For any construction project, there is one and only one optimal jobsite layout. If the job is planned on the basis of any other layout, some aspect of the working environment will be compromised.
That is according to James Adrian, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and Construction at Bradley University and a leading expert on construction management and productivity. But in spite of its importance, the jobsite layout is often not planned in detail. “I like to see detailed drawings of the layout produced ahead of time, and then critiqued for its impact on productivity, safety, security, and communications,” Adrian says.
In his Construction Productivity newsletter, Adrian lists 10 objectives of a good jobsite layout:
- Eliminate duplicate handling of material.
- Minimize distances that workers need to transport stored material to the point of use.
- Minimize the storage of materials.
- Eliminate bottlenecks to provide a uniform flow of materials around the site.
- Provide adequate controls on material wastage, breakage, and theft.
- Provide adequate controls on equipment theft.
- Facilitate movement of equipment on the site.
- Provide controls on worker tardiness.
- Promote a safe working environment.
- Provide safe and non-disruptive site access for visitors.
The overall responsibility for the layout rests with the general contractor or construction manager. But a concrete contractor can and should provide input and direction that will help the job run smoothly and efficiently. As one of the first trades to occupy a site, the concrete contractor will be strongly affected by, and often can influence, the placement of access roads, office trailers, restroom facilities, temporary power and water supplies, material storage and staging areas. Thinking through the impact of these layout decisions can help maximize efficiency and profits.
Working with the general contractor
E.C. Concrete, a contractor in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., has wide-ranging experience in commercial, industrial, and midrise residential construction. E.C. Concrete President Greg Schwartzenberger says they begin jobsite planning very early.
“We encounter a lot of different conditions on different jobsites,” Schwartzenberger says. Sometimes the building pad is accessible from all sides, other times there might be an adjoining building or a retention pond that isn’t apparent from the drawings. We always try to ask those questions during the bidding process and if we can, visit a site before we turn in a bid, just so we’re not surprised by anything.
“Logistical details usually aren’t addressed at the bidding stage. We try to hammer out details about storage space and staging areas at the pre-job meeting, before we’re actually mobilized on the jobsite. That’s also when we’ll talk about schedules, inspections, means and methods, safety—a myriad of subjects. We like to work with general contractors who plan very astutely because we know at that point we’re on the same page with them. That results in a smoother job and can lead to higher profitability. We do consider the jobsite layout when bidding a tilt-up project, though. We have to consider whether there will be enough space on the slab to cast all the panels, or if we’ll have to set up casting beds beyond the edges of the slab to pour the panels. In that case, we’d let the general contractor know what area we’ll need and he’d take that into account when determining where to put supplies and materials,” he says.
Taking charge of site work
One large contractor became more efficient and profitable by expanding its services into excavation and site work. Tommy Ruttura heads Ruttura and Sons, East Babylon, N.Y., a family-owned business now employing its fourth generation. The firm began acquiring excavation equipment and doing site work in the 1980s. Ruttura explains the advantages:
“We found that we were always dependent on the excavation contractor who’d get on the site before us. Sometimes we’d get there and the footings were too low or there was some other kind of a glitch. So we started buying excavation equipment and bidding on the site work ourselves. Anymore, it seems that if we don’t do the excavation work ourselves, we almost don’t make any money on the concrete work. We used to do probably 80% concrete work; now it’s more like 55% excavation and 45% concrete.
“When we do the site work too, we just ask for the property line stakes to be in place and to have the coordinates of the property lines and a couple of monuments. Then we can do all the layouts with our GPS and total stations. We build our cost into the price, but don’t charge separately for the site layout. It’s a big selling point for our company. A lot of times people give us work because we provide that service.
“It’s an advantage to us because the excavation crew controls the site—the access roads, the elevations, everything. If we do the excavation, we know that things are being done right. And the same equipment we use for the excavation we can also use to set the gang forms,” he says.
Ruttura and Sons tries to lay out a jobsite so they can come as close to finish grading as possible from the outset. When doing curbs and sidewalks, for example, they grade everything with GPS. When they make the 3D model, they model 2 feet beyond the curb lines. They grade to the bottom of the curb with the bulldozers, so when they place the curbs, they just measure up to the curb height from the sub-base. They use a similar process with respect to staging areas and access roads.
Ruttura explains, “When we come onto the site, we’ll sit down with the GC or construction manager. They’ll already have drawings showing the staging area, and it’s often where the parking area will be when the job is finished. Here again, we’ll grade it and place the stone to the finish grades. Once the job is 75% or 80% complete and the shanties and Conex boxes are moving out, we just have to clean it up and we’re ready to pave. It’s the same with the access roads. Now when we make the truck paths in and out, we do our cuts and fills to grade and then install the stone almost immediately (unless there is pipe to put in or other underground work). That way, we build the roads once and they’re done. Then at the end, all we have to do is maybe add a little stone here and there, and we’re ready to pave. When we’re able to have input, we’ll make sure that the trailers are placed in what will be grass areas that don’t need to be paved.”