Towson Tower project team overcomes creeping concrete, failing column and other challenges

The renovated, 14-story Towson University residence features bands of contemporary panels from Germany and soaring columns of windows. To create those sharp lines, however, the project team had to adjust all exterior installations to compensate for the original building’s extensive “concrete creep.”

Horizontal bands of red and gray paneling paired with vertical columns of windows that stretch all the way to a high-rise rooftop turned a university residence into a dramatic feature on Towson’s skyline.

But creating those precise, parallel lines on a structure that had suffered four decades of “concrete creep” presented the Plano-Coudon project team with a succession of surprises, complications and meticulous project needs.

“Without question, this was the most challenging project I have ever done,” said Project Manager Thomas Koch.

Koch knew at the outset that the total gut renovation of the 14-story, 110,000 SF, 1970s-era residence tower at Towson University would be difficult. The project included a complete renovation of the interiors, replacement of all MEP and data systems, installation of a new roof and new windows, and a complete re-skinning of the building with an Equitone facade — large, fiber-cement panels from Germany. The design would also require crews to remove portions of the second floor, reinforce structural columns and install a two-story curtain wall in order to create an inviting, two-story entry space.

But then things got especially tricky.

While demolishing the interior, crews discovered that the lower portions of one structural column had been encased in a block wall. When crews removed the wall, “we discovered the column had failed,” Koch said. “There were cracks going up and down the column that were a quarter-inch or more in width. This created a significant safety concern.”

Three structural engineers assessed the column and concluded it could be repaired and the project could proceed safely.

The repair, however, meant “we had to shore the building up from the basement level all the way to the roof,” Koch said. “Then we had to open up the basement concrete slab, go down to the caisson foundation the column was sitting on and widen the column up through the first two floors.”

While conducting preliminary work on site, crews discovered another abnormality with the existing building. The concrete tower was supported by interior structural columns “but there were no exterior walls or columns that went down to the foundation,” Koch said. “That created a unique situation. Over time, concrete moves. It’s called concrete creep. So the floor on each level started to sag along the outside, like the edges of an umbrella will droop.”

To create an inviting entryway, the Plano-Coudon project team removed part of the tower’s second floor, installed a curtain wall and created a light-filled common space.

While that “umbrella effect” didn’t present any structural concerns, it created big architectural challenges. The building – which was set to be clad in uniform rectangular panels, parallel horizontal lines and vertical columns of windows – was not plumb or square “and a lot of elevations and faces of the building were not within current construction tolerances,” Koch said.

Realizing that any uneven windows or exterior panels would immediately become an eyesore, the project team hatched a plan to create a plumb and square facade on a highly irregular building. Workers carefully measured and mapped out more than 300 window openings in the building, determined the best uniform-size window to install throughout the building, then established a baseline across each story to ensure the windows would appear even from the exterior (even if windows were set at slightly different elevations above the interior floor).

“This required a lot of leveling and surveying for each window. Within some window bays, you could have a drop of an inch or two in elevation across a span of three feet,” said Justin Vega, Project Engineer. “But with careful shimming, we made everything look uniform outside.”

The 17-month renovation presented the project team with numerous other challenges.

“Our floor-to-floor height was really tight,” Koch said.

While demolishing interiors, crews discovered that one of the high-rise’s structural columns had failed. Structural engineers concluded that it could be repaired, but the project team would have to first shore the column from the basement to the roof.

The nine-foot space from the top of one floor slab to the next and slab thicknesses ranging from 8 to 10 inches left crews dealing with a floor-to-ceiling space of just 8’2” to 8’4”. The “oscillating floors” also meant that crews had to adjust the installation of ceiling grids to keep grids, ductwork and piping level, Vega said. Consequently, installers had as little as three inches of clearance to pass MEP systems through some portions of ceiling. The addition of fire shaft walls to certain parts of the building mid-project further constricted some spaces.

All those complications rendered the project’s BIM model for utility coordination and clash detection unable (without time-consuming revisions) to resolve the space constraints.

“Instead, when we got into really tight spaces, we would look up in the ceiling and say, what am I going to do here? If I move this duct over a half-inch and that pipe over a quarter inch, can I make things fit?” Koch said. “It was a pretty fluid process and I am very grateful for the trades we had on this project. They understood the challenges we were facing, they worked together as a team and they found solutions.”

That teamwork, combined with intensive coordination, enabled crews to contend with major scheduling challenges, said Ted LaPierre, Superintendent. Repairing the failed structural column set the project back 6-8 weeks and prevented the project team from executing its original plan to complete all interior renovations on a floor before moving on to the next. (Shoring around the column delayed interior renovations on one-quarter of each story of the residence.) Crews also had to adjust their work schedule to address other structural questions.

To install the new MEP infrastructure, “we had to put about 75 holes in every floor so that floor had to be GPR scanned, documented and reviewed by the engineer,” LaPierre said. “Then if the engineer said we needed supplemental structural reinforcement, we had to put that reinforcement in before we cut the holes. That process took a lot of energy and time, but it had to be done.”

“This was a total team effort,” LaPierre said, adding that crews did outstanding work on their tasks, such as maneuvering 68,000 pounds of mechanical equipment 150 feet up into the air to install it on the tower’s roof. “This team worked really well together on a very tough project. At the end of the day, we were a family.”

Guinness project sets new standards for job-site safety

To improve pedestrian safety on a very busy project site, Plano-Coudon created walkways that are lined with fencing and identified with gantries and signs where they intersect roads.

From pedestrian walkways and platform ladders to giveaways of gift cards and Yeti coolers, a hybrid safety program at the Guinness construction site in Baltimore Country is generating some new standards for safe construction practices.

Representatives from Plano-Coudon and Diageo, owner of the Guinness brand, began crafting the enhanced safety plan as they prepared to begin construction of the Guinness Blonde brewery and entertainment complex in the former Seagram’s buildings. They tailored the plan to include safety practices from the U.S. and Europe as well as some components of Diageo’s “engineering excellence” program.

“Plano-Coudon has prided itself on being best in class in safety in the U.S.,” said Brett Plano. “But the European safety culture and the Diageo practices are best in world class. It’s a different way of thinking that is challenging and intriguing.”

Adapting that safety culture to the Guinness project has involved enhancing and adding components to Plano-Coudon’s safety program.

JSAs, walkthroughs and white boards

A longtime proponent of Job Safety Analyses (JSAs), Plano-Coudon stepped up its JSA practice on the Guinness site. Rather than submitting selected JSAs for high risk activities periodically, subcontractors on the Guinness site complete a JSA every morning that covers the day’s work. They review that JSA with their crew then present it to the Plano-Coudon safety officer in order to obtain work permits for the day.

The size, complexity and pace of the Guinness project warranted that daily process, said Senior Project Manager Craig Pool. “Our construction environment is constantly moving and changing. A person could be working in the same spot welding pipe for three days straight, but you could have an electrician working beside him one day, a dry-waller the next day, and a hole beside him another day.”

One goal of the safety program on the Guinness site is to reduce the risk of falls by reducing the use of ladders. Where possible, workers use scaffolding, lifts, platforms or platform ladders.

With more than two dozen subcontractors on the project and an average of 120 workers onsite daily, Plano-Coudon also implemented an enhanced protocol of safety talks and inspections.

“We have a white board meeting daily that covers all the high-hazard activities for the day and diagrams where they are happening so all the trades are aware,” said Tony Tur, a Safety Inspector for Diversified Safety Services.

Superintendents and safety personnel conduct a weekly walk of the entire construction site to identify or anticipate safety issues. Plano-Coudon and Diageo also employ full-time safety officers onsite to coordinate all safety activities and to provide quality assurance of the program.

“We are exceeding OSHA rules and regulations by leaps and bounds,” Tur said.

“We are operating with a a level of detail that you would use if you were working in a power plant,” Plano said. “It is a whole different level of safety and management.”

Walkways and ladders

The Guinness-site program also makes heightened efforts to reduce perennial job site hazards.

“Normally when you are walking through a job site, your head is on a swivel. You are constantly looking around so you don’t get hit by equipment,” Pool said. “That was a particular concern for this site because we would have 13-14 pieces of large, heavy equipment running around most of that time coupled with another two to three large forklifts.”

To lower that hazard, the project team created job-site roadways and pedestrian pathways, which are covered in stone, lined with fencing, and identified with gantries and signs where they intersect roads.

Although the walkways need to be relocated regularly and “initially I thought they would be a pain,” the pathways have greatly improved safety and the working environment, Pool said.

Safety policies on the Guinness site also address one of the largest safety hazards in construction – falls from ladders.

“If possible, work should be done from a lift or scaffold rather than a ladder,” Pool said.

Safety should be a goal, not a chore. So each month, Plano-Coudon hosts a safety lunch for the Guinness project team. The event includes handing out awards and gifts to especially safety conscious workers.

Subcontractors are urged to use platform ladders rather than A-frames, and require workers to limit their time on a ladder to periods of 15 minutes or less. When ladders are not in use, they are chained up to prevent any hazardous usage.

Incentivizing safety

Amid the heightened safety requirements, Plano-Coudon initiated efforts to ensure that safety is a goal, not a burden.

“Safety guys can be seen as bad guys because they are always coming up and telling people what they are doing wrong,” Pool said.

Consequently, Plano-Coudon set aside funds for safety incentives. Safety officers routinely point out examples of excellent safety practices onsite and hand out small gift cards to the workers involved. Each month, Plano-Coudon hosts an onsite safety luncheon for all project staff which includes a short talk about a safety topic, presentation of awards/prizes (such as large gift cards or Yeti coolers), and the announcement of the contractor-of-the-month safety award.

Overall, the program appears to be boosting safe work habits at the Guinness site.

“We’re not having to correct as much little stuff,” Pool said. “I don’t think I’ve had to tell somebody to put on their hard hat or safety glasses in months.”

Plano-Coudon names Mike Kovacs Director of Pre-Construction

After a months-long, wide-ranging candidate search, Plano-Coudon is pleased to announce that we have hired our first Director of Pre-Construction Services. Mike Kovacs – a 15-year employee of Plano-Coudon – has stepped into this new leadership role.

“We are excited because Mike brings a wealth of skills to this position,” Brett Plano said.

A graduate of Penn State with a degree in Structural Design and Construction Engineering, Kovacs worked for The Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. before joining Plano-Coudon. As a long-time project manager and project executive, Kovacs has abundant operational experience.

“That’s an attractive quality in a pre-construction director,” Plano said. “Mike is well versed in how jobs get built and he will be able to apply that operational expertise to front-end operations, like business development, marketing, pre-construction and estimating.”

In addition, Kovacs has proven to be a “process improvement guy” and has spearheaded the adoption of new technologies at Plano-Coudon, such as ProCore. That quality will prove valuable as the growing pre-construction division establishes more formalized operations and best-in-class processes, Plano said. “Mike is also a strategic thinker and a proven, engaging leader who is well respected in the company.”

One of Plano-Coudon’s first employees, Kovacs said, “I have always been excited to help Plano-Coudon grow. Now, I’m especially excited to start from scratch and develop something new in the pre-construction division.”

Describing the decision to create a Director of Pre-Construction Services position as a huge step in the growth of the company, Kovacs said he is looking forward to advancing the company’s marketing and business development operations, furthering its growth in newer market niches such as private sector developments, and fueling Plano-Coudon’s overall growth in order to create career opportunities for other employees.

“We did wide-reaching recruiting efforts for this position, interviewed internal and external candidates, and we are excited to have chosen such a great person to lead our pre-construction work,” Plano said.

Women at Work: P-C staff advocate for more women in construction

Man’s best kept secret.

That’s how some female employees at Plano-Coudon describe their careers in the construction industry.

Old stereotypes and outright obstacles to women in construction have diminished over time. Yet across the country, women still comprise just over 9 percent of the construction industry labor force. Advocates for women in construction – including women within Plano-Coudon – insist the industry offers a wealth of good career opportunities to women and those opportunities need to be more widely known.

Shay Felzener enthusiastically describes a construction career she never intended to pursue.  But after graduating with a degree in architecture, Felzener discovered that she was more interested in construction than design, and most interested in estimating.

“As an estimator, you are resolving real-world problems in a very small amount of time. It’s challenging and fast-paced and I get exposed to many different projects quickly,” she said.

The biggest problem with estimating is “nobody knows about careers in estimating and nobody goes to college to become an estimator, so we are facing a huge shortage of estimators,” Felzener said. “One thing I want to change moving forward is whenever there are job fairs, I want to be part of them and promote estimating, which I think is a great career for women. I think women tend to be very detail oriented and estimators must be detail oriented.”

The construction industry, Felzener said, needs to do more to inform girls and women about construction careers generally. Meanwhile, women interested in construction or women already in the industry can advance their careers by following some best practices.

Learn about job options – Students interested in construction should approach construction companies and ask to shadow a professional or apply for an internship. Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity or other construction-related nonprofits can also help students understand tasks and careers in the industry.

Ask questions – A long-time performing arts teacher, Pippa Duggan changed careers and now works as a project coordinator with Plano-Coudon’s Small Projects Division. One key to her successful career switch is her habit of asking questions.

“It’s important to constantly ask questions and educate yourself as much as possible,” Duggan said. “I keep learning more about the business and I regularly go out to job sites to become familiar with the projects I am involved in. At Plano-Coudon, I feel I can ask anything and the staff, especially the project managers, are great at sharing their knowledge and mentoring me.”

Lifelong learning – Plano-Coudon CFO Janet Delaney had studied accounting extensively before she entered the construction industry. To advance her career, however, Delaney needed to keep learning new things, such as the nuances of construction budgets and the technologies used by the industry.

“As a CFO, I need to know not just accounting, but also IT. You cannot progress in this career without embracing technology,” she said.

A prime way to learn those technologies, Delaney said, is to volunteer for special projects. In a previous job, she volunteered to work on a five-year technology upgrade initiative.

Lifelong learning is vital across construction careers, said Felzener and Duggan. Both regularly enhance their professional skills by participating in seminars and other educational events offered by industry associations.

Be bold – Speaking up, tackling a challenge or setting a professional goal can be intimidating (especially if you are the only woman in the room) but it is also an effective way to show your capabilities and advance a career in construction.

Originally a construction company receptionist, Sue Radtke now works as a Plano-Coudon project coordinator. “At our annual reviews, we set our goals for the following year and your supervisor will help guide you to achieving those goals; whether it be through seminars, additional training or hands-on experience. That has pushed me out of my comfort zone, but it has also been a good thing.”

On the Job Site

Recent Contract Wins

  • Hord Coplan Macht Office Relocation – 33,796 SF demolition & renovation of 12th floor of 700 East Pratt Street for new offices of Hord Coplan Macht.
  • CCBC Essex Vet Building – Interior alterations for 8,000 SF of CCBC’s veterinary technology program.
  • BWMC OR 18 Renovation – Renovate operating room to include demolition, millwork, roof patching, ceilings, welded sheet flooring, wall protection, painting, air terminals, lighting, power supplies for equipment, etc.

Projects in Preconstruction

  • Figure 53 Autograph Playhouse – $2,400,000 renovation of existing Theater.
  • Baltimore City Animal Services – 37,500 SF ground up, one (1) story building ~ $11,000,000
  • 10 E Pratt Street – Preconstruction services for 10 E. Pratt Street.
  • The Paquin School – Repair existing HVAC system and minor renovations to existing school.

Projects in Progress

  • BWMC OR 18 Renovation – Renovate operating room to include demolition, millwork, roof patching, ceilings, welded sheet flooring, wall protection, painting, air terminals, lighting, power supplies for equipment, etc.
  • CCBC Essex Vet Building – Interior alterations for 8,000 SF of CCBC’s veterinary technology program.
  • Hall Render – 2nd Floor 706 Giddings Avenue – Renovation of 2nd floor fit-out space.
  • Hord Coplan Macht Office Relocation – 33,796 SF demolition & renovation of 12th floor of 700 East Pratt Street for new offices of Hord Coplan Macht.
  • Diageo 100 Hectoliter Brewery
  • Diageo Project West (Guinness) – Three level renovation of an existing manufacturing building into new tap house, restaurant, and museum area.
  • Northbay Educational Building – Ground up 12,000 SF building for Northbay Adventure Camp.
  • Riderwood Town Center – Two phase renovation and expansion to the Riderwood Community Town Center Clubhouse and Patio.
  • University of Baltimore Langsdale Library Renovation – $17,000,000 renovation of existing library.
  • Towson Residence Tower Renovation – $27,000,000 full renovation of a 14 story multi-family building at Towson University.

Small Projects Division

  • HCPS North Harford HS Greenhouse and Aquaculture Lab – $620,000 greenhouse skin replacement and M/E upgrades.
  • Under Armour Omnichannel Distribution House Stair Tower – $175,000 life safety enhancements for Pick Module.
  • MCPS John T Baker MS Media Center – Reconfiguration of student work areas.
  • City of Aberdeen Senior Center Repairs – Insurance claim for fallen tree damage.
  • MedStar HQ 5th Floor Expansion – $800,000 negotiated new fit-out almost complete for a happy client.
  • Atapco Properties – $410,000 interior alterations for a new tenant on short timeframe.
  • Adams Funds – Feature wall and lighting upgrades in penthouse office suite of 500 E. Pratt Street.

Removing big steel and delivering dramatic change in a bustling office lobby

Perched on one of Baltimore’s most prominent intersections, 100 S Charles needed a grand entrance. Plano-Condon removed its dark 1970s finishes, completed structural renovations, constructed a two-story atrium and created a light-filled space.

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.”

To create a sparkling lobby at 100 S Charles, Plano-Coudon installed a glass storefront, cascading pendant lights, textured cement wall panels, striated ceramic tile and contemporary finishes in whites and grays.

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.

Scott Stevens, Modu Tech, Tim Barnhill, Hord Coplan Macht, Inc., Larry Holmes, The Mirvis-Holmes Group, Dave Kleiman, Ameriprise Financial

“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.

Danielle Batin, Normandi Amprey, Courtney Cass, Leslie Faylor, and Micaela Perez Ferrero from Teach for America.

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.

Plano-Coudon Construction Project Executives Adam Bell and Jared Geary

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.”