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Burns & McDonnell


At the new Battlespace Environment Laboratory facility on New Mexico’s Kirtland Air Force Base, materials will be put through the paces to determine whether or not they can withstand the harsh conditions of space. The facility also confirmed something that already is well-known – that Burns & McDonnell has the expertise and experience to successfully complete a complex project such as this.

Project Manager Tom Hawkins says the company felt right at home providing design/build services on the Battlespace Environment Laboratory project, and that’s due in no small part to the company’s longevity and experience.

“Burns & McDonnell has been around since 1898, and we have a broad experience in a number of fields,” he says.

The company specializes in providing design and construction services on complex projects such as airports, power plants, water treatment facilities and refineries. The company says its staff of more than 3,000 engineers, architects, scientists and other professionals give it a diversity and knowledge base virtually unmatched in the industry.

“In fact, we thrive on the unusual, the complicated and the messy,” Hawkins adds.

The 145,000-square-foot Battlespace Environment Laboratory has been built to consolidate all Air Force Research Laboratory space vehicle work to a single building. The building consists of research libraries, offices and meeting spaces, with more than a third of the facility given over to laboratory space. Even though the project featured some complex design work, an unusual design/build process and adherence to LEED specifications, Hawkins says Burns & McDonnell and the entire team came together to deliver a successful project.

“We were very pleased with the project, and so was the client,” Hawkins says, pointing to the project’s rating of “Outstanding” from the Federal Construction Contractor Appraisal Support System. Work began in December 2008, and was substantially completed in October 2010.

Up to Speed

Burns & McDonnell is highly skilled and experienced when it comes to design/build work, but the nature of working for government clients means making some tweaks to its normal processes. “The processes in which the Army Corps of Engineers has to bring these projects to bear is they basically budget them anywhere between three to five years ahead of the time it hits the public sector for response,” Hawkins says.

Traditionally, design/build projects get started with the designers, builders and client all involved at the same time. However, with government projects such as the Battlespace Environment Laboratory, the client doesn’t get involved in the project again until after the bid is selected. This means part of Burns & McDonnell’s responsibility is making sure the client is brought up to speed and fully understands the changes that may have been made to the plans since the design work on the project began.

“Generally, what they remember from five years ago is not the same thing as what’s on the page,” Hawkins says.

Careful Coordination

Fortunately, Burns & McDonnell was able to keep the project on track and on budget through some careful coordination. Specifically, the use of building modeling information (BIM) software made it possible for the company to get its subcontractors involved from the very beginning. “Early on in this project, because of its uniqueness, we decided to select our subcontractors early and sign them up to a design/assist subcontract,” Hawkins says.

Through the use of BIM, each subcontractor was able to plot their portions of the work on their own software, and Burns & McDonnell could consolidate it into one working model. This allows the company’s engineers to verify and double-check each subcontractor’s work.

“If we had any actual conflicts in the field, the foremen involved walked to the job trailer, pulled up the model, found out who was out of place and moved on,” Hawkins says.

As a result of the close coordination between Burns & McDonnell and its subcontractors, Hawkins reports there were no change orders due to design omissions on the project.

“Therefore, the owner was able to use their contingency to gain additional square footage and additional features into the project,” he says.

LEED Certification

In addition to the complex design demands of the project due to its highly technical laboratory space, Burns & McDonnell also had to take into consideration its LEED certification. In the past, projects from the Army Corps of Engineers only were required to be LEED certifiable, but now they are required to be submitted for certification. Thanks to the cooperation of subcontractors and the work of its designers, Hawkins says Burns & McDonnell was able to complete the project with a LEED Silver certification.

This was achieved mainly through measures such as using as little land as possible for staging, carefully controlling construction waste and using sustainable materials. “What I’m proud of is that, due to the cost restraints, we didn’t have to do any exotic HVAC, [for example],” Hawkins says.

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