FROM THE GROUND UP: CONSTRUCTING OR RECONSTRUCTING A MODERN FIREHOUSE
Part five in a series.
In previous articles we have discussed designing the fire station, preparing various documents, and taking bids. There are a few more steps before you are ready to start construction.
You must analyze the bids: Compare them to verify that each bidder fully understood the construction documents, that all bids are properly filled in, and that bids include all legally required items. In public construction especially you must reject any bid that is incomplete. Your architect generally will perform this review and recommend to you an award of contract.
You will have a few options. You hope to find a responsible low bidder who you believe will perform properly. However, if you deem the low bidder unqualified due to lack of experience or financial backing, an improper bid, or whatever, award the contract to the next responsible bidder. The low bidder might contest your decision in court, so you must base the decision on objective grounds. You may very well have to reject all bids. Maybe bids were too high for your budget or you didn’t receive any proper bids (incomplete, for example). In this case you must rethink, abandon, or rebid the entire project.
Obviously in a process aimed at receiving the lowest bid, you very likely will find that the successful bidder made the most mistakes in putting his bid together. If your successful bidder wishes to withdraw, you can allow it or hold him to his bid. Generally, however, you cannot legally allow him to raise his bid. Keep in mind, however, that a contractor who expects to lose money on your project might cut corners and produce a very poor product.
Commercial construction in the United States often is done under the A.l.A. 101 Standard Agreement Between Owner and Contractor, a document drawn up under the guidance of the American Institute of Architects by a committee of architects, attorneys, engineers, and contractors. It must be modified for your specific project and reviewed by your attorney and the contractor’s attorney. It becomes binding when you and the contractor sign it.
In most parts of the country the building department must review the plans to ensure code compliance prior to construction. This process can begin before or after bidding. Actual construction cannot start until a permit is issued. In some parts of the country obtaining all the permits required (building department, planning board, water district, health department, highway department, fire marshal) can take six months or more and cannot be finalized until you retain a contractor, since a permit is granted contingent on a contractor’s license, bonds, and insurance.
The actual construction also has recognizable steps and potential problems. The following checklist can help you through this final stage.
Clearing, demolition, and layout. The site must be cleared of obstructing vegetation and structures, it must be rough-graded, and the new building dimensions must be layed out. It is not unusual to uncover conditions during demolition and grading that add cost and delay to the project. The layout must be accurate (generally, a licensed surveyor is required) or later work will not line up. Demolition must be undertaken safely and all materials properly disposed of. Hie presence of asbestos or other hazardous materials may require a specially licensed contractor.
Excavation. Digging in the ground to set the foundations often reveals unexpected soil types, utility lines, or old foundations that require redesign. Excavations must be properly shored to prevent collapse. Excavated material must be properly stockpiled or removed and erosion prevented. If the excavation uncovers ground water, it must be pumped out.
Foundations. Generally poured concrete is used. Forms must be properly braced to avoid collapse or shifting, and reinforcement must be properly placed. Plumbing pipes and electrical conduits must be set before concrete is poured. Concrete must be properly mixed and placed to achieve its desired strength. The forms are removed only after the concrete has properly cured.
Backfilling. Use only clean fill to fill in the excavation. Fill must be compacted to avoid settlement, not placed roughly so as to push foundations out of line.
Floor slab. Concrete slabs can be poured before or after walls are raised. They must be poured level, properly finished, and cured. Use control joints to avoid cracking. Vapor barrier, perimeter insulation, and reinforcing all must be properly placed.
Structural frame. Whether steel, wood, concrete, or masonry, the frame must be set accurately, plumb, and level. Connections must be properly set to resist both horizontal and vertical loads. Temporary bracing often is required. A firehouse or other emergency response facility is required by some codes to meet stricter seismic or earthquake design standards than other buildings.
Exterior walls. Again, a variety of materials can be used. All must be plumb and straight and watertight, with minimal air infiltration. Vapor barrier and insulation must be properly placed. Allow for thermal expansion (with special expansion joints, if necessary). Flashing—a piece of trim that directs water away from openings or changes in construction —must be properly placed.
Roof. Whether shingles, slate, built-up, metal, or single-ply membrane, the roof must be properly secured to resist wind uplift as well as downward loads. Flashing where the roofing is penetrated or abuts a wall must be properly installed. Flat roofs are sometimes flood-tested by the building owner prior to acceptance.
Windows. Generally aluminum or wood frames are most common; steel and vinyl also are available. Windows today are usually thermally efficient and have insulated glass. Low-E (emissivity) coatings are very effective at blocking secondary radiation from the sun for a relatively small increase in price. Operating types can be double-hung, projected, or casement. Windows must be properly anchored, sealed to the wall, and not racked or twisted during installation. Glass block has become a common substitute for fixed windows.
Doors. Aluminum, wood, or hollow metal is most often used. Weatherstripping should be installed. Topquality hardware should be used to avoid later maintenance problems. Apparatus bay doors should be insulated and weatherstripped. Door tracks must be rigidly anchored and aligned.
Interior partitions. Usually gypsum board on metal studs is used. The layout must be accurate. Partitions out of square will result in poor finished work that will be clearly visible later on.
Ceilings. Use gypsum board or acoustic tile. They must be leveled, securely anchored, and neatly cut. Acoustic tile is available in a wide range of patterns and colors. The layin type is the easiest to install properly-
Floor finishes. You can choose from carpet, vinyl tile, terrazzo, ceramic tile, seamless epoxy, and wood. Proper preparation of the subfloor is most important: The subfloor must be level, smooth, and dry for most materials.
Wall finishes. Paint and vinyl wallcovering are the most common. Surface preparation, proper humidity, and temperature during installation are important considerations.
Plumbing, heating, electrical. These are complex systems beyond the scope of this list. Testing of all connections, piping, and so on at every step is very important.
Paving. Base material must be properly compacted. Finish must be rolled evenly to avoid ponding—collecting in pools.
Landscaping. The ground must be properly prepared. Planting should be done only during the spring and fall seasons.
When the building is “substantially complete” (a construction term indicating that the building, while not finished, could be occupied and used if necessary ), your architect will prepare one or more “punch lists” —lists of work not yet done or incorrectly done that the contractor must take care of. Naturally you can expect disagreements among the various parties. However, it is important that you not allow these minor problems to interfere with the completion of your project.
Yes, you’ve made it! You have moved in and are operating out of the best fire facility possible. It is time to tie up the loose ends. You must obtain closeout documents (guarantees, operating instructions, affidavits of payments to all subcontractors and suppliers, building department certificates of occupancy, record drawings). You also must secure maintenance supplies. Then, after your architect has certified that all work is completed, you can make final payments to all parties. Good luck in your new “home.”