Predesign and preconstruction meetings: A necessary step in damage prevention

William E. Balin
Manager-Education
Pennsylvania One-Call System, Inc.
West Mifflin, Pennsylvania

Predesign and preconstruction meetings are an important element of a successful construction project. Several objectives can be achieved through the use of such meetings to include an improved initial design, reduction in change orders, the limiting of the number of road openings and enhanced damage prevention, to name a few.

The predesign meeting is initiated by the designer prior to beginning a project design as a part of the information gathering process. The designer must ensure that not only the project owner and the involved facility owners in the project area are in attendance, but also that contractors (possible project bidders) and the local government officials are invited to attend the meeting. Each group representative has a wealth of knowledge that can assist the designer in completing the project as efficiently and effectively as possible. Many One-Call Centers now have provisions for Preliminary Design Notice; check their website for details. Our system allows web notification using an online map to depict the design area and to provide the detail needed by the member facility owners to determine their involvement.

The designer should have the specifics of the project to include the scope, planned start date, completion of design target, target date for financing, planned project completion date, and other pertinent information as available.

During the meeting, the designer is seeking to obtain information concerning the current facilities that may be affected and any work that is planned to be done in the area before the design project will begin; the special equipment that may be required for the project during the construction phase; the local government requirements for road opening permits; the restoration requirements of the area; and if any other facilities located in the project area could benefit from a road opening to perform maintenance or other work on existing facilities that would negate the need to reopen the road at a later point in time, and thus reduce the inconvenience to the general public.

The meeting should be conducted in a formal manner with meeting minutes being taken and distributed to all attending stakeholders within a short time frame as to keep the meeting discussion and needed actions moving forward. Be sure to get all contact information, including e-mail addresses.

A number of state laws require the designer to notify facility owners upon the completion of the final design document. In our state, the designer must notify the facility owners not less than 10 nor more than 90 days before the final design is approved for bidding; notice must be given through the One-Call Center.

This communication must continue throughout the project if design changes are made. All involved parties should be made aware of the changes. Once the successful bidder has been given the notice to proceed with the project, the Construction Phase notice should be made; and, with all large or complex jobs, a preconstruction meeting should be scheduled so that the transition of the project from the design phase to the construction phase is smooth and without obstacles. Once the project bid award has been confirmed, the designer should be available to attend the upcoming preconstruction meeting. The construction company should call to communicate the meeting schedule allowing for work schedules and travel time for those who need to attend the meeting. Written information, proposed time schedules, and site contacts (if different from the One-Call notice) should be provided throughout the entire project. This will allow the project to be completed on time and without incident.

The preconstruction meeting is initiated by the project construction company prior to beginning the construction phase of the project as a part of the information gathering process and utility coordination. As with the predesign meeting, the contractor must ensure that not only the project owner and the involved facility owners in the project area are in attendance, but also that the project designer and the local government officials are invited to attend the meeting. Each group representative will have a stake in the project and they can assist the contractor with valuable information and assist in overcoming possible hurdles to the project that may arise, thus allowing the project to be completed as efficiently and effectively as possible.

During the meeting, the contractor is seeking to obtain information concerning (verifying from the design plan) current facilities that may be affected and need to be located. Some facility owners prefer and even require they be onsite when the contractor is working around their facilities. Not only will the preconstruction meeting provide an opportunity for the contractor to meet with the facility owner representative, but it will provide a forum for the contractor to discuss project timetables and the amount of assistance during the project that will be requested of the facility owners and the local government.

The contractor may also discuss with the facility owners the type of equipment that will be utilized to complete the project and, if a road opening is necessary, allow the facility owner to plan for the possibility of performing maintenance on the facilities that will be exposed, thus eliminating the need to reopen the road at a later date. At this time, the contractor will also meet with the local government representatives to ensure that all permits have been obtained, and that if the road needs to be opened, that a plan has been put in place to redirect traffic in the area. Most importantly, the contractor and the involved stakeholders have a forum to exchange contact information and the opportunity to map a timeline for the project as a whole.

The meeting should be conducted formally with a third party taking minutes and supplying the meeting minutes to all attendees so that all involved stakeholders have a written copy of the project discussion and timeline. This will help avoid any confusion as to the discussions that took place and the plan that was devised at the meeting. The meeting also provides a forum to set up schedules so the underground facility locators can follow along during the project and mark their lines to stay out ahead of the work crews. If either party has a problem they should have cell phone or pager contact numbers to address the problems or changes in the schedules and to inform the road crews that are providing traffic control at the site that a change in their location or schedule may be needed.

In conclusion, the predesign and preconstruction meetings provide a valuable forum to exchange project information, contact information, and establish the relationships that are necessary to the successful completion of the project. These topics have many more benefits and can greatly be expounded upon. For more information on the designer and contractor best practices, please go to www.commongroundalliance.com and review the "Common Ground, Study of One-Call Systems and Damage Prevention Best Practices" or www.paonecall.org and review the online Pennsylvania One-Call System, Inc.'s online system "Users Guide." In addition, Bill Balin can be contacted via e-mail at webalin@pa1call.org or by mailing the Pennsylvania One-Call System, Inc. at 925 Irwin Run Rd., West Mifflin, PA 15122.