Removing big steel and delivering dramatic change in a bustling office lobby
Digging into the multi-million-dollar lobby renovation at 100 S Charles Street, members of the Plano-Coudon project team faced two prime challenges. Working at the base of a 21-story office tower, the team would have to execute structural changes, including the removal of a 300-pound-per-foot steel beam. They would also have to complete the sweeping, 10-month renovation with minimal disruption to people and businesses in a building that housed 1,800 workers.
“I have been working as a superintendent for 35 years. I have done every kind of project, including renovations this big,” said Plano-Coudon Superintendent Ken Zuknick. “This was probably the toughest project yet.”
The lobby renovation was designed to give the building a grand entrance facing the intersection of Pratt and Charles. In addition to replacing flooring, lighting, wall finishes, hallways, tenant space, elevator surrounds, building aprons, the security desk and other features, the project called for creating a two-story atrium and installing a new, wrap-around, glass storefront.
To create the atrium, crews demolished and removed the concrete slab and metal deck of the second floor, then began the daunting process of removing an especially heavy steel beam that conflicted with the storefront design.
“This was the most stressful part of the project,” said Project Manager Milan Devon.
The architect and structural engineer had developed a plan to replace the heavy beam with two pieces of tube steel. The project team, however, still had to devise a way to safely execute the switch.
“Just outside the building, there is a raised paver system which sits on pedestals above the ceiling of the parking garage, and you can only put 100 pounds per square foot of weight on those pavers,” Devon said.
So the project team opted to park a crane further away on a sidewalk and use chainfalls to support the 300-foot-pound beam as they cut away sections and maneuvered them out to the street.
A week before the operation, Plano-Coudon convened a marathon, four-hour meeting with the demolition contractor, structural steel contractor, glazing contractor, inhouse safety personnel, third-party safety personnel, structural engineer and architect “to work out exactly who was going to do what, when and how, the time frames for each step, and what machines were going to be used because we had to check all of that against the weight limits on those pedestal pavers,” Devon said. “And we had the structural engineer re-run calculations to make sure our plan was acceptable and wouldn’t put undue loads on any supporting members.”
That intensive team effort, Devon said, ensured the operation’s success.
The renovation, however, continued to challenge crews in other ways.
A prime architectural feature inside the new lobby was a set of concrete wall panels.
“It’s hard to get a 700-pound panel of concrete hung on the wall as a finished product,” Devon said. “The millworker did a great job figuring it out and now it’s one of the project features that gets the most compliments.”
Workers installing the new storefront tackled another weighty issue.
“Some of this glass is 450 pounds a sheet and you had to raise it up almost 30 feet in the air,” Zuknick said.
The project’s glazier resolved that issue with a relatively new piece of technology – a European-made mini crane outfitted with battery-activated suction cups.
“The crane operator could telescope right up to the glass, activate the suction cups, then lift the glass up into place,” Zuknick said. “The machine takes a little bit of getting used to. Luckily, the foreman’s son used to play a lot of Nintendo so he learned the controls pretty easily.”
With 1,800 workers walking through the lobby every day, the project team had to be especially vigilant about public safety and minimizing inconveniences while also ensuring the renovation proceeded efficiently.
“We started work between 2 and 4 am so we got a lot of the dusty, dirty, noisy work done before 6 am,” Zuknick said. “And we kept the site clean. My laborer knew that we were going to sweep and mop a couple of times a day.”
Crews were especially mindful of keeping construction dust out of two restaurants on the building’s ground floor. They taped plastic over the restaurants’ gates every night and “as soon as they opened the gates in the morning, before the customers arrived, my laborer and I went in and wiped everything down, mopped everything and cleaned everything for them,” he said.
Zuknick visited the building manager daily to update him on construction progress, learn about tenant concerns, and discuss options for minimizing inconveniences. Although hard-wall partitions were necessary around construction areas, Zuknick worked to tailor traffic flow and signage to avoid negative impacts on retail tenants.
“Plano-Coudon put a very experienced super on this project who was dedicated to quality and delivering the vision of the project,” said Brian Hearn, an Associate at BCT Architects and the project’s designer.
High quality, he added, was key to the owner who was aiming to create a bright, contemporary Class A space.
Zuknick “set the tone early that quality had to be at a high level and got the subs to embrace that standard,” said Project Executive Adam Bell.
Some subcontractors exceeded expectations, Zuknick said. The tile installer, for example, meticulously selected and repositioned each striated ceramic wall tile “so that the striations flow from one end of the wall to the other. It looks wonderful in that two-story atrium.”
Plano-Coudon brings that attention to quality, construction expertise and dedication to minimizing inconveniences to renovations (large and small) in occupied commercial buildings, Bell said.
“We don’t believe in rushing through a project in a cloud of dust,” he said. “We protect the owner’s interest during those renovations by making sure the comfort of their tenants and customers is attended to. We take extra time to communicate and coordinate with building managers. And we’ve shown we can handle complex projects.”
Fish Tales: Plano-Coudon nears completion of world-class facility for National Aquarium
After 10 months of installing leading-edge HVAC and life support systems, assembling aquarium tanks and completing a stunning amount of concrete demolition, a former printing plant in Baltimore is about to become a world-class animal medical care and rescue center.
Plano-Coudon and its project partners are in the final stages of completing and commissioning a 57,000 SF Animal Care and Rescue Center for the National Aquarium. The former newspaper and magazine printing plant near Shot Tower proved remarkably compatible for this radically different use. Designed to hold a printing press and heavy rolls of paper, the building was structurally capable of housing large tanks and support operations. Surprisingly, the need to keep paper rolls very dry meant the building was outfitted with two large HVAC units that nicely fit the need to control humidity in an aquarium facility.
Still, the year-long renovation has required Plano-Coudon and its subcontractors to overcome some challenges. The largest was the construction of a 15,000 SF mezzanine within the building.
All floors within the facility needed to be sloped to drain efficiently. Consequently, crews needed to remove and replace the ground-level concrete floor in the area selected for the mezzanine.
“That concrete floor was anywhere from six inches thick to 12 inches thick,” said Craig Pool, Senior Project Manager. “You normally don’t see a 12-inch slab with rebar on top and on bottom. But that’s obviously what they needed to support the paper rolls.”
To remove that floor, the demolition subcontractor “had three robots, Brokks, operating simultaneously along with a Grade-All, a concrete saw and a couple of guys with torches cutting rebar every day for four weeks. It was just constant demolition,” Pool said.
Project crews also had to adapt to specialty materials selected for the project. Since rusting is a major hazard in a facility with so much humidity and salt water, the project involved laying a different kind of concrete that was reinforced by fiberglass instead of steel. The design called for the installation of aluminum ductwork that was then tightly sealed with fiberglass insulation to prevent it from sweating. Similarly, crews had to use PVC for saltwater lines and plastic conduit for exposed electrical lines.
The project team also had to develop processes for completing onsite assembly of some core pieces of aquarium equipment.
“We were fortunate that the building came with two large rolling doors. That really helped us get material in and out,” said Michael Junkin, Assistant Project Manager. “But you can’t get a 40-foot tank through a 10-foot door.”
Consequently, several large tanks were transferred in multiple pieces and fiberglassed on site.
The project team also had to augment the building’s HVAC equipment with several additional units, install sensitive life support systems to create unique conditions in each tank to support the needs of different species, and carefully commission all those systems to ensure they generate the needed environment for sharks, fish, reptiles, marine mammals, exotic birds, poisonous frogs as well as the facility’s staff.
Despite the scope and complexity of the renovation, “construction has proceeded very smoothly with no significant setbacks or surprises,” said Linda Vislosky, Senior Project Manager for Capital Planning at the National Aquarium. “I have been particularly impressed with the ease of working with the team at Plano-Coudon. They are genuinely invested and supportive not just in the construction, but in how the building will be used. This is not just another project for them and they assembled a talented team to support the Aquarium’s exacting requirements.”
The Aquarium’s decision to bring Plano-Coudon on board as a construction manager during the design-development phase aided planning and budgeting for the project, Pool said. Value engineering identified multiple opportunities to lower expenses while maintaining or improving the quality of the project. For example, Pool was able to show how to install epoxy flooring (a superior product than the original selection) at a low price.
Such selections combined with an ongoing search for better materials’ prices and the project team’s ability to stay on schedule throughout the year freed up funds late in the project and enabled the team to add some extra features back into the project, such as more sophisticated lighting controls that simulate sunrise and sunset.
Biweekly meetings with subcontractors plus owner meetings on alternate weeks supported thorough communication throughout the project, Junkin said. A unique characteristic of the project team further aided communication and trouble-shooting.
“Everybody – Plano-Coudon, the structural engineer, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, architect and owner – are located within a couple of square miles. They’re almost within walking distance of the project,” Junkin said. “Having everybody that accessible has made the project go really smoothly and move faster.”
Ultimately, the project will provide Baltimore’s renowned National Aquarium with a world-class animal care facility.
“In Baltimore, I think we take for granted just how special the Aquarium is and what a world-class institution it is,” said Matthew Herbert, Principal at Design Collective Inc. and architect of the Animal Care and Rescue Center. “People think of the Aquarium as just a beautiful place. But it has far-reaching impact. It supports rescue operations up and down the East Coast for sea turtles, marine mammals and birds. It is at the forefront of animal treatment, rescue and welfare operations. And this Animal Care and Rescue facility will be of a scale and complexity that no other aquarium has.”
The new center which includes offices, workshops and some public space, will also improve the Aquarium’s ability to develop new exhibits. The design includes a “fish maker space,” Herbert said. The dedicated, joint space for curators of the animal populations and members of the Aquarium’s Exhibits and Design Group will enable staff to fabricate and test designs, materials, lighting and other elements of new exhibits in order to optimize the environment for the animals and the experience for Aquarium visitors.
Plano-Coudon crew spends summer poolside, installing massive equipment
For the project team assigned to the University of Maryland natatorium renovation, it wasn’t your typical summer by the pool.
The HVAC system that serves the natatorium at UMD’s Eppley Recreation Center in College Park had reached the end of its lifespan and was sometimes failing to maintain desired humidity levels during swim meets. So, the university contracted Plano-Coudon to complete a $3-million replacement of the poolpak – a project that would involve sophisticated technology, uncommonly large equipment, limited access, frequent inspections, a ‘fluid’ schedule and daily supervision from a crowd of children attending summer camp.
“It was an intense project,” said Mike Palmer, a superintendent with Plano-Coudon.
Accessing the existing HVAC units posed the first challenge. The university had previously installed two, 10 by 10 foot louvers in the side of the recreation center – one 18 feet above the ground, the other at 36 feet. Removing the louvers gave the project team access to the interior of the natatorium and the mechanical room. However, the site wasn’t conducive to using a crane to move equipment in and out of the natatorium. The crane would have also had to do blind drops inside the building. So, the project team opted to build a scaffold and use a lift to move equipment.
The scaffold, however, left the crew with openings into the building of just four by eight feet. And the HVAC equipment was very large.
“Some of the pieces of ductwork were large enough that I could stand in them,” said Project Manager, Merissa Detwiler.
It took exhaustive planning, but the project team deciphered how to move all of the system’s huge and heavy components to and from the building. The three new HVAC units, for example, were brought in on 48 skids and assembled within the tight space.
The system’s double-walled ductwork was extremely heavy, weighing up to 1,000 pounds per component, Palmer said. It took a five-person crew to maneuver each piece of ductwork “and if we were getting four or five pieces up a day, we were having a good day.”
In the tight space, the crews installing the ductwork had to work overtop of the newly installed HVAC units, Palmer said. “They had to protect those brand new units so they didn’t get messed up while they were hoisting ductwork into place. It was a challenge all the way around.”
Although the natatorium closed for the duration of the project, the Eppley Recreation Center remained open and heavily used from early morning to late evening daily. Once public schools recessed for the summer, the center also hosted a day camp which regularly funneled children to the rock-climbing wall and obstacle course next to the project’s scaffold. That situation required workers onsite to be extra vigilant about their safety barriers and their language.
The project team also had to tailor work schedules to meet university requirements, including extended notices of planned outages, coordination with multiple university departments and near-daily inspections by university officials (commonly referred to as Oscars) who had to ensure that electrical, mechanical, plumbing and other work met contract specifications and quality standards.
“We couldn’t just do one task and keep going,” Palmer said. “We had to make sure the appropriate Oscar could look at that task and make sure it was acceptable before we moved forward. That took a lot of planning.”
“But this was one of the highest priority projects the university had over the summer,” Palmer added. “From day one, we knew we would need to be fluid and adjust to developments in order to deal with the tight timeframe, the complexity of the equipment and the heavy work that had to go into this project.”
The Plano-Coudon team overcame all of those challenges and completed the project on schedule. Sharon Ferguson, UMD’s project manager for the renovation, credited that accomplishment to Plano-Coudon’s meticulous pre-construction work, ability to develop a “plan of attack” for every task and challenge, extensive communication with the university and subcontractors, and willingness to be flexible throughout the project.
“I really appreciated Merissa and Michael for their abilities and their understanding of our needs,” Ferguson said.
High science and heavy construction: Plano-Coudon completes array of laboratory projects
At Johns Hopkins University’s McQueen Laboratory, members of the Quantum Materials Research Group have made groundbreaking advances in the development of advanced crystals for use in electronics.
To continue those scientific advancements, however, the principal researcher required three custom-designed, high-temperature furnaces … and a skilled construction crew to renovate his lab to support them.
“This was a mechanically and electrically intensive project,” said Nick Funk, Small Projects Division Estimator.
To support the furnaces, Plano-Coudon and its subcontractors completed extensive mechanical and electrical upgrades within the 1,300 SF lab, including installing supplemental cooling, expanded chilled water systems, two lab gas loops, and several large, safety switches. When the furnaces began to arrive, Plano-Coudon coordinated with the manufacturers (one in Germany, the other in the Japan) and the project’s design engineer to make further adjustments to systems to meet unexpected needs of the customized equipment.
Although the project was small, it took specialized knowledge, dedicated subcontractors, thorough communication and considerable flexibility (to meet both changing requirements and schedules) in order to complete.
Plano-Coudon has leveraged that combination of abilities to successfully deliver an array of laboratory projects. Those have included a Level 3 biosafety laboratory at University of Maryland College Park; oncology, radiology and pathology labs at the UMD Baltimore School of Medicine; a vivarium; MRI facility; and multiple forensics, general sciences, graduate research and other teaching labs on university campuses.
This fall, Plano-Coudon completed a gut rehab of 5,000 SF of laboratory space at JHU’s Levi Hall. The project included installing a new chilled water loop, chilled beams, heated water system, baseboard heaters, a new heat exchanger in the penthouse and the infrastructure to connect it to the lab three floors below. Crews built a teaching lab, graduate research area, microscope rooms, cold rooms, molecular biology rooms, tissue culture labs, conference room, offices and a student lounge. The project team completed all demolition and construction in less than five months and without interfering with the operations of other research labs and teaching facilities within the building.
“There was a $2-million microscope on the floor below us so any penetrations had to be closely coordinated with the facilities department,” said Mark LaPenna, Project Manager.
Over the years, Plano-Coudon has developed strong partnerships with subcontractors who have special expertise and ample experience in laboratory projects, said Cliff Milstead, Project Executive. That expertise covers installation of laboratory equipment, ranging from one-of-a-kind crystal furnaces to all the gas lines, compressed air outlets and fume hoods required in a teaching lab. That expertise also includes meeting the special mechanical, electrical and plumbing needs of laboratories and completing those improvements within an occupied research facility.
Plano-Coudon has developed processes to handle often-challenging aspects of laboratory projects, such as identifying and obtaining long-lead-time items. Plano-Coudon project managers and superintendents have also become very adept at the extraordinary communication and coordination needed to manage renovations and outages in occupied facilities, Milstead said.
For example, Plano-Coudon is nearing completion on a multi-year contract for massive electrical and mechanical upgrades as well as interior renovations throughout the University of Maryland’s 14-story Medical Sciences Training Facility (MSTF) in downtown Baltimore. The building operates 24/7/365 and houses numerous research laboratories, including animal facilities, areas for light-sensitive experiments, and specialized freezers that have to maintain temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees.
“That project has required a ton of shutdowns and a ton of coordination to pull them off,” said Craig Pool, Senior Project Manager.
Yet the project team has successfully completed more than 15 shutdowns, including one that spanned two days. The company even received a thank-you letter from the university’s Facilities Management Design and Construction department that described Plano-Coudon’s handling of a major shutdown as “one of the best examples of teamwork that I have seen.”
Plano-Coudon Golf Classic raises awareness and funds for Baltimore charities
On a day that blended business networking with community service, participants in the annual Plano-Coudon Golf Classic raised more than $55,000 for Teach for America–Baltimore, Catholic Charities and United Way of Central Maryland.
“For the fifth year in a row, we had perfect weather and a very successful event,” said Brett Plano.
Plano-Coudon “served as a convener” to help bring attention to the three nonprofits and encourage people to support them, said Bill McCarthy, Executive Director of Catholic Charities.
“I think Plano-Coudon has this healthy approach that in order to do business in a community, you have to be part of the community and that includes volunteering and philanthropy and working to make the community better. I think they model that beautifully,” McCarthy said.
The mid-September golf outing at Hayfields Country Club enabled representatives of the three nonprofits to “fundraise and friend-raise,” said Courtney Cass, Executive Director of Teach for America-Baltimore. “It helped raise awareness about all three organizations and our work.”
Teach for America-Baltimore, for example, was the largest source of new special educators and STEM teachers in Baltimore City Public Schools this year, and provided one-quarter of all new teachers hired in the city. The organization works to provide broad support to public education through Teach for America’s local network of 1,100 core members and alumni which includes 550 teachers, dozens of school principals, founders of several nonprofits and a few elected officials.
The Plano-Coudon Golf Classic gave representatives of United Way of Central Maryland an opportunity to show people “that we’re no longer your grandparents’ United Way,” said Franklyn Baker, President and CEO.
In addition to supporting multiple nonprofits through workplace giving programs, United Way of Central Maryland also now operates several direct-action initiatives. Those include a Family Stability Program that has stably housed 1,258 area families in the past five years, a 211 hotline that connects people in need with essential services, a school support program that provides customized support to struggling children, and the annual Project Homeless Connect event that helps 2,000 homeless and nearly homeless individuals access 150 core services.
“If you participated in the Plano-Coudon event, you should know that every day at Catholic Charities people who are out of work are placed in employment, people without housing are housed, and people who are hungry are fed. And you supported that work,” McCarthy said.
Specifically, Catholic Charities fed 500,000 people in Greater Baltimore in the past year, secured jobs for 1,000 people, provided housing to more than 2,000 seniors and sheltered several hundred people every night. And the need for those services has grown, McCarthy said, due to the slow recovery from the Great Recession and current uncertainties in the country, especially for immigrant populations.
The Plano-Coudon Golf Classic has always supported Teach For America. Plano-Coudon Construction has also consistently supported Catholic Charities and United Way. Brett Plano sits on the board of Catholic Charities and Ryan Coudon sits on the board of United Way.
Since the Golf Classic has consistently raised more money each year, “it was appealing to include all three organizations this year,” Coudon said. “They are all best-in-class organizations who address almost every need in Baltimore, so you know your money is going to a good cause.”
For Plano-Coudon Project Executive Jared Geary, the Golf Classic is also an opportunity to leverage his passion for golf to support community groups. Geary leads the eight-person employee committee which organizes the yearly event.
“We insist on creating a first-class event and we keep raising the bar each year so it doesn’t get stale,” he said. “People keep coming to this event and generously supporting it.”
From textbooks to trailers: Plano-Coudon internships prepare students for careers
After years of studying technical and theoretical aspects of civil engineering and project management, Rishabh Jain suddenly found himself juggling submittals, RFIs, materials tracking, and communications with subcontractors and client representatives on a $13-million project to create a new Animal Care and Rescue Center for the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
Those duties were part of Jain’s summer internship with Plano-Coudon Construction.
“This is hands-on experience with things I have only learned about in class,” said Jain, a civil engineer and graduate student in project management at the University of Maryland College Park. “Learning about something in class and implementing it in the field is really different, so it is really good that I am getting my hands dirty.”
Every year, Plano-Coudon attends multiple university job fairs to recruit engineering and project management students for its summer internship program. During the eight- to 10-week program, project managers mentor the students and provide them with experience in managing project documents, closing out punch lists, developing estimates, handling communications with clients and subs, and working with teams in construction site trailers, said Cliff Milstead, Project Executive.
“I spent some of my summer doing project management, some of it doing estimates, some of it helping out superintendents. I got exposure to the whole business,” said Michael Junkin, who completed two summer internships with Plano-Coudon. When he graduated from the University of Delaware in 2015 with a mechanical engineering degree, Plano-Coudon hired Junkin as a project engineer and recently promoted him to assistant project manager.
The company’s internship program provides more than practical education about engineering and construction management, Junkin said. It also fuels passion for the industry through a combination of interesting assignments, real-world responsibilities and opportunities to have impact.
For example, Junkin, who is a devoted Marylander and a huge Orioles fan, was delighted that his internship duties included traveling around the city to job sites, including one at Under Armour, and “running bids to cool locations like the warehouse behind right field at Camden Yards.” Those duties also involved representing Plano-Coudon at contract-award event at the University of Maryland.
“It was a closed-bid competition but they opened the bids in front of us so I was able to stand in the room and represent Plano-Coudon among the other contractors,” Junkin said. “We didn’t win the project, but I was able to see where the numbers came in and report back to the estimators that this is how our numbers compared to other contractors. It was also an interesting way to see how competitive the construction industry is.”
“At Plano-Coudon, they really give you responsibility,” Jain said. “If a company gives me a responsibility, I will put all my focus into that job. I am much more passionate if I have some important work to do and I feel like I am making a difference in a project.”
The summer program generates benefits for Plano-Coudon too, said Founder Brett Plano. It creates opportunities to assess engineers and other construction professionals as they prepare for their careers, and sometimes recruit talented graduates into permanent positions within the company.
The program also ensures that interns “are much further along the spectrum of understanding the industry when they graduate,” Plano said. “They have worked on projects and learned how to apply some of the theory they learn in class to the realities of a construction project. So when they graduate and start their careers, they hit the ground running.”
The industry, he added, has improved the quality of internship programs. For example, one summer Plano-Coudon partnered with two engineering companies to offer joint internships to several students. By working two to three weeks with each company, students got exposure to structural engineering, mechanical/electrical engineering and construction.
“This industry,” Plano said, “has really figured out how to make internships work for everyone – the students, the companies and the industry as a whole.”
Diageo taps Plano-Coudon to build Guinness Blonde in Baltimore County
Diageo – a global leader in spirits, wine and beer – has selected Plano-Coudon Construction to build the first Guinness brewery in the United States in 63 years.
Early this year, Diageo announced plans to transform the former Seagram’s buildings in southern Baltimore County into a Guinness Blonde brewery and entertainment/tourism destination.
As soon as they learned of the project, principals at Plano-Coudon teamed up with Baltimore-based Design Collective and launched into an effort to land the contract. Both companies realized that the project would attract large, national competition, but “we brought a really strong, truly integrated team to the table,” said Brett Plano.
Headquartered in Baltimore, both companies have strong local knowledge and connections. The two companies have put in place more than $115 million of construction together over the past 15 years. That work has included complex adaptive reuse developments, construction of laboratories and high-tech facilities, phased and fast-track renovations, multi-use facilities, and high-visibility projects for branded clients.
“Plano-Coudon has always been a great partner with Design Collective,” said Matthew Herbert, Principal at Design Collective and lead architect for the Guinness project.
Plano-Coudon, Herbert said, brings extraordinary value engineering to projects, ensuring that clients can realize their vision within their budget.
Both companies “pride ourselves on being good listeners,” Herbert said. “That is really important with a branded client. You need to listen and learn how they cultivated their brand, what’s important to them and understand how architecture and construction can support that brand.”
Team members were eager to bring the Guinness development to Baltimore County and excited by the fact that the project site on Washington Boulevard in Relay is in their neighborhood. A map generated by the companies showed that the offices of Plano-Coudon and Design Collective as well as the homes of Plano, Coudon, Herbert and the senior project manager all sit within a five-mile radius of the Guinness site.
“I literally drive past that site on my way to and from work every day,” Plano said. “I did not want to drive past another contractor’s sign every day while this facility was built.”
Some project team members had deep interest in breweries and micro-breweries, which included knowledge of brewing systems, equipment and processes. And one member had a documented passion for Guinness.
An avid Guinness drinker since college, Herbert long ago added a clause to his will, stating that his ashes must be scattered at the original Guinness brewery at St. James Gate in Dublin.
Pre-construction work on the design-build contract is starting immediately. Site work is expected to begin in late summer so that Diageo can open its Guinness Blonde destination in Baltimore County in the summer of 2018.
“Landing this contract is a culmination of several years of hard work to establish Plano-Coudon as a best-in-class contractor in this area,” said Ryan Coudon. “It feels like a coming of age. We have grown and matured. We have shown that we can compete head-to-head with large national builders and win work with sophisticated, global clients.”
Renovation creates better space, special features for Howard County Conservancy
Sometimes a construction problem gives birth to a design feature.
Plano-Coudon and its subcontractors were in the midst of renovating the Howard County Conservancy when an unexpected and all-too-obvious problem demanded an immediate solution. Inaccurate drawings of the original building had forced Plano-Coudon to expand plans to add structural steel to the building, cut out some existing concrete and re-pour parts of the foundation. One joint between the original and newly poured foundation turned into an obvious and unattractive focal point when workers completed the polished concrete floor. And that joint stretched in front of a major display where children would regularly gather so a conventional fix, such as caulking, simply wouldn’t do.
“It was a last-minute issue that came up and Brett [Plano] came out himself to help us figure out what to do,” said Meg Boyd, Executive Director of the Howard County Conservancy (HCC).
Plano, Project Manager Merissa Detwiler and Superintendent Bob Butt devised an unconventional but creative solution “and now it’s a beautiful feature of the building,” Boyd said.
Plano-Coudon coordinated with a subcontractor to install a river-shaped epoxy floor that would flow across part of the HCC floor and cover the unsightly joint.
“We were able to mix a darker blue and lighter blue to give it a water look,” Detwiler said. “The client had a tree they planned to wrap around an existing column so we put green epoxy at the base of the column to make it look like an island. It looks neat.”
The renovation – which added program space, administrative space, two large decks and an improved layout/flow to the Conservancy – presented opportunities to create special features.
“We had an oops in the lobby concrete slab that we poured,” Butt said. “Someone walked across the concrete after hours as it was setting up and left some imprints that had to be ground out.”
The ‘oops,’ however, gave Butt an idea: Why not simulate animal tracks across the concrete that was about to be poured for the lower deck. Conservancy staff and the concrete subcontractor worked to create and stamp tracks into the wet surface.
“A lot of people have come up to me and said they saw where deer walked across our concrete,” Butt said. “Now, I’ve never seen a deer walk in a straight line and leave perfectly straight tracks. But apparently these look real because a lot of people insist we’ve got deer and fox tracks.”
The project included several challenges. On an already tight work site, crews had to also ensure their tools, materials, bobcats, cranes, lifts and cement mixers didn’t interfere with a steady stream of children’s groups attending programs at the Conservancy. Evening and weekend work had to be timed to ensure it didn’t overlap with parties or other events onsite.
Due to heavy, spring rains, “when we went to pour different areas of concrete, we would have to dig out two feet of earth because the ground was so saturated and replace it with two feet of stone,” Butt said.
And the project team had to compensate for a six-week delay in obtaining a construction permit late last year while still hitting an unmovable completion date in May.
“Plano-Coudon was out here nights and weekends. They managed to get everything done on time due to their commitment to seeing this project through,” Boyd said.
For Plano, a member of the Howard County Conservancy Board of Directors, the job held extra significance. Plano-Coudon donated pre-construction work to the project, helped with fundraising and sponsored the grand re-opening event.
“The Conservancy does such great work for kids, educating them about the environment,” Plano said. “When they decided they needed a capital project, I saw an opportunity to use my construction expertise to help a great organization further their mission.”
Challenging sites, schedules and technology typical in industrial projects
At the Port of Baltimore’s Dundalk Terminal, Plano-Coudon Project Manager Travis Bartlett is pleased to be “out of the mud and working on a building.”
Bartlett and Superintendent Ryan Morton are managing the construction of a 21,240 SF prefabricated metal building for the Maryland Port Administration.
Before construction could begin, Bartlett and his team had to demolish an existing 15,850 SF warehouse. The 75-year-old metal, timber and concrete block building contained asbestos, which had to be remediated by a hazmat team. Additionally, one wall of the building stood just a few feet from the terminal’s security wall and had to be demolished by hand. But demolition proceeded at a good pace.
The project got complicated once crews began working in the ground beneath the former warehouse.
“The biggest challenge here is when they built the port, they used a lot of backfill that had chromium in it. These days, chromium is considered a hazardous material,” Bartlett said.
Testing showed that one-third of the site was contaminated, prompting Plano-Coudon to bring in a second hazmat team to perform remedial excavation. The site’s high water table delivered an additional complication. Water flowed into areas excavated for utility lines, requiring crews to pump water out to a holding tank.
Work got easier once construction of the actual building began. Following meticulous planning, crews used a crane outfitted with a diesel hammer to drive 89 helical piles 81 feet into the ground to support the foundation for the new warehouse.
“The structural foundation is very beefy,” Bartlett said, but added that sturdy design is prudent in an area where some older buildings have subsided.
Crews have since made swift progress completing the new building’s foundation, erecting its steel frame, and beginning to install insulation, metal panels and a concrete wall. When completed, Building 91C will include offices, some conditioned storage space and a large, open warehouse with a clear span ranging from 20 to 26 feet.
Warehouses, distribution centers and other industrial buildings may look basic, but their construction often involves challenges with the site, schedule or mechanical systems, said Mike Kovacs, Project Executive at Plano-Coudon.
“Industrial clients have a different set of priorities. They are most concerned with how fast can you deliver this building so they can start storing or producing their product,” Kovacs said. “If you look at a 500,000-SF industrial building, the expectation is completion within a year or less. The same sized retail building could take several years.”
Modern distribution centers often involve automated racking systems and other advanced technologies. Meanwhile, food-handling facilities can require extraordinary systems, such as high-volume water handling infrastructure for fresh produce distributors or specialized building envelopes and mechanical systems in cold-storage facilities.
“An ice cream storage facility, for example, needs to be minus 20 degrees,” Kovacs said. “That requires refrigeration systems and a facility that is air tight. If any warmer, outside air got in, it would start snowing inside.”
Plano-Coudon has completed assorted industrial projects in the past, including a 215,000-SF warehouse with 42-foot ceilings and no interior columns, a 60,000-SF produce-processing facility, and an automobile import facility outfitted with a high-speed car wash. And the company expects to tackle more projects in the market sector.
A recent study, Kovacs said, listed Baltimore among the four most sought-after locations in the country for new distribution centers. “Our proximity to I-95, a major port and other major cities makes Baltimore a prime area for this kind of construction.”
From teddy bears to I-beams: Senior living projects present varied challenges
Part way through the renovation of a senior living community, a Plano-Coudon superintendent discovered that a wandering teddy bear could be a valuable construction tool.
Bob Butt was overseeing demolition of a dining room at Buckingham’s Choice, an Integrace community near Frederick, when he found the abandoned stuffed toy.
Residents were keenly interested in the renovation project which included remaking the dining room, multi-purpose room, several offices and corridors. They monitored progress through the plexiglass windows that Plano-Coudon had installed in the temporary walls around the dining room construction site. They questioned Butt and other workers about each day’s activities, and sometimes seemed disappointed if a few days work didn’t generate dramatic changes.
After finding the teddy bear, Butt got the idea that the toy could become a new point of interest in his closely watched construction site.
“I put the teddy bear inside the dining room and, for the six or eight months I was on that site, I would move it to a new location at least once a week,” he said.
Residents began avidly looking for the bear, which spent time hanging from the ceiling or doorknobs, taped to windows, or sitting atop a 25-foot-high arch. A few residents regularly photographed the bear as they documented the renovation process.
Those interactions fueled a warm relationship between Butt and some seniors who were contending with a renovation within their home.
“He knew them all by name,” said Andrew Hooker, Project Manager on the Buckingham’s Choice renovation. “It was funny as we were demobilizing at the end of the project to see how many residents came up and gave him hugs because they just loved talking with him and they were going to miss him.”
Successfully handling renovation projects within senior living communities requires contractors to make some extra efforts.
“At pre-bid meetings, I tell general contractors that they need to be thinking that they are working in their grandmother’s home,” said Robert Albright, Vice President of Facilities Development for Integrace.
Plano-Coudon, he said, has done “some very nice things to engage residents” and develop good relationships during several renovation projects.
“That’s important because if you have 300 residents, you have 300 sidewalk superintendents,” Albright said.
Senior living projects also require many of the same rigors exercised in healthcare renovation projects.
“One of the first things I do at a senior living site is identify all the air conditioning/heating ductwork,” said Tom Lotz, the Plano-Coudon Superintendent on several senior living projects. “We need to isolate all the air from our work area and create an envelope between us and the residents. If we are making a dusty mess, we don’t want that to get sucked into the air handling unit and then blown into a dining room.”
Lotz instructs all workers on site about extra precautions they must follow, including securing all tools and materials away from residents, ensuring they firmly close doors to sensitive areas such as memory-care wings, and taking extra care in removing any possible trip hazards.
“Some people can be disoriented or less mobile, so they trip more easily,” said Adam Bell, Project Executive. “You have to think about the person who is using a walker and maybe dragging their feet. A loose piece of carpet could be a tripping hazard for that person.”
Scheduling and phasing work on a senior living renovation can be especially complex.
“There is a lot of different things going on in a place like that,” Lotz said.
Construction crews need to work around the schedules of business offices, commercial kitchens and dining rooms, healthcare services, special events and the daily life activities of residents. To minimize disruption, contractors need to do extensive planning and preparation before beginning any site work, and collaborate with facility maintenance staff to plan, minimize and provide long notice of any outages. That coordination sometimes involves dividing work between day- and overnight-shifts, or temporarily securing work within a kitchen so that staff can continue to serve residents mid-renovation and inspectors can access essential installations.
Builders also need to be prepared to handle the occasional structural challenge in the midst of those conditions and in front of a large audience.
The Buckingham’s Choice renovation, for example, included major structural work in order to expand the multi-purpose room.
“We had to move a number of steel beams which meant going through the floor, down through the slab and into the earth below. That’s the kind of thing that keeps guys like me awake at night,” Albright said. “Plano-Coudon gave me a feeling of comfort because I know they have done some very large and complicated projects… I also like how methodical Plano-Coudon is. They don’t rush just to get something done. If they are doing a project, they are doing it safely and very professionally.”
That process eased Albright’s concerns as Plano-Coudon worked through the structural changes and executed the most dramatic piece of the work.
“They had to bring in this huge, 20-foot-long I-Beam,” Albright said. “They had to take out an exterior window, bring it across the resident corridor and into the dining room, maneuver it into place and get the old beam out. It was difficult and it was quite a show for the residents.”