Architecture for Firefighter #10

CarolinaFireJournal - By Jim McClure
By Jim McClure
04/24/2015 -

In the Fall 2014 issue I wrote about my experience with the worst architectural firm I had worked with in 15 years. Unfortunately, we are returning to that project to continue the process of developing the CDs. In that issue I included a screen shot of a Mark Up sheet. It was labeled 100 percent CD. At this point the next steps should be that we verify what we have already seen and any minor fine-tuning to the documents. From there we would go to the Bid Set. That would be the plan set that goes to contractors for them to bid on the job. You would hope it is complete and correct.


What I didn’t say in that issue was that the incomplete nature of the CDs caused us to stop the project completely. I am going to tell that story now using emails and memos to show how bad it got. They are focusing on just one of the many flaws in the plans. I have put the dates on all of them and the times on a few to show how quickly responses were triggered.

The architect was calling for steel I beams standing straight up out of the App Bay floor on the drivers side of each door. See photo. This was to carry the door control buttons. As you will see I was vehemently opposed to them.

Aside from the bad behavior of the architect, there was internal pressure on city staff to stay On Schedule, On budget no matter the final result. The process was more important than the product. I had to fight the design architect and our staff.

Warning — I can get very snarky when provoked.

Aug. 29, From: Jim — I do not recall agreeing with the design team regarding the interior bollards since we finished our conference call yesterday. Once again, decisions are being made behind my back. Thank you very much.

Sept. 2, 10:36 a.m. From: My Boss — Jim, This was my error. I was going to call you to discuss this issue. I want to apologize for not contacting you on Friday; I was out of the office. However, after a thorough discussion at the PS Bond Coordination meeting it became apparent that given the project’s stage of design, it would not be in the best interests of the department and the program to go back and redesign the area surrounding the apparatus bays. But we are well past the point of no return on this design element. Thus, I saw few alternatives to what was being proposed. I did insist that the consultants and staff are sure the bollards would not impact our ability to open apparatus cab doors. While I understand that we are attempting to design stations that reduce crew maintenance requirements, the design of the station, as I mentioned earlier, is too far along to change directions and thus will require the station crews to clean the glass behind the supporting steel structures.

Once again Jim, this one is on me and I apologize for not getting back to you on this.

Sept. 2, 11:23 a.m. From: Jim — All, you will have to find another solution for the door controls. Those bollards are an accident waiting to happen. I will not have a firefighter unfamiliar with the building running into one of them in the middle of the night and believe me, there will be firefighters unfamiliar with the building in there every week. Even if they see it during the day, at 2:00 in the morning all bets are off. We cannot have a building that is so “one off” from the rest of the inventory. The architecture is getting in the way of an operational firehouse.

Sept. 16, From: Jim — OK, let me get this straight. Everyone would rather meet an artificial deadline rather the design be a workable, functional building?

Dismissing the 70/75 percent set and pushing all our comments to the 95 percent set is making everyone behave exactly as I predicted. God forbid that any changes are suggested, “It’s too late and we’re at 95 percent.” Well, guess what, when you make a quantum leap and double the amount of information from one review set to the next, there will be mistakes, assumptions and corrections and these take time to make right. My “changes to the design” aside, there are major inconsistencies from Architecture to Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing.

Sept. 23, 6:04 p.m. — From: City Architect — To: My Boss

In our recent discussion regarding the requested changes to the design of Fire Station #36, you recognized that any modifications to the current plans and specifications at 95 percent CD phase, would cause a delay in the scheduled delivery of the 100 percent Construction Documents due on Sept. 29, 2008. Furthermore, the Bid and Award dates would also have to slip, accordingly.

Additionally, you should realize that some of the fire department’s recommended changes at this time would carry additional project delivery costs. More specifically, consultant design fees and city staff review costs will increase. Additional Services will need to be negotiated with the consultant and approved before we can proceed with any revisions. These changes will also require the consultant to negotiate any unplanned design revisions with their sub-consultants that could also lead to further delay. One last consideration is that the longer design and construction documentation phase may require council approval to amend the consultant agreement to increase their compensation and extend the agreement in order to allow for consultant services to be available for the entire construction and project close-out period.

If you would like to proceed with the requested design revisions at this time, please provide a formal written request to the Assistant Director of Public Works and the Division Manager, City Facilities Architectural Services.

Sept. 24, 10:08 a.m. From: My Boss — We need to meet to discuss the following request. Perhaps obtaining more clarity on the process of plan review will help me understand how we went from 50 percent to 95 percent CDs — which according the city architect should be called 80 percent vs. 95 percent); skipping the opportunity to review 75 percent CDs, how comments forwarded after a review of the 50 percent CDs review phase were not incorporated in the “95 percent” CDs; and how we can go about obtaining an estimate of the additional cost that we may potentially incur if we extend the design phase to ensure fire department staff’s recommendations and comments are included in the design of this essential facility. While I understand the importance of moving this phase along as quickly as possible, I find myself in a position of not having sufficient information to make an informed decision regarding your request. The current pressure to meet the Sept. 29 deadline appears contradictory to an earlier discussion at the CIP Action Team meeting (Sept. 3) regarding the need to have realistic schedules. My concern is particularly high in light of the fact that both your staff and mine have comments that have not been seen or addressed regarding 95 percent CDs. Please schedule a meeting between yourself, the team, Jim and myself at your earliest convenience.

So the bottom line here was I was able to have the bollards removed. But you can see it took weeks. If you can follow the thread through the emails you will see that the Design Architect skipped a design phase and dropped the 95 percent drawings on us when the last version we saw was 50 percent. There was a ton of new information that we were seeing for the first time. When we questioned it and tried to correct them they said we were triggering changes and they sent an “Additional Services” funding request. We were able to beat back some of it but the city rolled over on some of it in order to keep the schedule moving. Below is what it looked like.

Estimated A/E Design Fee

Design Architect Firm

Task 1: Revised Project Schedule $3,110

Task 2: Implement Reissued City 95% CD Comments $9,040

Task 3: Implement City Initiated Design Changes $21,635

Task 4: optional City initiated Design Changes $6,800

Task 5: Reissue 95% CD Set $3,540

Task 6: New 95% Cost Estimate $1,655

Task 7: Implement New City 95%CD Comments $13,820

Task 8: Reissue 100% CD Set $3,540

Task 9: Meetings $3,400

Subtotal Architecture $66,540

Consultant Services Civil Engineer $6,250

Landscape Architect $3,300

Structural Engineer $21,900

Mechanical Engineer $3,200

Electrical Engineer $14,770

Cost Consultant $6,500

Subtotal Consultants $55,920

Total Services $122,460

Reimbursable Expense Allowance:

Reproduction, postage and delivery, travel, computer plotting, presentation materials, photographic expenses,phone and fax expenses $5,750

Total Estimated Fee $128,210

Usually when you get robbed the other guy wears a mask. I guess it wasn’t needed this time. This battle started in the month of August. The Additional Services request above showed up in December. I can hear all of you breathing a sigh of relief for me. Not so soon, things aren’t over yet. The following exchange was the next year.

July 3, From: Design Architect, New Project Manager — To: City Architect

I have some questions regarding Fire Station 36 comments:

  1. Jim requested we delete the utility sink in the mechanical room, room 111. Please confirm. [City Architect] Yes, take it out.
  2. The access panels to the catwalks right now are drawn at 2’x3’. We spoke about this a while back. The one from the interior stairs cannot be larger because of the brace frame. Do you want us to make the other one larger? Please confirm. [City Architect] This came in my comments as well, we want bigger opening at the interior stairs landing as much as possible!! And also we want a full size door at the outside landing.
  3. Gilbane suggested adding a coat hook to ADA bathroom. Please confirm. [City Architect] Yes, add a coat hook.
  4. Gilbane pointed out that having the fire department provide the trash receptacles could be a problem, the receptacles could be placed in a location that encroach into the ADA clearances. Please advise since Jim did not want built-in trash receptacles. [City Architect] Comply with Jim’s directions.
  5. In the 95 percent specifications comments from Jim McClure there are some open issues:
  1. Jim asks that 8331.5.2.04.A be deleted. Does the City not want us to provide the remote door operator (i.e. delete the section completely) or does it just want us to delete the manufacturer? [City Architect] 1) the manufacturer is fine. 2) No timer is needed and the remote control is operated manually only! 3) The signal must not be activated by FSAS.
  2. Jim asks in multiple locations not to have any floor stops. How will the door not hit the wall or the furniture? We prefer floor stops to wall stops. Please confirm. [City Architect] The fire dept. wants no floor stops; wall mounted is OK or other methods.
  3. The FRP molding can be PVC or aluminum. We had specified PVC. Jim seems to want aluminum or does not realize PVC is available. Unless the city directs us otherwise, we will leave the PVC molding. Please confirm. [City Architect] PVC is not acceptable, change to aluminum!!

Even my project architect was getting fed up and started using bold red letters.

The following text is from a meeting dated Sept 2009, a year after the initial “95 percent CDs” fiasco.

Minutes from meeting with
Design Architects

(City Architect) outlined the current status of the bid documents so as to establish future direction of remaining parts of the project. A brief historical background of the project progress was given starting with the consultant agreement in late 2006. The proposed design solutions took inordinate time and manpower resources causing more money to be pumped in the design phase. Approximately $50k was re-allocated to cover unanticipated schematic design phase expenses. The ‘Catwalk’ issue added another $17k of unanticipated design cost. The sudden change of the Design Architect Project Manager at this critical stage of the project delivery introduced further concerns. There has been a consistent lack of attention to the city’s review comments and CFAS had to repeat the “incomplete” comments.

(Design Architect #1) The comments were being taken care of as submitted. However there were times when CFAS did not consolidate ALL the comments at that particular stage and there was irregular ongoing flow of comments. (RR) Our review process discovered that there were numerous items that were not corrected at all. There were instances when items were marked as “corrected” but actually were not corrected. At times there had been some lack of comprehensive communications.

(Design Architect #2) I thought the comments were picked up. However, the previous RDC project manager may have missed some of the responses.

(Jim) There were some mark up comments raised in March, 2009 which have not been addressed yet which raises concerns.

So their MO never changed. They tried to blame us and even threw their staff architect under the bus in that one comment. I, as my usual ornery self, just kept picking away at them.

I hope this horror story motivates you to educate yourself, do your homework and keep meticulous records.

See you in three months.

Jim McClure is the owner of Firehouse Design and Construction (FD&C). The mission of FD&C is “to help firefighters, architects and government agencies design and build maintainable, durable, and most importantly, functional firehouses.” McClure’s career in public safety spans almost 29 years. For more information visit,, call 408-603-4417 or email [email protected].
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