China Overseas Engineering Group was dismissed as contractor on the A2 project in Poland. The action had less to do with its bid price than experience, says Johan Karlström, CEO, Skanska Group. "They underestimated how difficult it is to go to a new market," he says. But as China's internal economic growth moderates, Karlström believes more Chinese contractors will look for entry into new geographic markets.

Chinese contractors "are becoming bigger competitors," agrees Yves Gabriel, CEO of Bouygues Construction. "We are mainly competing [with Chinese contractors] in Africa for the moment, but these companies might probably come in Europe in the future." Balfour Beatty already is competing with Chinese firms in Hong Kong and the Middle East, says CEO Ian Tyler. "They do have some specific skills which are very good," he adds.

Chinese contractors have proposed joint venturing with VCGP internationally, says Bonnot. "I don't know if we will. We don't want to have partners just to get a lower price. If they have good technology and are well [placed], then why not?" he says.

While Chinese contractors have been pushing into the international market with some success, international contractors trying the penetrate the Chinese market have been less successful. Bonnot sees little prospect of work for VCGP inside China itself. Gabriel agrees, saying, "The Chinese market is particularly closed," although Hong Kong "is booming."

Mainland China is "very, very closed," adds Tyler, but he sees niche opportunities in the energy sector. He agrees that Hong Kong is "very buoyant," particularly in infrastructure. "In general, we avoid countries where we have no strategic advantage, like China," says SNC's Duhaime. "The Chinese model, which favors Chinese companies, puts companies like ours at a disadvantage," he says.

India, on the other hand, is positively courting their involvement. Bouygues is interested in large, complex highway projects, "particularly those including tunnels," says Gabriel. And the company is tracking metro opportunities in big cities.

Besix is using its past work in India as a springboard for expansion because "this country has a huge construction potential," says Quoilin. "We have a small presence in India," adds Tyler. "We are trying to see how we might participate in that market." Bureaucracy and corruption are among his concerns.

But India is not in Skanska's sights. "We can't be everywhere," says Karlström. While sticking to its policy of developing "home markets," Skanska is nevertheless inching into new countries, such as Russia and Colombia, he adds.

Arab markets remain attractive, though the political turmoil in some countries has disrupted businesses. "The effect of the Arab Spring on our business in Libya [is] ... we have had to scale back our near-term business objectives," says Duhaime. VCGP evacuated about 130 people from the Cairo metro project, but they are back now, says Bonnot. "We got back from Libya one full plane," he says. "We had very good relationships in Libya ... now the subsidiary is closed."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Concrete Ready-Mix Firm Ozinga Bros. Plans To Build Cement Plant Near Chicago

Photo by Tudor Van Hampton Building a cement plant is key to survival, local firm says.

Rendering courtesy Ozinga Bros. Inc. Ozinga filed an Illinois permit application for its proposed plant under a new business unit, Universal Cement, in December 2008. It expects a decision later this year. Related Links: U.S. Cement Production Flat Following 2009's Big Decline

A fourth-generation, family-owned concrete company in Chicago wants to build its own cement plant so it can become more vertically integrated.

Ozinga Bros Inc., founded in 1928, has proposed building the 1-million-ton-per-year plant on a 50-acre parcel it owns on Chicago's South Side. A permit application was filed in 2008, but now Indiana politicians are encouraging Ozinga to site the plant there.

The project is an unusual move as ready-mix operators are being acquired by multinational cement producers. In 2008, Brazil-based Votorantim Cement purchased Prairie Material, a large Midwest concrete supplier and Ozinga's largest competitor.

"We feel like this will help secure our future as a family-owned company in the Chicago area," says Marty Ozinga IV, executive vice president. "Vertical integration is key to our survival."

Cement prices have stabilized since the downturn, but users fear an uptick. In June, the price of Type 1 cement was on par with prices a year ago and was 10% lower than June 2007, according to the Producer Price Index.

Cement manufacturers are trying to boost prices, having recently issued increase letters to clients to the tune of $4 per ton, or roughly 5%, Ozinga says, adding that, during the last economic boom, the company was importing cement from China due to tight supplies.

The new plant, budgeted at $250 million, would create about 90 full-time jobs and construction would last 30 months. Initial design work has been performed by FLSmidth, a German plant-equipment maker.

Besides permitting, other hurdles remain, such as financing and logistics. But the company is optimistic. "We are telling our story, and it is resonating with people," Ozinga says.

Monday, August 29, 2011

How Andrew Buckley Is Shaping the Future of Australian Engineer Cardno

Slide Show PHOTO COURTESY OF CARDNO LTD. Chief Executive Andrew D. Buckley is the 56-year-old mechanical engineer whose low-key demeanor belies his desire to get the firm noticed. Related Links: Cardno's Recent Financial Reports The Top 200 International Design Firms Rankings List The Top 150 Global Design Firms Rankings List

The strategy appears to be working. The 56-year-old engineer that struggled to keep its 200-person staff during Australia's mid-1990s recession has become a well-capitalized public giant with 4,200 employees in 160 offices in 72 countries. About 60% of the employees are based outside Australia.

Revenue for Cardno's 2011 fiscal year ending on June 30 won't be revealed until mid-August, but analysts predict it will exceed $875 million, up from $506.4 million a year earlier. Furthermore, the company already has announced it expects a record profit— between $60.5 million and $62.8 million—for its last six-month reporting period, up at least 51% over the same period of last year.

Cardno debuts at No. 35 on ENR's Top 200 International Design Firms list (see p. 35) with $325 million in calendar-year 2010 revenue outside its home country. It ranks at No. 60 on ENR's Top 150 Global Design Firms list, with $617 million in total reported 2010 calendar-year revenue.

The firm touts market savvy in traditional infrastructure work, from highways to water treatment plants and mine-site expansion, and it has been part of high-profile environmental disaster response, such as after last year's oil-platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The firm also is building a new market niche in the delivery of "social" infrastructure to developing nations, from running elections in Papua New Guinea to delivering education in Indonesia to creating health registries in Armenia.

"I think Cardno is a pretty remarkable success story so far, especially since it was a relatively small Australian firm just five years ago," says Andrej Avelini, managing director of industry financial consultant EFCG, New York City, which has brokered several of the firm's key U.S. acquisitions. "They are young, dynamic and direct, yet also thoughtful and somewhat soft-spoken in their approach, and that has resonated well."

The master craftsman behind Cardno's push to build a distinctive franchise is its CEO and managing director, Andrew D. Buckley, a mechanical engineer whose low-key demeanor belies his desire to get the firm noticed. "We're under the radar, but we're starting to stick our head up in global markets," he says. "We have the vision to be a world leader."

The employees applaud that vision. "Our company did good work, but there was nothing to differentiate it from other firms," says Michael Renshaw, an Australian who is now Cardno's Americas general manager and a rising star in his own right. "Andrew brought a culture of growth, client service and performance. He has enabled us to transform the company into a vibrant, entrepreneurial and exciting place to work."

As evidenced by Cardno's stable of some 35 acquisitions since the 1990s, the vision is compelling to outsiders as well. New U.S.-based holdings have propelled the firm up the ranks of ENR's Top 500 Design Firms. Cardno USA debuted on the 2010 list at No. 137; this year, it ranks at No. 34, with $356 million in revenue reported. "We've attracted 2,000 people to work with us in the U.S.," says Renshaw. "Only two have left."

Australian stock analysts tout as a good value shares of the firm, which went public in 2004 to finance its global push. "We retain the view that [Cardno] looks to be in a cyclical sweet spot, leveraged to strengthening activity in Australia and a U.S. economic recovery," says Roger Leaning, senior analyst at RBS Morgans, Sydney. "Consequently, we see further upside over the next 12 months." Analyst Toby Bucks at CLSA, also based there, cites an acquisition "war chest" of more than $212 million "to drive organic growth through cross-selling."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Martin Luther King Memorial Dream Becomes Reality

Slide Show Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation The 4-acre site on the Tidal Basin feature the 30-ft-tall granite Mountain of Despair and Stone of Hope sculptures. Landscaping includes 185 Yoshino Cherry trees, 32 American Elm trees and 16,835 Big Blue Liriope plantings. Related Links: Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial website

The decades-long dream to create the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C., will become a reality on Aug. 28. Fifteen years in the making, the memorial faced challenges—ranging from an extensive approval process to a site on the National Mall made of fill from the Potomac River—before construction could start in late 2009. Two years later, the design-build team, the first use of the delivery system for a memorial on the Mall, will deliver the $120-million vision within walking distance of the spot where Dr. King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech 48 years ago.

First authorized in 1996, the high-profile memorial has a mix of significant private and public stakeholders, including the Federal Commission of Fine Arts (FCFA), the National Park Service, the National Capital Planning Commission and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation. Dr. Ed Jackson, executive architect with the foundation, says after ROMA Design Group of San Francisco won the design competition in 2000, negotiations began in earnest.

"Once the design competition had been completed and we had identified a winner, everyone thought the game was over. But for those of us who [know] the process here in Washington, that’s just the beginning of the game," he says.

The project went through a trying series of approvals, including concerns raised by the FCFA in 2008 that the original sculpture concept of Dr. King was "too confrontational." Security enhancements were also a sticking point. Plans to use a series of bollards to block vehicle entry were scrapped in favor of trees, a stone wall and bollards.

Once consensus was reached, the National Park Service signed off on the project in October 2009, allowing work to begin.

Darien Grant, project executive with Turner Construction, New York City, credits the design-build process for getting the project through the final years of approvals and getting the project on-track for its August delivery. Turner Construction partnered on the project with McKissack & McKissack, Washington D.C.; Gilford Corp., Beltsville, Md., and Turner subsidiary Tompkins Builders, Washington, to form the design-build team, which was selected in June 2007. The MLK memorial is the first memorial on the Mall to use a design-build procurement method, Grant says.

"The [design-build] process really panned out," he says. "If you look at the numerous stakeholders and their specific functional requirements, with the design-build process, the team brought to the table the proper intellectual horsepower to balance the desires of the owner with the requirements of the other agencies involved."

The artistic vision for the memorial stems from the Dr. King quotation, "Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope," which was part of his "I Have a Dream" speech. Upon entering the memorial, visitors will pass through a 30-ft-tall granite Mountain of Despair. Beyond the passageway, visitors will see the "Stone of Hope," another 30-ft-tall piece of granite, carved as if it had been removed from the Mountain of Despair. A sculpture of King, created by Chinese artist Lei Yixin, is carved into the Stone of Hope, which is on the face opposite the entrance.

Additional elements include a 2,350-cu-ft, 194-ton granite inscription wall and 47,000 sq ft of granite pavers. The 450-ft-long, crescent-shaped wall displays 14 quotations from Dr. King. Landscaping includes 185 Yoshino cherry trees, 32 American elm trees and 16,835 Big Blue Liriope plantings. Two large waterfalls are served by below-grade pump rooms with a 175-ft access tunnel.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

First Fuel-Economy Standards Hit Construction Trucks

Photo courtesy Inland Kenworth The new federal fuel-economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles, which includes most construction trucks, follow new light-vehicle standards announced last month. Related Links: The Flip Side of Fuel Economy: Less Cash for Road Construction Obama Orders Fuel-Economy Standards for Big Trucks (subscription) Final Rulemaking: On EPA's Website

The first-ever efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for medium- and heavy-duty highway vehicles will cost owners $8 billion but save $50 billion in fuel between 2014 and 2018.

In one example, the operator of a semi-truck could pay for the technology upgrades in less than a year, and have net savings up to $73,000 over the truck’s useful life, say the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Dept. of Transportation, which issued the new rules on Aug. 9.

The joint rulemaking follows an announcement last week that increased standards for light-duty vehicles.

"While we were working to improve the efficiency of cars and light-duty trucks, something interesting happened," said President Barack Obama in a statement.

"We started getting letters asking that we do the same for medium and heavy-duty trucks. They were from the people who build, buy and drive these trucks." 

President Obama first announced the effort to issue standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in May 2010. The rules announced Aug. 9 will begin in 2014 and run through 2018. A second phase of regulation is planned for model years beyond 2018.

Under the new national program, trucks, vans and buses built in 2014 through 2018 will reduce oil consumption by a projected 530 million barrels of oil and greenhouse gas emissions by about 270 million metric tons.

Semi trucks will be required to reduce fuel consumption and GHG emissions by about 20% by 2018, while heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans will be required to reduce consumption and emissions by about 15%.

Friday, August 26, 2011

PSI President Hal Branum Dies at Age 69



W. Howell "Hal" Branum, president of Professional Service Industries Inc., an Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based engineering and environmental consulting firm, died of a heart attack on July 1 while visiting Denver. He was 69.

President since 2000 and, before that, chief operating officer, Branum oversaw the integration of numerous acquisitions as the company grew. Now boasting 125 offices and 2,500 employees, the firm specializes in geotechnical engineering, construction-materials testing and engineering, and industrial hygiene. A 32-year veteran of the firm, he led many of its high-profile projects, including Denver International Airport and the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. Branum was often the principal executive to interact with clients, colleagues say.

Branum also is a former assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Missouri-Rolla and is a veteran of the Army Corps of Engineers, retiring with the rank of captain.

Branum valued pragmatism during down periods in construction and personally advised younger managers on success in a tough economy, says Thomas D. Boogher, PSI executive vice president. PSI ranks at No. 65 on ENR's list of the Top 500 Design Firms, claiming $188.4 million in revenue for 2010.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hydraulic Calculator Packs Power Into iPhone App

Slide Show Photo by Dana Shakiba A swale is calculated as a channel with a trapezoidal section

if a new $10 hydraulic-flow calculator for the iPhone is any indicator, smart-phone apps are fast becoming the new disrupters of traditional software technology.

Flo Hydraulic from Appadana, Baltimore, Md., is powerful, flexible and easy to use. Early adopters say it does just about every kind of hydraulic calculation they can think of, potentially overthrowing other widely used tools in the process.

According to the App Store, which gave it a "new and noteworthy" billing, the software does 42 different calculations over 10 structure types. Entry screens are backed up by context-sensitive documentation, including formulae and tables, available at the tap of an icon. Color-coded fields guide users to required variables for each type of calculation. Users can switch between English and metric measurements on the fly with ease.

"I feel this is really a revolution and an evolution, too," says Pang Tu, a civil engineer with the STV Inc., a design, engineering and construction-management firm in Baltimore.

The app is quite new and still evolving. It was released on Aug. 3, with a version update on Aug. 7 that adds reporting capabilities and 2D animations of flow within circular and rectangular channels. A release scheduled for Aug. 19 will add calculations for elliptical-pipe and V-shaped channels.

Although the current version does work on the iPad as well as the iPhone and iPod Touch running iOS 3.0 or later, the developer plans to release a version specifically for the iPad on Aug. 26. It will have more reporting tools than are available in the iPhone version.

An Android version also is in the works, with a planned release of Sept. 9.

Downloads so far have averaged about 80 per day, with significant international interest, according to the developer. There were eight rave reviews on the iTunes App store webpage as of Aug. 15. All gave Flo Hydraulic the maximum five stars.

The range of calculations includes those used by civil engineers in drainage evaluation and planning, including solving for cu-ft-per-second flow rates through circular pipe and through rectangular- and trapezoidal-section channels, as well as gutter capacity and flow over several configuration of weirs and orifices. Among the variables that can be tweaked are normal depth, dimensions, slope and roughness.

Tu got a look at the Aug. 3 release when he got a call from the developer, civil engineer Dana Shakiba, who interned at STV a few years ago before striking out on his own as a BIM tutor and software developer. Shakiba suggested Tu check out the software.

"We’ve been exploring other hydraulic apps on the App Store," says Tu. "Most of them do handle hydraulic calculation stuff, but not everything. Dana’s app can do pretty much everything, from start to finish." He adds, "In school, you needed a whole big book to cover this. Now everything you want is on a little phone."

The first release could not generate reports. In the second release, users can perform calculations and e-mail the reports from the phone. "This would be really great for a field engineer or in a meeting in which people are arguing whether a pipe is undersized. You can prove it right away," says Tu.

"We tested it against some of our own calculations, and the app is really exact, very accurate," Tu says.

Methodology is based upon the Federal Highway Administration’s Hydraulic Engineering Circular No. 22 (HEC-22), and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Water Measurement Manual.

Shakiba, who is president of Appadana, says accuracy and quality are what drives him. "I am a civil engineer. I work with a lot of big companies, and I have a special interest in software. Mobile apps are really big right now—there have been 15 billion app downloads since 2007—and there is a lack of quality apps in the marketplace. There is a lot of junk.

"I enjoy software, and I want to make quality software. If you put an incorrect calculation, it will notify you," says Shakiba. "Apps like these make it very simple for engineers to do quick calculations at a reasonable price. That’s what I was going for—and to be as thorough as possible in this application."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Constructing a Curvy Museum in an Arkansas Ravine

Slide Show Photo Courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art High-Wire Act: Workers followed a carefully modeled erection sequence to build each cable-supported roof.

"We were quite intrigued by the cable structures across the creek—which to our knowledge had never been done before—but the project was a complex challenge," says George T. Vavrek, managing partner for construction manager-constructor LNJV, a joint venture of Linbeck Group LP, Houston, and Nabholz Construction Services, Conway, Ark.

At times during construction of the seven-acre Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville (population 37,000), team members must have felt they were up a stream without a paddle, due to new challenges. Incompetent limestone, which prompted a redesign from footings to micropiles, halted foundation work for seven months in 2007. And in 2009, when the Nov. 11, 2011 opening seemed in jeopardy, the owner realized it needed help and organized an intervention to get the job back on track.

Thanks to the owner's move, a regrouping and lots of preconstruction engineering, the saga of the museum in a ravine is ending well. "We are completing on time—incredible as that sounds," says Vavrek.

The design for the campus by Moshe Safdie and Associates Inc., Boston, consists of one-, two- and three-story buildings with such distinct shapes they have nicknames. The two cable-roof buildings, each perched on a weir that will dam Crystal Spring to form ponds, are called "armadillos." The third cable-roof building is called "the horseshoe crab." One gallery was dubbed "the football," another "the elbow." In plan, the 10 linked buildings form the shape of the number nine. Six will contain art, for a total of 40,000 sq ft of gallery space (see p. 32).

Like Hammocks

The cable roofs, framed by glue-laminated wood arches, are the trickiest of all the structures. Though cables are very efficient in tension, they stretch and deflect like hammock ropes, making the roofs and all their layers especially challenging to erect. "It was a real engineering feat to be able to suspend cables and set the beams," says Jimmy Kepple, vice president of operations for Bosworth Steel Erectors Inc., Dallas, which is erecting the structures.

Even without the roofs, the job would have been far from conventional. "It's a very challenging job from a civil-engineering standpoint," says Brent Massey, principal of the local civil engineer CEI Engineering Associates Inc. Buildings aren't typically built where there is so much potential for flooding, he adds.

Safdie's architectural concrete walls, with varying radii, and toroidal rooflines, which curve in two directions, have also been taxing. "It was not obvious that people in rural Arkansas knew how to do architectural concrete," says Cristobal Correa, associate principal for structure in the New York City office of the job's consulting engineer, Buro Happold Inc.

Logistical hurdles came with the territory. The terrain is steep and rough, with a 120 ft drop in elevation from the construction trailers and concrete batch plant to the site a half-mile away. There is little room to maneuver in the diverted streambed, blasted out to be 550 ft by 800 ft. For example, with no place to turn around, the flatbed that delivers the glulams has to be unhitched, picked up and turned by the tower crane.

The charge from Walton, who chairs the non-profit museum's sole funder, the Walton Family Foundation, was to build the complex but tread lightly on the landscape. LNJV did its best. For instance, it set the height of the tower crane 280 ft above the pond bottom so that the boom would clear the tree line.

Crews began blasting limestone, excavating and diverting the creek in late 2006. It didn't take long for the first hiccup. "The rock fissured in 2007 as we started excavating," says Vavrek.

Work started again seven months later, after engineers replaced footings with micropiles. LNJV's strategy was to tackle the most difficult buildings first, working north to south. But by mid-2009, with above-grade concrete work well under way, museum officials realized the Nov. 11, 2011, public opening was in jeopardy. "The scale was large, and we needed professional expertise on-site," says Rod Bigelow, the museum's deputy director of operations and administration.

That October, the museum brought in Hines as an owner's representative to evaluate and restructure the project and help manage communication between the design and construction teams. "It was a daunting task," says Lawrence Peszek, vice president of construction in the Minneapolis office of Hines.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sears Tower Builder Dies at 78

Photo: courtesy of Rebecca Halpern Richard Halpern

As an executive at former building firm Morse Diesel, Halpern managed the construction of the Sears Tower, the world’s tallest building when it opened in 1974. He was among three executives cited by ENR in 1974 for their roles in the landmark project, which included the industry’s first major effort to recruit minorities into its workforce.

In 1976, Halpern co-founded CM firm Schal Associates, which oversaw major Chicago building projects, including the Museum of Contemporary Art; the One Magnificent Mile building; and McCormick Place, the largest convention center in the U.S. In 1988, Schal was the first U.S. design firm to land a construction contract in Japan, which was long closed to foreign bidders. Halpern and co-founder Harold Schiff sold Schal to U.K.-based construction giant Bovis Inc. in 1994.

Halpern continued to work on international and domestic projects at Bovis, and he came out of semi-retirement in 1995 to intervene in managing the construction of a $130-million arts center at Chicago’s Navy Pier, which was delayed due to roofing problems and cost overruns.

In 1997, Halpern co-founded the Rise Group with a former Bovis colleague, Leif Selkregg. For 14 years, Rise oversaw projects for public and private clients, including the University of Chicago, the Public Building Commission of Chicago, Crate & Barrel and the Alaska SeaLife Center.

The Rise Group was acquired last year by Dutch construction giant Arcadis. "We built Rise to a size and a level of stature that got us established, and we are excited about the next level of growth and building a global platform with Arcadis," Selkregg says, "This was something that Richard and I did together."

Halpern was an adjunct professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management and a longtime board member of the Evanston, Ill.-based school’s department of civil and environmental engineering. In 2008, he established the Halpern/Rise International Distinguished Architect-in-Residence program at Northwestern’s Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. The donation funded a new program in architectural engineering and design. Halpern was also a board member and supporter of the Chicago Urban League.

"Richard was maybe the last or certainly one of the last few master builders," Selkregg says. "His management skills allowed him to collaborate to the highest level with the client, the architect, the engineers, and the builder."

Monday, August 22, 2011

New Flood Protection System Beats Schedule, Lowers Costs

Photo courtesy of USACE Instrument packages at 28 points along the 7.5-mile levee include spider magnetometers, which slide down a tube as the soil below the levee compresses. Clusters also include two inclinometers that bow out of plumb in response to horizontal soil movement and settlement plates buried in the new lifts to measure placement and consolidation in the new work zone. A benchmark, anchored in a stable sand layer, completes the package.

+ Image Infographic courtesy of USACE Inclinometers bow out of plumb in response to horizontal soil movement and settlement plates buried in the new lifts. Related Links: Contractor Cuts Schedule by Decade on Super-Fast Superlevee Design for Rapid Levee Construction Shaves Off Decade in Schedule

The results are in. Data from instruments installed within a big New Orleans levee has allowed the contractors to exceed ambitious schedule-compression goals. The team successfully employed a novel design based on miles of wick drains and geotextile fabrics. The system is achieving soil consolidation and strengthening faster than predicted.

"We're comparing theory to reality in performance," says Richard Varuso, deputy chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' geotechnical branch in New Orleans. "Whenever you validate theory versus performance, the engineering community learns something."

The amount of geotechnical data compiled from the levee reach known as LPV 109 already is informing the design of other projects, including plans to raise a 32-mile stretch of non-federal levees in Plaquemines Parish.

A conventionally built earthen levee comparable to LPV 109 would require a decade of incremental lift placements, separated by long pauses for natural soil compression. By using an elaborate wicking and drainage system rigged with instruments to report soil movement and consolidation within and below the structure, engineers fine-tuned the schedule with lead contractor Archer Western Contractors Ltd., Atlanta. They shaved work duration at sites along the 7.54-mile-long project to 45 to 60 days compared with the targeted 90 days.

"In reading the data from the instrumentation cluster, you're like a detective, looking for clues that converge," says John Volk, URS Corp., San Francisco. Volk is lead geotechnical engineer on the project. "In areas where we realized strength had been achieved, we gave them the green light to add lifts sooner than the initial wait time. This was geotechnical engineering at its best," Volk says.

The construction of LPV 109 in eastern New Orleans is part of the Corps' $14.6-billion program to bring the city's perimeter protections to 100-year levels by this year's hurricane season. URS developed plans and specifications to rapidly build the reach to heights varying from +18 ft to +25 ft and widths varying from 320 ft to 360 ft on soft, marshy soils.

The URS design called for three different types of geotextile fabrics totaling 1 million yd, a wick-layer sandwich of rock sand and fabric, and 9 million linear ft of wick drains stabbed up to 40 ft deep in varying configurations in response to wildly variant soil conditions. Construction also required 3.3 million cu yd of clay.

Validating design

To monitor new material placement, settlement plates were installed every 300 linear ft at +2 ft elevation along the front edge of the stability berm and under the center of the highest part of the levee.

In addition, crews installed 28 instrumentation clusters to monitor changes deep within and below the levee at intervals of 1,500 ft to 2,000 ft. Each cluster includes multipoint borehole extensometers—also known as spider magnetometers—to monitor consolidation of soil at multiple levels below the structure as well as inclinometers to detect horizontal shift and piezometers to measure hydraulic pressure below the heart of the levee.

The settlement plates are direct-read devices consisting of 30-in.-sq steel base plates with double-walled measuring tubes rising vertically. Volk says they are used to monitor clay placement during construction. During peak activity 20-ton dump trucks delivered 200 loads daily. "Settlement plates give you an overall global reading of how the whole levee is settling," Volk says.

The spiders consist of magnetic rings with splayed arms slipped over a vertical tube installed deep in the soft soil below the levee. The bottom of the tube is anchored in a Pleistocene-era, non-compressing sand layer about 40 ft down. A pair of datum magnetic plates ring the tube in the sand layer at -52 ft and -49 ft elevation to provide a reference mark. As long as the plates are 3 ft apart there is no consolidation at that level.

The lowest spider magnet is placed at the interface between the sand and the 40 ft to 60 ft of soft clay soil under the levee, with four more spiders spaced 5 to 10 ft apart around the tube above it until they are within 6 ft to 10 ft of the base of the new construction.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

An Ecuadorian Immigrant and AGC Iowa Create a Multicultural Curriculum for Jobsite Communication

PHOTO BY BRENT ISENBERGER BUILDING TRUST Aveiga and the Iowa chapter of AGC created a bilingual manual for jobsites.

Graphic by Justin Reynolds An ENR special feature. Related Links: Main Story: Where a New Inclusiveness is Changing the Face of the Construction Industry Chinese-Americans Find Themselves Bridging the Gap Between the U.S. and China Minorities Lament their Low Numbers in Engineering and Construction How a Support Group for Gays in Aviation Took Flight A Generation of Iranians Displaced by Revolution Put Their Math and Science Savvy to Work An Ecuadorian Immigrant and AGC Iowa Create a Multicultural Curriculum for Jobsite Communication

Latinos make up 40% of Iowa's construction workforce, say officials with the Des Moines-based group. It hired Aveiga in 2007 to improve jobsite communication and trust.

"We were looking to the future, understanding that the future labor force will increasingly be more multicultural as traditional construction workers retire," says MBI President and CEO Scott Norvell. "Like many other industries, we were looking for a political solution. The years passed, and nothing happened. So, we decided to begin the process ourselves."

Aveiga and MBI developed a multilingual curriculum for improved jobsite communication. Language barriers can lead to poor performance and problems, says Aveiga, whose 25-module program addresses those concerns.

The curriculum includes "The Essential Resource for the Multicultural Crew in the Constr-uction Industry," published in 2008, which phonetically spells out construction terms in both English and Spanish.

MBI updates the manual each year based on user feedback. The efforts led to AGC's 2009 National Diversity Award and green training grants from the U.S. Dept. of Labor.

Story Construction, a 39-year-old employee-owned firm with 160 workers, began using the manual three years ago. "We tried it on a few jobsites where we thought there was no way these guys were going to embrace it," says Story's chief operating officer, Patrick Geary. "But those guys wound up being the most active participants."

The Ames-based company has used the training on nine projects. Twice a week, workers spend 15 to 30 minutes exchanging words and lingo in what can be described as informal "lunch-box" chats.

"There is better trust among the guys, which is reflected in their confidence and speed of work," Geary says.

The training pairs unlikely couples in an effort to shed misconceptions. The approach creates a "third space," specific to the jobsite, with a new bi-lingual language.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Coastal Lift Specialist Doubles Size of Its Marine Workhorse

Versabar Versabars revamped Bottom Feeder, twice the size of its predecessor, can hoist 7,500 tons from the seabed in a single lift. The VB10000 has made 12 lifts already and is booked through mid-October.

"There's always a demand for heavy lifts on the water," says Versabar founder, president and CEO Jon Khachaturian.

The original Bottom Feeder was built to lift the topsides of oil platforms swept to the seafloor by hurricanes, but the newer version, called the VB10000, is tall enough to straddle platforms still standing on their jackets on the water. The ability to remove those platforms gives the VB10000 the potential for years of work in the Gulf of Mexico.

After last year's BP oil spill, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement required operators to remove platforms that are not economically viable. Further, BOEMRE identified 638 platforms that are no longer useful. "This idle infrastructure poses a potential threat to the [Outer Continental Shelf] environment and is a financial liability … if subsequently destroyed or damaged in a future event, such as a hurricane," the agency declared. The agency recommends proactive decommissioning because it is cheaper and faster than post-disaster remediation.

Khachaturian designed the VB10000 with his son, Matthew, and began using it last summer. Built by Gulf Marine Fabricators in Aransas Pass, Texas, for about $100 million, the VB10000 sports two sets of 240-ft-tall trusses mounted on 290-ft-long, 72-ft-wide barges. A bidirectional universal joint on one leg of each truss allows the barges to move independently in "X" and "Y" directions, rather than in concert. Blocks suspended from the top of the connected trusses are operated separately or in combination to lift one corner at a time of a sunken topside, minimizing the seabed mud's suction.

Each VB10000 block can lift 1,500 tons using 3½-in.-thick wire rope. While the old Bottom Feeder could operate only in depths of 400 ft or less, its big sister can go to 500 ft. A dynamic positioning system counteracts wave action and saves time by eliminating anchoring.

The VB10000 has made 12 lifts already and is completely booked through mid-October, Khachaturian says.

When a topside is lifted off the seafloor or removed from a jacket, it is placed on a barge and taken to shore. Platform jackets can be placed on an artificial-reef site, with BOEMRE permission.

Khachaturian says the VB10000 is a specialized piece of equipment that won't fit every company's need. "There's plenty of work for cranes," he says. With all the decommissioning equipment working in the Gulf, he says only about 200 platforms could be removed in a year.

Though the current configuration of the VB10000 limits its depth to 500 ft, Khachiturian says it could be configured to conduct lifts in deeper water, including possibly lifting the Deepwater Horizon that exploded last spring and sank 5,000 ft. Khachaturian says he has not been approached by Transocean, the rig owner, about such a lift. The Houston-based drilling contractor did not respond to a query asking whether it would remove its destroyed rig. Khachaturian estimates the cost of retrieval at $1 billion but expects the rig will be left in place.

The company says the VB10000 also could be configured to lower objects to the seafloor, including blowout preventon devices.

Friday, August 19, 2011



Robins & Morton, a Birmingham, Ala., building contractor, has named Bryson G. Edmonds senior vice president of its new power and industrial division. He had been vice president of sales and marketing for the global power and industrial business unit of Houston-based KBR Inc. Before that, he was vice president of sales and construction services at Birmingham-based BE&K Inc., which KBR acquired in 2008. His father, William Edmonds, was a BE&K founder, in 1972. G. Edward Cassady III is named chief financial officer and senior vice president. He had been managing director of The Martin Cos., a Nashville, Tenn., investment firm, and also served as executive vice president at BE&K. Ross E. Cates is named the new division's vice president of power and commercial services. He had been KBR director of procurement and served as vice president of power and procurement at Kiewit Corp. A former vice president of construction operations at KBR, Kenneth E. Smith joins as the division's vice president of construction services.Cates and Smith are former BE&K executives. The new division will provide engineering, procurement, construction and industrial maintenance in the energy and industrial sectors.


Lydia H. Kennard has been named president and CEO of KDG Development & Construction Consulting, a Los Angeles construction management firm. She was executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, responsible for the operations of Los Angeles International, Ontario International, Palmdale Regional and Van Nuys. In her new role, Kennard replaces Sam Reeves, who remains a board member.

Hazen and Sawyer, New York City, has announced a management succession. Charles S. Hocking is promoted to president and CEO, replacing James W. Fagan, who becomes chairman. Hocking has been with the firm since 1997, most recently serving as director of strategic planning.

Hudson Meridian Construction Group, New York City, has named Rich Woolley vice president of construction services. He had been estimating and purchasing manager at Building and Land Technology, Stamford, Conn.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How a Support Group for Gays in Aviation Took Flight

Photo by Dennis Drenner Evan Futterman started GALA to support industry members who identify as gay and lesbian.

Graphic by Justin Reynolds An ENR Special Feature. Related Links: Main Story: Where a New Inclusiveness Is Changing the Face of the Construction Industry Minorities Lament their Low Numbers in Engineering and Construction How a Support Group for Gays in Aviation Took Flight Korean-Americans Build Cultural Inroads in U.S. Construction Chinese-Americans Find Themselves Bridging the Gap Between the U.S. and China An Ecuadorian Immigrant and AGC Iowa Create a Multicultural Curriculum for Jobsite Communication

For years, he says, he hid his identity. Today, however, he runs his own consultancy, has a dozen clients and feels free to introduce his partner publicly without fear of losing business.

In 2009, he started Gays and Lesbians in Aviation (GALA), a support group under the auspices of the American Association of Airport Executives and the Airports Council International. "I believe that a part of human dignity is respecting and caring for each other just as [we] are and not imposing our own values on [others]," says Thella Bowens, chief operating officer of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority and a high-level member of both associations.

Although many LGBTs in the engineering and construction world report overall positive experiences, they also have faced homophobia. "Engineering is a broad field, and support for LGBT equality varies widely both in terms of formal policy and in terms of workplace culture," wrote Donna M. Riley in a 2008 scholarly article for the journal Leadership and Management in Engineering. Engineering sectors, "particularly those close to … defense and construction, tend to be more conservative, fostering more of a 'don't ask, don't tell' culture," she wrote.

But researchers note that such a culture results in less productive workers and, ultimately, a less productive company. "Closeted workers suffer anxiety about how colleagues and managers might judge them and expend enormous effort concealing their orientation, which leaves them less energy for actual work," researchers wrote in this month's Harvard Business Review.

Rochelle Diamond, chair of the group Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals, says she was once outed and laid off. "If I get married in a state that allows it, what happens if I get sent to another state? What if my employer sends me to a country where I could be arrested and killed for who I am?"

GLBTs in the industry are not looking to flaunt their identities. "What we don't want is special treatment," says Futterman. "We just want fair treatment."

Elaine Roberts, chief operating officer at the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, thanked her partner during a speech at an American Association of Airport Executives conference in 2007. "I'm not secretive about her, but I don't talk a lot about it," she says.

But many remain closeted, especially outside major cities. An aviation manager in the Midwest says he lost a job abruptly over his sexual identity. In his current job, he reports to a director who is older and conservative; he's worried about being accepted as out. "It doesn't take five or six people to let you go."

He adds: "Nobody wakes up and chooses to be gay. It doesn't define me completely, but I wish it wouldn't be a career detriment."

City governments are widely inclusive, notes Ginger Evans, senior vice president,Parsons Corp."Companies who want to connect with cities in a meaningful way will follow their lead."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wind, Solar Backers Hope FERC's 'Order 1000' Will Spur Development

Courtesy FERC FERC Order 1000 requires providers in neighboring transmission planning regions to coordinate on finding cost-effective solutions to mutual transmission needs. Related Links: Power Producers Validate One Bright Spot in Midyear Outlook FERC Floats Rule Changes To Promote Transmission

A July 21 ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that reforms electric-transmission planning and allocation requirements is expected to support new solar- and wind-power development, according to two construction industry sources.

"FERC Order 1000 is a huge development that will open up the transmission cost allocation process and spur development of transmission projects," says Gerald Schulz, vice president of electrical engineering at transmission contractor Michels Corp., Brownsville, Wis.

One component of the order is a requirement for transmission providers to participate in regional transmission planning processes. Another requires that providers in neighboring transmission planning regions cooperate to find cost-effective solutions to mutual transmission needs.

The 650-page order builds on prior transmission reforms and corrects remaining deficiencies regarding transmission planning processes and cost allocation methods, according to a FERC statement on the ruling.

Schulz says the order could assist with transmission development in energy-constrained regions. The rule should help Michels in building transmission lines in remote wind-generating regions, such as North Dakota and Minnesota, to population centers on both coasts, he says.

As for cost allocation, the ruling spreads the cost to the end users of the transmission project, a tactic that reduces the cost per person, Schulz says. Those who don’t benefit from the transmission will not pay.

"This gives more protection for the consumer," he says. Previously, transmission-line costs were spread equally throughout a geographic region.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hard Times Draw the Line For Bargaining

Related Links: View the Full ENR 2011 Second Quarter Cost Report (PDF) Contractors Hold Line on Pay How John Deere's New Hybrid Wheel Loaders Get Their Juice Creating Cash From Trash Floods Disrupt Deliveries Fears About the Economy Shake Industry Confidence A Deep and Dogged Recession Will Take a Bite Out of Inflation

It was a shot across the bow, just as the two groups were heading into the collective bargaining season. The message was clear: Something's got to give.

Building Trades Employers Association (BTEA) President Louis J. Coletti says his association's members want to remain union contractors but that the current model risks pricing them out of the market. There now is a 25% to 30% differential between union and non-union labor costs, he estimates. Some observers say the gap could be as high as 40% on smaller projects, on which union firms are less competitive.

"There should be no question in anybody's mind that this is a threshold moment in the history of the unionized construction movement in New York City, which is the strongest union market in the country. We want to preserve this business model we have, and we hope [union representatives] can help us do that at the bargaining table," Coletti says. "Everyone must play by the same rules."

From New York to California, tensions are running high at the bargaining table. While each market faces its own unique issues, negotiating parties share a common concern: staying competitive in a tough economy. Many union contractors struggle to land jobs in an environment in which competitors bid at minimal margins to land dwindling opportunities.

Meanwhile, unions strive to maintain members' standards of living and keep up with rapidly rising benefits costs while grappling with high unemployment. "Do we want to continue to reduce union labor and destroy the middle class?" asks Robert Ledwith, business manager of New York City Metallic Lathers' union Local 46.

Nearly five years into the construction downturn, the impact on union labor is widespread as most pacts signed during the recession are being completed by the end of 2011. Between 2000 and 2008, first-year wage-fringe hikes in settlements averaged more than 4%, according to the Construction Labor Research Council, Washington, D.C. In 2009, the average fell to 2.8%. A year later, it dropped to 1.7%, the first time since 1985 that increases fell below 2%. On average, 2010 pacts offered a first-year hike of 80¢—the first time since 1998 that number has dropped under $1. One-fourth of settlements in 2010 contained wage and fringe freezes or reductions.

Bargaining now is for a shorter term. Faced with an uncertain economy, parties are drafting agreements of one to two years, says CLRC Executive Director Carey Peters. Since 2008, 21% more pacts expire annually. In 2008, 434 contracts expired; this year, that figure will be 526. "Folks on both sides of the table are nervous about change," he adds. "Who knows where the market is headed?"

As contract expirations come up faster, parties are experiencing bargaining fatigue. At the outset of the recession, some unions and employers showed signs of solidarity in forging new agreements. However, that sense of cooperation now is wearing thin, and many contractor groups say current talks have been the toughest in decades.

New York City, a Helluva Town

BTEA and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC) found short-term consensus in 2009 on project labor agreements to improve pricing and help unfreeze stalled projects. But with the market still suffering, contractors continue to seek concessions, unions are fighting to hold their ground, and owners are trying new approaches—such as employing non-union firms on larger projects, not just small ones in fringe areas.

At a June 9 panel in Manhattan on labor costs sponsored by a regional economic group, Jay Badame, president and chief operating officer of Tishman Construction Corp., New York City, said the pacts have resulted in project savings of only 2% to 3%, compared with a previous pledge of 20%. "[The savings] have been totally discounted by developers," he said. Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, said that while high taxes and land costs are factors in his claim of 700 stalled projects, "organized labor has a major role in how to get us out of this."

Coletti says a long-term solution is needed. "We here on the management side believe that this recession has created a new normal," he says. BCTC representatives would not comment on ongoing agreements that expire on June 30 in New York City. But in a statement, Paul Fernandes, its chief of staff, said BTEA's withdrawal from the New York Plan "in no way relieves contractors of their contractual obligations to it, which are part of their collective bargaining agreements and are binding contracts with unions."

To cut costs in New York City, employers are targeting decades-old work rules that they characterize as unproductive. Spinola claims that "non-productive work" at the World Trade Center redevelopment site in the last three years has run up costs of more than $100 million. "By reducing the amount of work rules, we could save 20% to 25% of the cost of labor on jobs," says Ron Berger, executive director of the Subcontractors Trade Association, New York City.

Part of that strategy played out in the four-year agreement reached in late April between the Association of Master Painters & Decorators of N.Y. and the painters' union district council. Work rules and related issues in the pact include flexible start times between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.; elimination of the hiring hall; no restrictions on work that apprentices can perform; and security background checks. A workplace performance plan also was adopted to retrain unproductive workers. After three bad evaluations, an employee can be removed from the union.

Tom Owens, spokesman for the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Dept., called the deal "groundbreaking" and expects other New York City unions will follow. "Given the state of the industry, everyone is pressured to cut costs," he says. "Contractors recognize that our guys are more productive, and [the contractors] want to maximize productivity."

Still, wages and benefits remain under pressure. The painters' union accepted a one-year wage freeze and 1.9% weighted average over four years; for outer-borough commercial work, it accepted a 20% cut in payroll costs toward wages and benefits. Overtime was recalculated to produce a 20% savings. The union must reduce health-care costs by 10%, or about $4.4 million, over the four-year contract. Employers also won't contribute to health benefit funds from May 2012 to May 2014, and there will be no additional employer contributions into the pension fund over the pact's term.

James Williams, general president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, says the New York City deal reflects the need for union painters to find ways to increase hours and reduce unemployment. "Our New York business manager took a bold stance and made the concessions needed," he adds.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Firms See Funding Shift In Clients and Projects

COURTESY OF THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK / NEW JERSEY A FIRST The Goethals Bridge replacement would be port authoritys first public-private partnership. Related Links: Top Design Firms -- Full report

Without a multiyear surface-transportation bill in place, designers find many state departments of transportation reluctant to make long-term plans and commit to multiyear projects. Since SAFETEA-LU expired in September 2009, highway and transit programs have operated under a series of stopgaps, the latest of which is scheduled to lapse on Sept. 30.

Although continuing resolutions have preceded passage of previous highway bills, this time the economic climate is different, says Fred Werner, executive vice president at Los Angeles-based AECOM.

"There was always some consternation in the past if there wasn't a dedicated multiyear bill, but there was very little downturn in state matching funds for projects," he says. "What makes this different and challenging is that you have very little support at the state and local level for any projects. We're seeing this as a very choppy market right now."

As a result, Werner says AECOM shifted much of its focus to agencies with dedicated funding streams, such as tolls or sales-tax programs.

One of its top prospects for years to come is the $40-billion, 30-year Measure R program in Los Angeles, funded by a sales-tax increase that voters approved in 2008. Although much of the program is aimed at transit work, billions of dollars are dedicated to projects within major corridors.

Kansas City, Mo.-based HNTB is taking a similar approach, leveraging its relationships with well-funded clients. The strategy helped grow revenue significantly in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut market, rising steadily to $74.8 million in 2010 from $33.5 million in 2006.

HNTB is serving as program manager for the $2.5-billion widening of 33 miles of the New Jersey Turnpike. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey also selected the firm for preliminary engineering on the $1-billion Goethals Bridge replacement.

It's a trend that Ken Graham, CEO of HNTB, expects to continue for the foreseeable future. "We've seen the majority of the toll authorities increasing tolls so that they are able to put forward substantial programs," he adds.

The port authority is considering proposals from teams to design, build, operate and maintain the Goethals Bridge replacement. The toll bridge connects Elizabeth, N.J., to Staten Island, N.Y. It would be the port authority's first project to use the public-private delivery method. HNTB, Omaha, Neb.-based HDR and Pasadena, Calif.-based Parsons are among the design firms aligned with the bidding teams.

Further, more toll-funded opportunities are on the horizon. Last year, Illinois and Indiana each signed legislation to build the Illiana Expressway, a proposed toll road that would connect Interstate 55, near Joliet, Ill., to I-65, near Lowell, Ind. New York City-based Parsons Brinckerhoff is the prime consultant for Tier 1 and Tier 2 environmental studies.

Despite economic uncertainty, the need to repair or replace the country's deteriorating bridges continues, says Charlie O'Reilly, eastern region transportation director for HDR Engineering. "The mix of projects out there has changed," he says. "There has been a shift away from capacity improvements toward focusing on fixing and maintaining existing infrastructure.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

GAO Upholds Protests of Big New Orleans Flood Control Award

Photo by Angelle Bergeron for ENR Disputed project would replace temporary system of canal gate closures and pumps.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not comply with statutory and regulatory requirements in its award last April of a $675-million design-build contract for flood control upgrades in New Orleans, the U.S. Government Accountability Office ruled Aug. 4 in a bid protest decision.

The Corps did not comment on the decision or provide details on how it will respond.

GAO upheld protests by two losing bidders:PCCP Constructors, a Fort Worth-based joint venture of Kiewit Corp., Traylor Bros. Inc, and M.R. Pittman Group; and Bechtel Infrastructure Corp., Frederick, Md.

The Corps had awarded the contract for the project, the Permanent Canal Closures and Pump stations (PCCP) to CBY Design Builders, a joint venture of CDM, Cambridge, Mass., Birmingham, Ala.-based Brasfield & Gorrie, and Yates Construction, Philadelphia, Miss.

"We are certainly disappointed with the GAO recommendations because we were ready to start the project," says Robert Davis, CBY project manager. "We are now looking forward to responding to the Corps' revisions to the solicitation.

In a statement, Ralph O. White, GAO managing associate general counsel for procurement law, pointed to several flaws in the Corps evaluation of the proposals.

White said that the Corps failed to properly investigate and mitigate "unfair competitive advantage and organizational conflict of interest" related to CDM's hiring of Richmond Kendrick last fall as a project manager.

Kendrick is formerly chief of program execution for the Corps Hurricane Protection Office, responsible for the project and its procurement. Kendrick retired from the Corps in August 2010, several months before CBY won the contract.

GAO's decision also refers to the possibility of bidders being "misled about the role of price in the evaluation," says White. That may refer to the Corps's best value selection, but the agency declines to give details and will not make public its decision because of competitive information that may factor into a subsequent procurement, it says.

Related to pump station operation, GAO also notes a technical discrepancy, says White."The Corps evaluation was flawed because the agency failed to determine whether CBY's approach would meet the solicitation's requirements for withstanding lateral loads," he says.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Content Marketing: How to Think Like a Publisher to Win Business

Graphic courtesy of Junta42 Digital channels account for the bulk of content marketing outlets.

Have you ever picked up a company's brochure or flyer? Watched an infomercial or a shopping channel on television? Ordered a product DVD explaining the benefits of a new mattress or a vacation destination? Leafed through a company newsletter?

These are just a few of the ways companies use content to market their products and services to customers.

Content marketing is nothing new. Companies having been creating and distributing content for many years, both to attract new business and to retain existing customers. However, unlike traditional forms of marketing and advertising, using content to sell isn’t selling or "sales-ey." It isn’t advertising. It isn’t "push marketing," in which email messages are sprayed out at groups of consumers in bulk. Rather, using content to sell is a "pull strategy"—it’s the marketing of attraction.

It’s being there when your customer needs you and seeks you out for relevant, educational, helpful, compelling, engaging and sometimes entertaining information. When customers and prospects come to you, rather than you going to them, the advantages are obvious. They’re interested, open and receptive. They’ve chosen the moment—all you have to do is be ready. And it spares you much of the headaches and expense of outreach marketing efforts: media planning and buying, direct-mail dumps, spraying and praying when browsers can be configured to block ads, spam filters can send an e-mail campaign into oblivion, and digital video recorders can make TV spots irrelevant—not to mention that most recipients empty their mailbox into the recycling bin.

There’s really no debate over the benefits of "tune in" versus "tune out" or "pull" versus "push."

Here's one reason why: A Roper Public Affairs poll found that 80% percent of business decision-makers prefer to get information about a company from articles rather than from ads. Seventy percent say content marketing makes them feel closer to the sponsoring company, and 60% believe company content helps them make better decisions about products. or the organization it represent, for a company’s products and services, and for the employees who represent the business or service, content marketing encourages brand recognition, trust, authority, credibility, loyalty and authenticity.

Content marketing creates value. For one thing, it educates the customer, answering questions and providing a foundation of information. While content marketing can be used to augment traditional advertising campaigns, some companies are leveraging content to replace more traditional forms of advertising and marketing. Perhaps most appealing, content marketing can spark customer engagement at all stages of the buying cycle. Further, it can establish an ongoing relationship between the company and the customer, inspiring up- and cross-selling, renewals, upgrades and referrals.

Digital Changes Everything

While content marketing is hardly new (businesses have been publishing newsletters and brochures practically since the advent of the printing press), the rise of the internet and other digital channels, particularly social media, has significantly lowered the bar and the costs of leveraging content to profitably attract clients and prospects.

Websites. Blogs. YouTube. eBooks. Downloadable white papers. Twitter. Facebook. Search engines. These channels remove many of the hard cost barriers that were once a mandatory part of creating and disseminating great content. Paper stock, film stock, printing, shipping, warehousing, postage, processing and developing—most of the physical and logistical hurdles to creating and disseminating great content are gone.

While content marketing may be cheaper thanks to digital innovations, it certainly isn’t free or any easier. Consistently delivering quality content to a target audience requires thought, work, originality, strategy, experimentation and persistence. A plethora of potential outlets for content online (the options seem to multiply every day) add complexity to the choices you must make about what content to create, in what form, and how to disseminate it—not to mention how to measure its effectiveness. One thing is certain: Digital channels overwhelmingly account for the preponderance of content marketing outlets, as this chart from Junta42 illustrates:

Research from this same study, conducted in 2010, found that 60% of marketers planned to increase spending for content marketing in the coming year. Content already accounts for more than 33 percent of marketing budgets—often double that in smaller organizations. These efforts and budgets now are flowing into digital channels.

While there are no rules when it comes to content marketing, there are best practices. Aside from following common sense—check spelling and grammar; if the content is a video, it should probably contain moving images and audio‑—there are no hard-and-fast rules, only guidelines. The content that works to support your business won’t be what works for another business.

Be prepared to experiment. Be prepared to fail, but make sure your learn from your failures. Above all, have fun: Creating interesting, compelling, original, educational, diverting, immersive, entertaining and attractive content can be just as valuable and inspiring for the creator as it is for its intended audience.

Consider how these architectural and engineering companies are leveraging digital content marketing channels for inspiration:

PR: Nichols Concrete Cutting of San Francisco garnered significant press coverage on its seismic refit on the original Stanford University quad. Those articles now live in perpetuity on the press section of the company’s website, boosting profile and credibility, rather than disappearing into a clippings file.

Facebook: New York-based BKSK Architects maintains an active presence on Facebook. The company uses the channel for all sorts of purposes. Sure, the page highlights press coverage and awards, and features images and text about events, such as a groundbreaking ceremony for a project. The company is also using its social media presence for recruiting.

YouTube: LR Architectural Restoration of Indianapolis posts "before and after" videos of its projects on YouTube. Showing can be a lot better than telling. Many software tutorials for architectural and engineering packages are available on YouTube as well, many from vendors. Search "architect CAD tools" on YouTube for examples.

Blogs: Blogs confer authority and thought leadership on organizations, but also on individuals and smaller practitioners. Bob Borsen, an architect in Texas, blogs about his work and life as an architect ( The blog isn’t just about him and his firm. It offers consumers advice on how best to work with an architect.

Rebecca Lieb is a digital marketing consultant and author of a best-selling book on search engine optimization.
You can write her directly at

Friday, August 12, 2011

Products Snapshot

Slide Show The Husqvarna K1260 Power Cutter features a 7.8-hp engine with an active air filtration system which delivers operational times of up to one year dry cutting without needing service. The tool can be used to cut pipe for installation work, concrete and masonry in alteration, renovation and new construction, as well as asphalt in roadwork and pre-cutting for pipe trenches. Husqvarna; 913-928-1000;

Thursday, August 11, 2011

With the Carmageddon Fresh in Our Minds, Why We Must Finish Another Vital L.A. Artery

Courtesy I-710 Coalition Image used by proponents of the I-710 Gap Closure project.

County Metropolitan Transportation Authority funded the environmental impact report for finishing with a toll tunnel the last 4.5 miles of this section of its freeway core. Currently, northbound vehicles on I-710 exit onto Valley Boulevard, where the freeway ends, and the traffic continues on local streets in Alhambra, South Pasadena and Los Angeles. The extension would link I-710 to I-210, but the final route is not settled.

Fifty F years is actually not such a long time for a major project. The Corinth Canal took more than 1,800 years to finish. The Eurotunnel took 250 years to complete, and New York City's East Side subway tunnel took 82 years to finish.

About the same number of daily vehicle trips (200,000) diverted by the I-405 closure are diverted everyday to secondary roads and local streets as a result of the I-710 gap. About half these trips add congestion to other freeways, and about half tie up neighborhood streets. Thus, the need for the I-710 link should be beyond dispute. Los Angeles citizens want the freeway completed by a 6-1 margin. After completion, the daily reduction in vehicle miles will equal nine trips around the world, saving 35,700 gallons of fossil fuel and dramatically reducing air pollution.

For a long time, clear need and pervasive public support wasn't enough. A small but highly organized, vocal group delayed the project by learning exactly where to insert monkey wrenches into the gears of public process. They made the project appear controversial; but the freeway system cannot function as it should with this gap, hence the final link is going forward.

How To Avoid Delays

The go-ahead for the I-710 project offers lessons for other unfinished transportation projects that are much needed but controversial.First, costs rise with every postponement. The I-710 tunnel's multibillion-dollar cost will seem like a bargain in a few years. The original 1959 cost of $6 million seemed astronomical at the time.

Second, face the problem head-on, now. It will not get easier. Naysayers have no expiration dates. Elected officials are put in office to make tough decisions and lead.

Third, do as Europe has done in response to urban density: use tunnels. The I-710 solution is similar to the A86 highway solution in Paris—that is, the A86 runs under the fragile Palace of Versailles.

Fourth, until recently, America's strategy for funding highways has favored gas taxes over tolls, a policy forged over 35 years by former U.S. road czar Thomas MacDonald. This tactic worked at first, but we did not find the political will to raise gas taxes as costs escalated. Worse, we wistfully began diverting some gas taxes to transit from roads. The national bias against tolls is almost a century old, but this is not 1919. Now, tolls make sense.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Curtain-Wall Testing Pioneer 'Sak' Sakhnovsky is Dead at 84



While running a housing research laboratory at the University of Miami, Sakhnovsky was among the first to perform window testing, in 1954. A trained chemist, he was instrumental in developing, in the 1960s, the American Society for Testing Materials' static water- leakage test. It remains virtually unchanged today. Sakhnovsky bought the lab and launched Construction Research Laboratory Inc. (CRL), Medley, Fla., in 1968.

CRL is considered the world's first and largest curtain-wall test facility, with 40 test chambers, half of which are 35 ft high or taller, and two 2,650-hp aircraft engines that simulate hurricane-like winds. As president and principal, Sakhnovsky oversaw testing of 4,000 full-size curtain walls and thousands of windows, doors, roofs and other products. The 15-person firm says it will remain in business.

"Sak had an uncanny knack for suggesting incredibly efficient solutions to confounding detail problems during the heat of failed mock-up testing," says Charles Clift, president of Curtain Wall Design & Consulting Inc., Dallas. Adds Mic Patterson, director of strategic development for Enclos Corp., a New York City-based curtain-wall manufacturer and installer, "He has left us with the tools, techniques and test methods to accommodate future building-skin demands."

Sakhnovsky's groundbreaking work helped architects, manufacturers and engineers develop and execute ambitious designs for taller, larger and distinctly shaped buildings, such as Chicago's Sears (now Willis) Tower, the World Trade Center in New York City, Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers and the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, among many others. He lectured and conducted seminars globally.

Says Marc Weissbach, chief operating officer of Israel Berger & Associates, a New York City facade consultant and CRL client, "Sak was an icon in our industry."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Viewpoint: Why Uncertainty Is a Critical Factor in Designing for Disaster

Photo by Tom Sawyer for ENR Damage in northern Japan following the tsunami. Related Links: Tom Sawyer's ENR Report From the Disaster in Northern Japan

The past decade has seen a number of lesser but quite extreme events, including Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and New Zealand, and tsunami in Japan. Common to all are extraordinary natural forces, the inadequacy of preparations, great losses and shocked surprise.

Why are we surprised by powerful disasters? Events of similar intensity to the disasters cited have occurred before. In 1993, a tsunami hit the Japanese island of Hokkaido, west and just above the island of Honshu, whose east coast was devastated by a tsunami in March. The 1993 tsunami generated wave heights comparable to the 2011 event.

A recent ENR article by Senior Editor Tom Sawyer included a graphic based on geologic data that showed evidence of multiple large prehistoric tsunamis on the Oregon coast. On the U.S. East Coast, geologic data indicates a large tsunami washed over what is now New York City 2,300 years ago.

Of the three components of risk—the hazard, the reliability of systems to mitigate the hazard and the consequences of the event—hazard is the most difficult to quantify, especially with rare events. As ENR reported, scientists in Japan did not think a magnitude-9 earthquake would occur off Honshu's coast, thus the tsunami mitigation measures in place were designed for a lesser event. The consequences for the most tsunami-prepared country were devastating.

Hazards often involve processes operating on geologic scales of time and space. But we tend to think about them on the human scale. Too often we use relatively recent data records and extrapolate to the geological time scales. To simplify analysis, we lean on the assumption that past events are representative of future events. We assume the most severe events recorded—or even worse, the most severe events we remember—represent the worst nature has to offer. It should be no surprise that this approach has not served us well. Uncertainty in natural processes and our failure to estimate uncertainty have often led to surprise and dire consequences.



What do we do about it? First, we must understand the level of uncertainty that exists, which only can be accomplished with probabilistic analysis. Traditional deterministic methods won't do. It is also important to examine all sources of uncertainty, including flawed knowledge, luck and policy. Second, we must apply this information to reduce risk.

While risk and uncertainty are considered with respect to operational safety in the design of critical infrastructure—such as large dams, powerplants and industrial facilities—they are only now emerging as critical factors in the designs for natural hazard mitigation.

The new Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System in New Orleans is one of the first large-scale examples of applying calculated uncertainty to risk-mitigation design. Instead of using the statistically most-likely water levels for an event that has a 1% chance of occuring in any given year, or 100-year return period, the design criteria added water heights based on the quantified uncertainty—a more conservative design.

A second initiative to factor uncertainty into design is now using comprehensive risk assessment to determine where armoring would increase resilience of the levees and their ability to withstand overtopping. Levee erosion after overtopping was the primary cause of catastrophic breaching during Katrina. Resilient structures could have halved flooding and losses.

We need to acknowledge the uncertainty in natural hazard events and routinely estimate and apply uncertainty factors to the design and implementation of risk-reduction measures. The New Orleans example is a crude but welcome move. Does this cost more? Initially, yes. Over time, formally factoring in risk can bring enormous savings, not only monetarily but also in reducing major interruptions to society and the economy. There is rapture in that.

Dr. Lewis E. "Ed" Link is a research professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Maryland. Contact him at

Monday, August 8, 2011

Japanese Disaster Puts Focus On U.S. Powerplant Problems

Courtesy of Progress Energy Crystal River plant has cracks in walls.

Courtesy of NextEra Energy Engineers note alkali silica reaction at Seabrook.

"U.S. nuclear facilities are under constant inspection regimens, but since the earthquake we are going at it even stronger," says Mitch Singer, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based industry organization.

In one example, Progress Energy's Crystal River plant in Florida—offline since September 2009 for a refueling and maintenance outage—could be permanently closed.

While installing new steam generators to replace old ones in the containment building last March, Progress discovered a separation in the 42-inch wall and another during repair of that problem. Progress spent $150 million on the repair of the first separation and $290 million on replacement power costs, says Tim Leljedal, Progress Energy spokesman.

The utility is analyzing its options, including repair or decommissioning. "We have a strong preference to repair the facility and return it to service," Leljedal says. There is no deadline for deciding on the plant's future, but he says Progress will give the Florida Public Service Commission an update on June 27.

At NextEra Energy Resources' Seabrook nuclear powerplant in Seabrook, N.H., officials are concerned about a concrete electrical tunnel weakened by groundwater beneath the facility. The problem arises as Seabrook's license renewal application is pending.

At issue is the probable link between an alkali-silica reaction (ASR) in the tunnel's concrete and loss of more than 20% of its strength, which officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission say is the first such occurrence it has identified in the U.S. While the ASR problem has not been detected at other sites, NRC says it could be occurring elsewhere.

The NRC has reached out to the Dept. of Transportation for expert advice since it is unclear how ASR will affect the tunnel over time.

Arthur Burritt, NRC's branch chief for inspections at the Seabrook nuclear facility, says despite possible groundwater intrusion, the reactor has not been affected and that structures are still sound.

NextEra determined that the tunnel remained operable with a 50% reduction in design margin. A May 13 NRC inspection report notes that the performance deficiency related to ASR is significant because if left uncorrected it could result in a reactor trip. Core samples of reactive concrete taken in 2010 are currently undergoing analysis, with initial findings expected soon.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Caterpillar Settlement Touches Dozens of Heavy Equipment Brands

Photo courtesy of Link-Belt Caterpillar engines go into a variety of heavy equipment, including cranes. Link-Belt is one user of Cat engines. Related Links: Caterpillar To Recall Engines, Pay $2.5M in EPA Penalties

Caterpillar Inc. doesn't just build engines for its own machines; it also sells them to other heavy equipment makers.

Yesterday's federal consent order involves nearly 600,000 Caterpillar diesel engines that were shipped to dozens of original-equipment manufacturers of trucks and heavy equipment, according to public records obtained by ENR.

The complaint, filed July 28 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that Caterpillar Inc. shipped 590,282 diesel engines missing emission controls to more than 50 on- and off-road OEMs from 2002 to 2006. A list of impacted models is detailed in the lawsuit (PDF).

Most engines were delivered with their tailpipe controls shipped separately. Under federal law, engines must leave the factory meeting U.S. emissions standards.

In the case of 925 of the engines, the fuel injectors were not programmed correctly, potentially causing the engines to emit excess nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, the lawsuit says.

"The vast majority of these engines has already been addressed in the company's ongoing recall program," Bridget M. Young, a Caterpillar spokeswoman told ENR via e-mail. The Peoria, Ill.-based company will formally notify clients of the recall, she added.

Caterpillar engines are used in a variety of heavy machinery, such as earthmovers, cranes, loggers and farm tractors. They also are the main source of power in many over-the-road trucks.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Alberta Government Boosts $1.6B Gasification Project

The province of Alberta, Canada, agreed on July 27 to give $297 million toward a $1.6-billion project that will create synthetic gas out of coal in Whitecourt, Alberta, that can't be mined. Then, the gas will be used to generate 300 MW of electricity.

Construction of the Swan Hills in situ coal-gasification project, 177 kilometers northwest of Edmonton, is projected to begin in 2013. By 2015, Edmonton, Alberta-based Swan Hills Synfuels expects to capture 1.3 million tons of carbon dioxide from the gasification. That CO2 will be used for enhanced oil recovery in the area.

The Swan Hills Synfuels project will use access wells, similar to conventional oil and gas wells, to access coal seams about 1.4 km below the earth’s surface. Underground, the coal will be gasified into a synthetic gas, which will be sent to the surface.

"The support of the province is helping to make this major energy project a reality, upgrading a low-value resource into valuable clean energy in Alberta," said Martin Lambert, chief executive officer of Swan Hills Synfuels, in a statement. "We are excited to be building a base-load generating plant that will provide the reliability and economic stability that coal-fired power has brought to Alberta for many years, but with greenhouse-gas emissions lower than that of comparable natural-gas-fired generation.

A maximum of up to 40% of the government funding will be distributed during the design and construction stages. An additional 20% will be given to Swan Hills upon commercial operation, and the remaining 40% will be provided over 10 years as CO2 is captured.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Meet Big Stan: Giant Drill Is the Rock Star of the Southwest

Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Paving Corp. Despite its age, giant drill Big Stan (in yellow) is booked up in the Southwest.

Las Vegas is crowded with performers, but few are as huge as Big Stan. Thought to be the world's largest truck-mounted drill, Big Stan is flexing its muscles south of the Strip on a $252.5-million, 7-mile-long widening of Interstate 15.

Big Stan's tall stance originally sprang from deep roots. The 250,000-lb, 93-ft-high boring behemoth was built in 1986 by Anderson Drilling, Lakeside, Calif., now a part of London-based Keller Group PLC. The mega-machine, which cost $1.5 million to construct, is named after 6-ft, 3-in.-tall Stan Anderson, who retired as company president in 2006.

"It didn't take long to realize that what you could buy in the marketplace wasn't adequate enough for the hard ground in Las Vegas," says Anderson. "The bigger the rig, the more work you can get done." The region's caliche-laden soil often requires heavy drills, trenchers and blasters to break up the sedimentary rock.

With 534,000 ft-lbs of torque and 75,000 lb of crowd pressure, the drill can bore down 200 ft at a rate of nearly 39 rpm. Its augers weigh up to 15,000 lbs. They can drill holes as large as 30 ft in dia and remove up to 5 cu yd of dirt at one time. Big Stan is mounted on a 40-ft-long, five-axle truck. It can also fit onto a half- or full-crawler tracked carrier.

Powered by a 600-hp, six-cylinder Cummins engine, Big Stan has been featured on the Discovery Channel's "Monster Machines" program in an episode highlighting the world's largest construction and mining equipment. Despite its size, Big Stan is incredibly agile; it can be set up and ready to work within an hour.

Big Stan is uniquely mobile, too. "It can go down the road in two pieces," says Daniel Cadenhead, president of Anderson Drilling. The monster machine competes with other equipment that takes eight and 10 truckloads to transport and requires a week to set up. "We were thinking about building another one, but it would cost $4.5 million to duplicate in today's dollars," Cadenhead adds.

Big Plans for Big Stan

Despite its vintage, Big Stan is still in demand. Anderson Drilling is currently working as a subcontractor to Las Vegas Paving Corp., which is performing a design-build upgrade of I-15 between Silverado Ranch Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue on the southern outskirts of Las Vegas. Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., Pasadena, Calif., is design subcontractor. The project calls for reconfiguring three interchanges, adding 26 bridge segments and paving 35 lane-miles of new road.

Big Stan recently worked on the new, 900-ft-long, 40-ft-wide Blue Diamond Road flyover—which is a direct connection for eastbound traffic onto northbound I-15—that bypasses two traffic signals. The five-span, two-lane bridge structure is supported by a foundation of 30 drilled piers up to 10 ft dia and 100 ft deep. While other drills are being used on the job, Big Stan is the star of the show.

The mega-drill will move its act to the I-15/215 Beltway interchange later this summer for more widening work.

"Braiding of the successive on and off ramps will eliminate the severe weaving problems, improving traffic flow," says Las Vegas paving division manager Corey Newcome. "Depending upon the segment, the widening will add 30% to 85% more capacity along that stretch of I-15, which sees 200,000 vehicles a day."

Scheduled to finish in mid-2012, thanks in part to the giant drill, the project will boost capacity and safety.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Renovations Dominate Weak Buildings Market

PHOTO COURTESY OF PERKINS + WILL TRANSFORMATION Perkins + Will is devoting a lot of effort to refreshing and bringing new life to older buildings, such as the Presidio in California.

Although many clients have cash, developers have to be creative to secure financing, says John Adams, principal at Los Angeles-based Gensler. Given the troubled real estate market, repositioning existing facilities, sometimes purchased from troubled owners, is often the clearest path. "Developers we've worked with have had to change their game," he says. "Repositions are the name of the game today. Instead of building spec, they typically try to steer the client to an existing building that's more easily financed. Then, we modify as necessary to get them into a great new space while keeping as much as possible of the existing building. We're seeing a lot of that."

On the West Coast, Adams sees much of that work in modest buildings, often renovations of two- to three-story tilt-up structures built in the 1970s and 1980s. He says the decision is equal parts necessity and austerity. "The sweet spot isn't the tall class-A urban stuff but more the suburban support space for corporations. Clients don't want flashy spaces because it doesn't look appropriate these days." That austere image extends into the public market. While much work funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is completed, federal goals to modernize existing facilities remain.

"There's a huge energy initiative under President Obama to achieve energy reductions in the government's existing facilities," says Mike Doiel, director of marketing at Omaha, Neb.-based HDR. "We're seeing that gear up significantly, and we're very focused on it. There are some very targeted [indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity, or IDIQ, projects] out there that are focused on energy audits, energy modeling and solutions to get improvements in these buildings."

Rick Lincicome, executive vice president and director of global architecture at Los Angeles-based AECOM, says that while the federal budget process is "bumpy," his firm sees a lot of "churn work" from IDIQs. He says the focus on energy-efficiency upgrades and other modernization fits the times. "The clear message is: It needs to be economical, it needs to express efficiency and value to the public," he adds. "[Agencies] will tell us, 'This has to be built, but it will not look like it's expensive,' and there's nothing wrong with that."

Charles Smith, principal at Niagara Falls, N.Y.-based Cannon Design, sees similar trends in higher education. When fund-raising is challenging, institutions increasingly turn to renovations and expansions to meet immediate needs.

"There simply isn't the funding to build like there used to be, especially at public institutions," he says, noting that renovations are particularly strong at East Coast and Midwest campuses, which tend to have older buildings.

Chicago-based Perkins + Will made a move to increase its share of the renovation and restoration markets just as the recession took hold. The firm acquired SMWM of San Francisco in 2008, bringing in principal Cathy Simon's extensive background in adaptive reuse. The firm launched transformative design as an official discipline last year with the intent of bringing new life to outdated buildings.

At the Presidio in San Francisco, for example, Perkins + Will is working on multiple projects, including the $15-million reahbilitation of the 43,000-sq-ft Presidio Officer's Club, which is scheduled to be completed in 2012.

Simon says the opportunities are widespread. "A lot of the buildings we care to work on are just ordinary, decent buildings that we want to refresh and repurpose," she adds, noting that midcentury buildings are prime targets.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Iraqis Plan $12-billion Effort to Process Flared Gas From Oilfields

Photo courtesy of Chattahbox News Blog Iraqi oil field near the Iranian border is not among fields foreign oil companies plan to further develop.

Anglo-Dutch energy giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Mitsubishi Corp. of Japan last month moved closer to pushing a new round of oil and gas infrastructure building in Iraq after signing an initial energy development deal with the oil ministry to process more than 700 cu ft per day of gas now flared at three domestic oilfields.

According to an Associated Press report, the 25-year deal could be worth at least $12 billion, but it still must be ratified by the Iraqi cabinet. The project is crucial to Iraq's intention to increase oil production, particularly for needed domestic use, government officials told AP.

The deal would create a new entity, Basra Gas Co., to develop the project. State-owned South Gas Co. would have a 51% stake, Royal Dutch Shell would own 44% and Mitsubishi would have 5%. The new company will sell the processed natural gas and associated products such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to domestic and export markets.

"We believe that this joint venture will make more dry gas available for power generation and reduce the amount of power taken from the domestic grid for oil production and is expected to help solve Iraq's chronic power shortages," says Hans Nijkamp, vice president of Shell Iraq.

Royal Dutch Shell had won a 20-year contact in late 2009 to raise output at southern Iraq's giant Majnoon oil field from 45,000 barrels of oil per day to a targeted production of 1.8 million bbl/d. It took effect in March 2010. Petronas of Malaysia has a 30% stake in that venture, while Iraqi state Missan Oil Co holds 25%. Majnoon has estimated crude reserves of 12 billion barrels and 9.5 trillion cu ft of gas.

The 2009 auction of oilfield licenses marked the re-entry of foreign companies into Iraq some 37 years after the country's oil industry was nationalized. Iraq has one of the world's largest oil reserves and is 11th largest in gas reserves. The new deals signed with global players could boost the country's output capacity to 12 million barrels per day. But until now effective production has been hampered by political instability, sanctions and wars.

Houston-based Halliburton, which serves as project manager for development of the Majnoon oilfields with global drilling giant Nabors Industries Ltd., and Iraq Drilling Co., has set up operations to dig 15 new wells, according to the terms of a $150-million contract signed in November 2010.

Seven of these drilling projects are set to begin by September. Halliburton CEO David Lesar told analysts on July 18 that "these contract delays have not dampened our enthusiasm for Iraq. We believe that Iraq will be one of the fastest-growing countries internationally in the coming years and we will benefit significantly as a result of a first-mover strategy."

Shell Iraq Petroleum Development B.V. awarded London-based Petrofac Ltd. a $240-million contract to provide engineering, procurement, fabrication and construction management services for a new early production system at the Majnoon field. It would compriseg two trains. each with capacity for 50,000 barrels of oil per day, along with upgrade of existing brownfield facilities.

Dubai-based Petronor FZE will develop Iraq Energy City near Basra as a next-generation supply base for oilfield service and independent contracting companies The firm believes it has a future capacity of 5,000 residents.