The process of evaluation/assessment begins long before there are boots on the ground. Upon starting work I immediately begin with the general location including the surrounding area. Usually this means pulling up internet maps, aerial images, etc. I believe this helps maintain perspective and avoids focusing too narrowly on the details later. From there, I use whatever information is available to get a general “feel” for the facility. Is it an old building or new? Is it a simple layout or complicated?
These general impressions help to identify the most relevant specific questions that need to be answered. For example, if a building looks “old” it raises questions about asbestos, lead paint, and building code compliance. This is where the amount of information on hand comes in to play. It is immensely helpful to have records of the original construction and any renovations. If a facility is complex, such as a school or hospital, there may be innumerable concealed conditions that could be missed on a purely visual inspection. Having plans on hand sheds valuable light on these potential issues and guides the approach in the field.
Pre-planning the approach is also a valuable step that happens well before the assessment work begins. As mentioned in Keeping Inventory: Assessing your Facilities, the goals of the Owner can vary tremendously between projects. Information gathered can be as broad and general or as fine and detailed as needed to fit the project’s needs. Once the level of detail is pinned down it is time to address logistics. How large is the site team? Will a pre-inspection conference be held on site? How will keys be obtained? What security measures are necessary? All are fairly simple questions in themselves, but a good plan goes a long way towards a successful visit.
The Dyron Murphy Architects team accompanied by Assurance Engineering recently attended an on-site visit to Highland Elementary School in Clovis, NM.
Once the actual on-site investigation begins it is time for the team to be “turned loose”. My preferred method of assessment is to have all engineering disciplines on hand at the same time (structural, mechanical, civil, etc.). This allows the team to cross-coordinate and provide immediate feedback. For example, a mechanical engineer might discover a cracked wall inside a plumbing chase and tell the structural engineer, who can observe the condition right away. In previous assessments I have gone up into attics and down into crawlspaces to review insulation and ventilation, which can quickly identify problems with duct-work or plumbing for immediate review.
This collective process has another added benefit in that an informal cross-discipline review can be made and a general impression of how the report should proceed can be formed. Is the facility in good shape and just needs some assorted improvements? On the other hand, is it in dire need of repair or even unsalvageable? Again, having a well-defined scope early in the process helps quite a bit. For example, if we are tasked with providing renovation plans after the assessment we can gather detailed information about systems we will be connecting to, or areas that need to stay active while renovations take place.
BEGINNING THE TRUE ANALYSIS
Upon returning to the office, it is time to “digest”. A good on-site assessment will collect hundreds of pieces of information and potentially thousands of images. (The record so far is 27,316…) This huge data set must be distilled down into the most useful and relevant information. Then the “true” analysis begins. This is where each discipline forms their findings and recommendations and the overall picture begins to come together. This process may be extremely complicated or very simple depending on what was found in the field.
Finally, all of the various parts and pieces come together and are delivered to the Owner. At this point the possibilities expand in all directions. It may be that our report simply provides independent validation of conditions that were already known. Or we may collect information that was previously so widespread and uncoordinated that it completely changes plans for the future.
Dyron Murphy Architects is currently performing a Buildings Systems Analysis Report for Highland Elementary School in Clovis, New Mexico. This analysis will include recommendations for repair or replacement with supporting sketches, a photography survey, a general narrative describing the building, general site conditions, cost estimates, code and Life-Safety analysis.