From delivery method selection, construction sequencing, and service maintenance to startup, building or expanding a water or wastewater facility is daunting.

Both hard bid projects and alternative delivery methods such as construction manager at risk and design-build allow for pre-bid walks. While hard bid projects give owners the opportunity to see the design beforehand so plans are easier to visualize during a pre-bid walk, they have drawbacks: The design is set, details are specified, and the builder doesn’t provide input until after the contract is awarded.

However, alternative project delivery allows the builder to address constructability, startup, and commissioning during the preconstruction/design phase. The builder becomes an integral partner with the designer and owner and brings more experience and expertise to the table early on, promoting a team approach from the start. This improves collaboration during construction, reducing costs and delays associated with change orders.

Either way, there are four keys to successfully transition water and wastewater treatment plants from construction to operation: start planning early, develop startup checklists, maintain open communication, and, finally, promote accountability.

Next page: Think about the end at the beginning


Think about the end at the beginning

Knowing the project’s goals makes it easier to detail the path forward. During preconstruction, when equipment and systems are being selected, owners should determine with the project team what the requirements are for functionally testing the equipment and work with the team to incorporate items into the design that will benefit the startup process and add value.

Skilled general contractors start planning early, engage all stakeholders, and champion collaborative problem solving sessions that leave no possibility unanalyzed and no assumption unquestioned. The owner is an integral part of this team and must be involved in project planning from the beginning.

When a builder collaborates with owners and designers early during preconstruction, the best skills of design engineers and builders are brought together with a clear vision from the owner. This creates a culture of commitment, communication, and trust, which results in the highest quality project that can be delivered on time and at the best final cost.

Early planning by Malcolm Pirnie/Arcadis, McCarthy Building Companies Inc., and the City of Phoenix saved hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on a wastewater treatment plant expansion by multitasking maintenance of plant operations (MOPO) and combining shutdowns whenever possible. The largest effort combined 27 MOPOs in seven locations into a single, coordinated effort.

“We committed to jointly plan and construct at all levels,” says City of Phoenix Project Manager Rick Shane. “Because of this partnership, a $106 million project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget while meeting five-city Sub-Regional Operating Group member requirements and foreseeable regulatory mandates — an unprecedented result.”

Next page: Create start-up checklists during preconstruction to minimize rework


Create start-up checklists during preconstruction to minimize rework

In addition to early planning, develop detailed startup checklists that identify the various components of all the systems. As construction progresses, tracking the status of these items enables the team to determine readiness for actual startup and commissioning.

Without the ability to manage construction progress that checklists provide, items are often unaccounted for or missed. Learning about them later can delay startup and require rework.

For example, Process and Instrumentation Drawings (P&IDs) detail project instrumentation; most of the instrumentation is also shown in the mechanical and electrical drawings. Creating the checklists early enables the team to verify that all three sets of drawings are coordinated.

Developing checklists during preconstruction is also a great way to coordinate design documents. Detailed flowchart checklists like the one below are being used to build a 50 mgd regional pipeline project in Colorado that will have a maximum capacity of 96 mgd. Any Southern Delivery System Water Treatment Plant team member can quickly see the status of each process system as it pertains to checkout and startup readiness.

Getting shop drawings and operation and maintenance manuals submitted and approved in a timely fashion is also critical to startup planning. Likewise, proper receiving of equipment, pre-installation storage, installation, preventative maintenance, and checkout facilitate a much smoother start-up. All can be incorporated into startup checklists so they can be tracked and managed.

Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that equipment and systems function as designed and perform properly for their expected lifecycle.

Next page: Get full-team buy-in by involving all stakeholders from the start


Get full-team buy-in by involving all stakeholders from the start

Owners, engineers, inspectors, contractors, subcontractors, and vendors all possess unique expertise that can enhance startup. Executing the plan requires their buy-in, but that happens only when there is open communication from the start. People are much more likely to buy into a plan they’ve helped develop.

Communication is also critical to ensuring the plan is safely implemented.

The team that expanded the Chandler, Ariz., airport’s water reclamation capacity from 15 mgd to 22 mgd earned a STAR Site designation through the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s Voluntary Protection Program. The program sets performance-based criteria for a managed safety and health system.

“Our team’s detailed planning allowed the $105 million project to thrive during construction and execution of high-risk tie-in and bypass activities,” says City of Chandler Wastewater Facilities Superintendent John Pinkston.

Maintaining open communication also promotes accountability among team members.

Next page: Use software to ensure start-to-finish accountability


Use software to ensure start-to-finish accountability

People must be held responsible not only for their part in developing the plan, but for its successful implementation by verifying and documenting the completion of tasks under their purview.

There are numerous ways to ensure team members’ accountability. Excel spreadsheets are a typical way to manage checklists and status updates. The problem is that usually there’s a master hard copy and it isn’t easy to communicate updated information to others in real time, although websites like Google Docs or Dropbox have made online coordination easier.

McCarthy Building Companies uses Autodesk Inc.’s BIM 360 Field. The software enables the team to identify all tasks and monitor progress by having the responsible individual verify and sign off on each. This information is accessible across the web and updated in real time via tablets in the field. Task status and reports summarizing overall progress are easily generated.

On the $134 million Metropolitan Water Reclamation District project in Denver, startup plans and checklists were developed in preconstruction. The inspector wanted hard copies printed so items could be physically signed off.

After introducing and familiarizing the project engineer and inspector with web-based checklist management, they quickly realized the benefits of the system. Using the program to manage the startup process ensured all items were performed and verified, which led to a higher quality project for the owner.

Planning early, developing startup checklists, maintaining open communication, and promoting accountability will all lead to the smooth transition of water and wastewater treatment plants to their owners and operators. Seeing how systems were started up and tested helps operating personnel better understand how they should be operated and maintained.

David Heyde is a senior project manager/startup manager for the Southwest Division of McCarthy Building Companies. He is a U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design-accredited Professional in Building Design & Construction(LEED AP BD+C). E-mail [email protected]; visit

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