On a data center construction site in Northern Virginia, the opportunities, demands and hazards of the current construction environment are evident. Like so many other projects, the work is driven by high demand for rapidly completed facilities. But the work is also periodically interrupted, re-sequenced or accelerated due to the slow, erratic operation of the supply chain. Those schedules can take a toll on workers.
“At that one jobsite, they have hundreds of electricians working,” said Eric Charlebois, Mid-Atlantic Manager of HazTek Inc., which is providing safety consulting services to the project. “They just got word that they are moving to seven, 10-hour shifts per week, including overnight shifts. That’s a month of daily 10-hour shifts and some of those individuals are driving from West Virginia, Frederick or Hagerstown. You are going to have fatigue and fatigue brings an onslaught of safety concerns.”
Ensuring safe operations on construction sites may be an age-old activity but working conditions within the industry make it an endlessly challenging pursuit. In the face of today’s demanding schedules, labor shortages and countless variations in site conditions, safety experts are urging builders to review and strengthen their safety protocols.
Measures that improve jobsite safety come in many forms and they don’t have to be enormous efforts to deliver significant benefits.
Plano-Coudon Construction, for example, adopted a motto of PC SAFE (Safety Awareness First Everyday) and gradually implemented practices to both increase workers’ focus on safety and strengthen safety protocols.
Those practices have included “engaging third-party safety inspectors and doing random, internal inspections by someone who isn’t on the team running the project,” said Thomas Koch, Director of Risk Management and Safety. “It provides a different set of eyes looking at the site through a different lens. When you are on a jobsite, you could walk by something over and over again and, because you are so familiar with it, not realize it’s a safety issue.”
Sometimes the overlooked safety hazard is something as mundane as housekeeping, Charlebois said.
“Housekeeping is probably one of the biggest challenges that safety professionals see on jobsites. There is wood and other materials scattered all over the place. We’re not trying to be neat freaks, but if you have good housekeeping on a jobsite, a lot of hazards are not hidden anymore,” he said. “If you have laid a piece of plywood over a three-foot by three-foot hole and everybody is walking over it and it is exposed to the elements, Murphy’s Law says that in time that plywood is going to break and someone is going to drop through that hole.”
Plano-Coudon has also started “utilizing new KPIs to monitor safety on all projects and determine which projects have higher safety exposures so we focus our attention on meeting everyday safety needs while also recognizing the uncommon ones,” Koch said.
Those key performance indicators can be as routine as verifying completion of regular, required inspections to establishing and tracking added safety protocols that are required during unique activities not encountered on a daily basis.
“One project we are doing in Delaware is right on the water which means there are extra rules you need to understand and follow,” Koch said. “For example, some individuals may have to wear a life jacket even though they are working on land. A worker could be in a situation where if they were working on a ladder and fell over, they would land in the water.”
Similarly, Plano-Coudon has implemented heightened planning and education for safety at the National Aquarium in Baltimore where it is currently replacing the glass in the aquarium’s iconic glass pyramid. The project’s distinctive safety requirements include ensuring that workers are properly trained, certified and experienced to operate in harnesses suspended from the pyramid’s rafters. Plano Coudon must also ensure that work is carefully sequenced and workers properly educated to work safely alongside a large crane on the aquarium’s pier.
In both unique and commonplace projects, robust communication practices can greatly improve safety, said Jason Sears, Field Operations Manager for Diversified Safety Services. A regular morning huddle with superintendents and foremen to review operations that day – especially when deliveries, sequencing or other plans are shifting – can alert teams to anticipated safety issues and review needed safety protocols.
“More of our clients are doing weekly safety meetings,” Sears said. “They push out a topic which could be ladders or safety glasses or electrical safety, and have their teams in the field review that topic.”
Simple, 15-minute orientations for subcontractors, which cover the required training and safe operating practices for machinery and equipment they will be using onsite, can also deliver surprisingly large benefits, Sears said.
While visiting construction sites, “I have run into a lot of people who don’t have the proper training. That has become very prevalent over the past year,” he said.
The training shortfall has included individuals who didn’t realize they needed to learn about fall protection before engaging in work they were already doing and individuals who were operating equipment they had never been trained on.
“You run into guys who automatically assume that because they know about forklifts, they can operate any kind of lift,” Sears said. “But a forklift is a whole different animal than a scissor lift. People require a lot more mechanized equipment training than they think.”
Increasingly, Sears added, companies need to provide all of that safety training in both English and Spanish.
A variety of other practices and products — including drones, software programs and QR codes — can boost safety on a jobsite. But there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach to optimizing safety practices in all construction companies, Charlebois said.
To determine what safety initiatives will work in a company, “you need to take a deep, soul-searching review of what your company is doing and listen to employees from your lowest level all the way to the executives,” he said. “I deal with this a lot. People don’t want to air their dirty laundry even inside a company. But guess what, that dirty laundry will help you in the long run to identify your problems and address them.”
Safety professionals and many construction industry peers readily share insights into how to better deal with situations, he added. “Don’t be afraid to consult an outside source. Talk to other companies within BC&E. When you are talking about safety, even the most tight-lipped executive will probably open up.”
The challenge was to create a highly sustainable college classroom and laboratory building on the water’s edge. The solution for Washington College and the project team for the Semans Griswold Environmental Hall project was to embrace the Living Building Challenge.
Described as the most advanced protocol for sustainability in design and construction today, the Living Building Challenge aims to produce facilities that positively impact the environment. Design and construction teams must create buildings that generate more energy than they use, capture and treat all water on site, and utilize healthy construction materials. They must also demonstrate that the completed, occupied building continues to meet those goals through ongoing monitoring.
Although Gipe Associates Inc. had completed other projects at Washington College and a few net zero projects, Semans Griswold Environmental Hall would be its first Living Building Challenge.
“The biggest challenge with a project like this is getting the energy load of the building down to an absolute minimum so that the PV system for the building is affordable,” said David Hoffman, President of Gipe Associates, which provided mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection systems design for the project. “The first step — and I think this is absolutely necessary in any building that is trying to reach net zero — is a geothermal system. Geothermal is light years ahead of conventional systems because of the way the compression cycle works.”
In addition to a high-performance, closed loop geothermal system, Gipe included multiple other energy efficient systems in the design for the 11,000-square-foot building. Those included ductless heat pumps as peaking units, electro-commutating motors (ECMs) for water source and heat pump units, variable speed compressor/fan strategies, variable speed pumping, energy recovery wheels and heat pipe energy recovery, exhaust air energy recovery equipment, low-flow water fixtures, and LED lighting and controls.
Gipe worked with the college to establish schedules and set points for HVAC systems so that the building could achieve the modeled energy performance. It also included separate meters for plug loads throughout the building.
Achieving net zero in a building with three laboratories, however, also required some “out-of-the-box” design elements, Hoffman said.
Gipe employed an old-fashioned, energy efficient method of ventilation — namely, operable windows — but modernized the design with interlocked controls to the HVAC system. When an occupant opens a window, the controls de-energize the heat pump for that zone of the building. To prevent occupant actions from negatively impacting the energy efficiency of the building, temperature sensors will trigger an alarm if a window is left open and part of the building becomes too hot or too cold.
Gipe also included a demand-controlled ventilation system in the building’s design. It monitors carbon dioxide levels throughout the building and adjusts the ventilation accordingly.
“Carbon dioxide is a surrogate indicator for how many people are in the space,” Hoffman said. “If there are few people inside, why pump all that code-required ventilation into the room? That feature produces substantial energy savings.”
The final design for Semans Griswold, which includes a solar PV installation, concluded the building would meet the Living Building Challenge requirement of producing at least 105 percent of the energy it will use. Building monitoring since last September has shown the facility is exceeding that goal. The building may not have been fully occupied over the winter due to the pandemic. However, Hoffman expects the facility could readily and comfortably support a full complement of students and staff. “I don’t think this building is restrictive in any way that users or students would notice.”
Although the Semans Griswold project came in under budget ($11.4 million compared to the budget of $12.5 million), Hoffman notes that these types of buildings are not inexpensive and can exceed the cost of a LEED Platinum facility. One contributor to the cost is the Living Building Challenge requirement that buildings use batteries, rather than generators, for backup power. “I think that’s a mistake because you are connected to the utility which is a free battery,” he said. “It is very costly to install batteries, maintain them and replace them every eight to 10 years.”
Summer internships can be very beneficial to both students and employers, but they are not the easiest things to manage. What is one lesson you have learned about how to successfully manage an internship program?
Director of Human Resources
Our internship program has evolved into three parts — two-day orientation, two-month project/department assignment, and a presentation to the executive team at the end of the internship. Orientation has been a great way for the interns to bond with each other, learn about our culture, and get to know Harkins team members. They receive Procore and safety training and have access to our full training catalog throughout the summer. The key to a successful internship is ongoing communication from the site/department teams and human resources. The interns are encouraged to utilize the plethora of resources we offer and really stretch themselves beyond their expectations. Our interns return to school feeling like that they were a valuable contributor to the project/department team.
MK Consulting Engineers
Interns have the desire to work, to learn, and to do what everyone else in the office is doing. No more coffee runs and copying, let them get their hands dirty in what we do every day. Exposing them to every aspect of the engineering field is critical to getting the most out of them, and them providing you the most benefit. Attending meetings and drafting minutes, gathering related pieces for reports, and designing in CAD; at MK, we strive to introduce the interns to people, projects, in-office and out-of-office tasks, allowing them to explore the different career paths and market segments that encompass the engineering field.
Senior Project Manager
As a Construction Manager, we are responsible for everything that occurs on a construction site. Our philosophy when hiring an intern is expose them to as much as we can in the short amount of time we have them. In our minds, the best way to do that is to assign them to a project and have them work onsite with the project team. We feel this will allow them to learn the responsibilities of each member of the project team and a sense of how the building is built.
Senior Project Manager
Preparation is key to success. It is easy to think interns will come in and be a part of the team and engaged from the beginning. But we have learned that it is important to engage with the interns well before they come to the office and ensure that you communicate with them these important aspects of the internship: the company’s expectations for their time within the organization; their schedule for the summer; and provide an opportunity to see as much of the organization as possible. The interns need to know what is expected of them from day one. They need a set schedule for their time within the company so they know what they will be doing, and they really want to get a taste of everything during their experience. It is important to think about these things while recruiting and hiring interns.
Scope of work: $21.5 million renovation of 95,200-square-foot athletic and recreation center
BC&E Member companies involved: J. Vinton Schafer Construction, James Posey Associates, G.E. Tignall, Hancock and Albanese Siemens Industry
The natatorium, weight rooms, dance studios and indoor courts are filled with light and splashed with bright color, creating a modern and inviting recreation center. But the real work of art in the renovated Retriever Activity Center (RAC) at University of Maryland Baltimore County is the mechanical room.
As part of the two-year renovation, the project team had to complete an extensive and complex upgrade of the RAC’s mechanical systems. The facility which had been built in three sections (in the 1960s, 1970s and 1990s), had a variety of old HVAC equipment and a two-pipe, heating and cooling system that limited the building’s efficiency and comfort levels.
As crews began work, “we found deteriorating sections of pipe and deficiencies within the existing air handling units,” said Kyle Weir, Senior Project Manager with J. Vinton Schafer Construction, a Quandel Enterprises Company.
The project team, which was committed to maintaining operations in portions of the building in case pandemic conditions allowed students to return, steadily executed, refined and expanded their plans to “completely gut some parts of the system, merge old building systems with new, and renovate, refurbish or upgrade other equipment to create a better overall system,” Weir said.
In the process, they created the artful mechanical room.
“What is so impressive is it literally was created on top of the old mechanical room and we kept multiple systems running at the same time,” he said. “But if you look at the layout of our new mechanical room, you would never think that we were working around so much existing infrastructure that we later had to demo. It just looks like a really nice, brand new mechanical room.”
Although creating an efficient and robust HVAC system (which is sized to handle daily athletic activities as well as the much heavier loads of periodic concerts, graduations and other large events) was a major challenge, it was just one component of the renovation. Work also included replacing the roof which had exceeded its useful life and developed multiple failure points, and upgrading electrical service to the building, including adding a new substation to the campus electrical distribution system.
Crews completed aesthetic upgrades throughout the building and converted some areas formerly used for varsity sports into modern fitness facilities for students. They worked through the “hodge podge” of unmarked, low-voltage cabling, Internet and audio-visual infrastructure to create up-to-date systems.
Crews also analyzed the impacts of countless, previous renovations and completed “a lot of structural clarification,” Weir said. Workers uncovered secondary ceilings, repaired or re-supported “penetrations through archaic structural systems,” and corrected assorted other structural and life safety deficiencies.
Clark Construction launches Mid-Atlantic expansion
Clark Construction Group is preparing to become a bigger player in the Maryland construction market.
In May, Clark announced plans to double the size of its office space at Stadium Square in downtown Baltimore while also maintaining its 29,000-square-foot office space in Bethesda. In addition to the Baltimore and Bethesda offices, Clark operates an equipment yard and an affiliate company, C3M Power Systems, both in Prince George’s County. Clark also plans to open a 128,000-square-foot office in McLean, Virginia.
The company has completed assorted, prominent projects in the region, including Nationals Park, the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the University of Maryland Medical Center Capital Region Medical Center, the Intercounty Connector Contract C and the Howard County Circuit Courthouse.
“Continuing to serve the region and harnessing the wealth of opportunities and talent that spans from Baltimore to Richmond requires a network of strategic locations,” said Robby Moser, Chief Executive Officer. “We are delighted to expand our office footprint throughout the region to meet the needs of our business, better serve our communities and provide greater opportunities for our team.”
BC&E welcomes three new members
Ecological Restoration and Management Inc. is a full-service commercial and ecological landscape contracting firm. ER&M has pioneered innovative sustainable landscaping for businesses and completed projects ranging from traditional and large-scale landscaping to wetland planting, reforestation, stream restoration, bioengineering, and site stabilization. https://er-m.com/
JCM Control Systems is a 100% minority-owned business enterprise delivering HVAC/R services. JCM specializes in Bas Building automation systems and in delivering innovative solutions that save energy for customers, including integrating efficient equipment into older systems and optimizing HVAC controls. https://jcmcontrols.net/home
Snap-Wall, Inc. is a 38-year-old family business that provides solutions for noise control. Snap-Wall’s services include initial evaluation, consulting services, design/planning, ordering the best materials for each project, professional installation, and independent product testing.
It is being described as the first national carbon standard for concrete.
In late March, the General Services Administration (GSA) imposed new limits on high carbon-emitting materials in major, federal construction projects. The new policy will require contractors to show the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of their concrete products are 20 percent lower than limits recommended by the New Buildings Institute. The policy also requires contractors to employ several environmentally preferable techniques to lower the carbon footprint of asphalt.
“This is a very new standard and, as of now, there is very little insight into exactly what will be required by subcontractors. However, the primary requirement will be carbon capture technology,” said Ted Bowes, President of Excell Concrete Construction.
Ready-mix suppliers, Bowes said, may increasingly need to use technologies such as CarbonCure – a process of injecting captured carbon dioxide into concrete during the mixing process. The added carbon dioxide both reduces the carbon footprint of the concrete and improves its compressive strength, according to CarbonCure. At least one local institution has added carbon capture requirements to its concrete procurements, Bowes said, and several local ready-mix suppliers have installed the technology.
Other carbon-reducing products are becoming part of projects.
Last summer, Belfast Valley Contractors poured 7,000 cubic yards of ECOPact at Georgetown University’s new 12-story residence on H Street. ECOPact’s embodied carbon is 40 percent lower than standard, Portland cement-based concrete.
“In addition to ECOPact, which we are seeing more of, there is a growing push to use Portland Limestone Cement (PLC) as a replacement for Type 1 and Type 2 cement that is commonly found in concrete,” said TJ Goloboski, CEO of Belfast Valley Contractors.
PLC increases the percentage of limestone in cement to 15 percent versus the five percent used in Portland cement, and meets the same performance specifications.
“I have seen some research that says if we were to replace all Type 1 and Type 2 cement in the U.S. with PLC, it would be approximately the equivalent of taking 1.75 million cars off the road,” Goloboski said.
The industry, however, still faces challenges in providing sustainable concrete. Lower carbon products still carry a price premium.
In addition, “the carbon capture application doesn’t work in superstructures, such as tunnel mixes or bridge mixes,” said William Dennison Jr., Construction Materials Department Manager for ECS Mid-Atlantic. “Those superstructures are looking for early strength and they use pretty high cementitious factors to get those high strengths for bridges to last. If you put carbon in them, they don’t get that strength as fast.”
Industry leaders, however, are pursuing other options to lower the carbon footprint of bridge and tunnel projects, such as using higher percentages of fly ash or slag in mixes or using carbon rods rather than steel for some supports, Dennison said.
Similarly, asphalt professionals are actively researching and implementing new processes to lower the environmental impact of their products.
“The reality is the asphalt industry has been pretty green for some time because of the use of recycled products in our mix – on average 25 percent of recycled asphalt paving or RAP,” said Bill Poole, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Asphalt Division and Demolition at Gray & Son.
Gray & Son personnel serve on several National Asphalt Paving Association subcommittees which are investigating other sustainable processes, such as warm-mix technology.
“It is essentially an additive that allows you to make asphalt at lower temperatures which reduces the amount of fuel you use,” Poole said. “We have found it also allows you to put in higher levels of recycled materials – another 5 to 7 percent – so you get a double benefit.”
The industry has identified used roofing shingles as an excellent material to include in asphalt production.
“By weight, a ton of shingle has between 16 and 23 percent liquid asphalt, whereas a ton of RAP has between 5.5 and 6.2 percent,” Poole said. “A really good way to keep shingles from going into landfills is grinding them up and putting them into blacktop.”
However, not every proposed sustainable practice — including some on the GSA’s list of preferred practices, such as recycling used plastics and rubber in asphalt mixes — has proven entirely successful. Adding recycled rubber and plastic to mixes is helpful in creating certain specialty products, such as surfaces for running tracks and other athletic facilities.
“But there has been a lot of failures in utilizing rubber and plastic,” Poole said. The process of including rubber and plastic in asphalt mix generates “blue smoke that goes into your baghouse to prevent emissions. That can do real damage. You have to be really careful or you could end up spending $50,000 to replace the bags in your baghouse.”
Scope of work: Design-build renovation of secure laboratory
BC&E Member companies involved: Matos Builders
Some projects show the clear benefits of really careful planning. In the case of the Covid Tissue Culture Laboratory project at the National Institutes of Health, eight months of planning enabled the project team to complete construction within four weeks and deliver a 10 percent savings to the client.
The project was small but highly challenging. A new NIH scientist required a custom lab to complete critical Covid-19 research. The lab would include a mass spectrometer, incubators, a bio-safety cabinet and other equipment, and it would have to comply with both equipment manufacturers’ specifications and the NIH Design Requirements Manual.
In addition, the space was located inside Building 33 “which is among the toughest buildings to work in at NIH,” said Matt Turner, Project Manager at Matos Builders.
To prevent any impact on highly sensitive research that was ongoing in adjacent labs, the project team would have to build barriers around their work, install air scrubbers, mop daily, clean tools before they entered and exited the site each day, minimize vibrations and adhere to other precautions. Workers would have to hold security clearances, submit to screenings as they arrived each day and be escorted at all times on site.
Those conditions created endless opportunities for things to go wrong. Failure to reserve escorts could nix a day’s work. Arriving with the wrong tools or other items could result in workers being denied access to the building or sent home early. Consequently, successful completion of the renovation hinged on detailed daily planning, careful selection of subcontractors and quickly resolving issues as they arose.
Turner, who had decades of experience building mission critical facilities, remained onsite throughout construction to address any challenges. “My approach to any issue is adapt, overcome, figure it out. I had intimate knowledge of the design process so I could look for solutions right away that have the least risk and the least cost impact.”
The electrical contractor on the project “has been a presence on the NIH campus in Bethesda for over 20 years,” Turner said. “Their foreman said this was the first project he had ever worked on that went so smooth and so quick.”
Ultimately, project work triggered just one change order – processing of a 10 percent reduction in the project cost, Turner said. “Through value engineering, we had been able to find a way to make all the additional equipment fit within the laboratory and provide the proper air exchanges with their existing mechanical equipment. That both reduced the cost and helped the construction schedule.”
BC&E welcomes two new members
HAZTEK Inc. is a professional safety services company. For the past 25 years, it has offered training, safety consulting and onsite safety oversight throughout North America.
Located in Elkridge, Snap-Wall Inc. provides a full range of sound solutions, including initial evaluations, consulting services, design/planning, materials procurement, professional installation, and independent product testing services. www.snap-wall.com
Demand rises for new manufacturing facilities
To satisfy a client’s need for a mere 6,000 square feet of new, manufacturing space, the team lead by DPR Construction had to successfully execute an extraordinarily complex, first-of-its-kind construction project.
The National Cancer Institute’s new T30 Cell Processing Facility on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus in Bethesda would become the country’s first large-scale cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices) facility that was fully prefabricated and assembled from multiple modules. In addition to providing essential manufacturing space for cell therapies, the unprecedented project would help NIH and its construction partners gain capabilities on modular construction in order to meet high-speed needs in the future.
“The biggest challenge was that we were essentially managing two projects simultaneously – the fabrication of the modules at the Germfree facility in Florida and the construction of the exterior structure in Bethesda,” said Ignacio Diaz, Senior Project Manager at DPR Construction. “We had to coordinate every detail of those parallel projects so that ultimately everything would fit together perfectly when we assembled the facility on site.”
Increased research and investment in life sciences has heightened demand for new, advanced manufacturing facilities in Maryland. At the same time, growing adoption of renewable energy technologies and early signs of reshoring projects are further driving up the need for new manufacturing facilities. That presents attractive opportunities for the construction industry but also the challenges of delivering sophisticated and sometimes groundbreaking projects, maintaining stringent quality standards, meeting intense speed-to-market needs, and overcoming supply chain obstacles.
Prefabbing a factory
“Oftentimes, people think of modular as a plug-and-play solution. It’s not,” said Abhishek Dhawan, Life Sciences Project Executive at DPR.
Even with meticulous project design, the DPR team needed to spend several days each month in Florida during the module fabrication to ensure that structures, building systems, manufacturing infrastructure and other elements would come together seamlessly, function perfectly and meet NIH’s precise needs.
“Then it takes a lot of sequencing and steps to assemble the building,” Dhawan said.
The T30 Cell Processing Facility was comprised of 10 oversized, prefabricated modules that housed cell manufacturing suites, cell processing suites, cleanroom lab space, cold storage space and offices. Although each module measured an average of 11 by 40 feet and weighed between 40,000 and 50,000 pounds apiece, they were not perfect, uniform rectangles and crews couldn’t simply slide modules into place next to each other without damaging gasketing that was designed to seal the modules together.
Consequently, DPR embarked on another first and created a 4D scheduling plan to detail every step, day-by-day involved in “putting this complex jigsaw together,” Diaz said.
That process included taking the top off the structural steel shell built on the NIH campus, bracing the exterior walls then completing a carefully choreographed sequence of rigging and hoisting the modules (sometimes up to 40 feet in the air) and placing them inside the structure. A crew of 10 to 15 carpenters worked in tandem with the riggers to build platforms for ductwork as the modules were installed “and then there was the army of people needed to install piping,” Diaz said. “There is a lot of conduit that needs to get terminated, a lot of wire that needs to get pulled, there is QA and QC that needs to happen throughout all of that so the work has to follow a cadence to be successful.”
New investors in manufacturing
While the T30 Cell Processing Facility project was a unique endeavor, construction of advanced manufacturing facilities – especially ones serving the life sciences industry – is becoming increasingly common in Maryland.
“The bulk of manufacturing projects that we have seen lately are in cell or gene therapy. But the sector is evolving. It’s not just pharma or end-user companies building them. There has been a huge change in both government and private equity funding coming to life sciences,” Dhawan said. “The Mid-Atlantic region is one of the fastest growing regions when it comes to these projects. The next three to five years are looking pretty strong for this sector.”
“One of the interesting trends in this sector is we are seeing a lot more small-scale manufacturing requirements – essentially lab bench to small-scale manufacturing all in one facility,” said Clare Archer, Vice President of Gilbane Building Company.
That trend both supports life sciences researchers and startup companies, as well as owners of underperforming office buildings.
“Owners in the commercial office market have seen an opportunity in life sciences and are repositioning their assets for life sciences companies who are in the post-incubator but pre-large-scale production stage. That’s been a really interesting new space and we are seeing it take off now,” said Archer, adding that Gilbane is currently assessing a handful of such projects.
Reshoring and renewables
Two other trends are also driving demand for new manufacturing space in Maryland.
First, pandemic-related supply chain challenges have convinced some manufacturers to open more operations in the United States. In March, United Safety Technology announced a $350 million plan to open a 735,000-square-foot medical-grade glove manufacturing facility at Tradepoint Atlantic.
“New, advanced technologies are making it easier for American manufacturers to compete [against offshore plants],” said Mike Galiazzo, President of the Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland. “United Safety Technology developed their automation systems in Malaysia and they are bringing them to the United States to set up their facility at Tradepoint.”
Second, the rise in renewable energy generation is expected to trigger multiple manufacturing projects in Maryland in the coming years. In December, the Public Service Commission approved increases in the total wind power that U.S. Wind and Orsted can develop off Maryland’s coast. That decision also requires the developers to create three, major manufacturing facilities in the state:
- A monopile facility to fabricate the subsea foundations for the wind turbines,
- A tower facility to create the steel towers that will hold the turbine blades, and
- An array cable facility that will manufacture the large, highly engineered power lines that will stretch between the turbines and link them to an offshore substation.
Gilbane has already landed the design-build contract for the Hellenic Cables Manufacturing Facility – a 580,000-square-foot building on a 35-acre site at Tradepoint Atlantic. However, those three named projects are only a portion of the upcoming manufacturing projects related to renewable energy, according to Archer.
“Another trend we are seeing in the Mid-Atlantic and in most of Gilbane’s national footprint is an increase in industrial projects related to renewables, whether they are direct EV factories or wind turbine parts, or industrial that is driven by that industry’s Tier 1 suppliers, such as battery production,” she said. “That is creating a real uptick in the market and we don’t anticipate that slowing at all… Renewable energy is really impacting the construction market right now. I have been in this industry for a long time and I am seeing fresh opportunities that we haven’t seen before. It’s exciting.”
The Climate Solutions Now Act, which was passed by Maryland’s General Assembly this spring, will have sweeping ramifications for the construction industry. While the overall emerging trends for construction are evident, how exactly the legislation will impact building design, retrofits, renewable energy installations, electric grid upgrades and transportation infrastructure will only be sorted out through a string of studies and ensuing debates over the next few years.
The bill requires Maryland to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) 60 percent economy-wide (compared to 2006 levels) by 2031 and reach net zero emissions by 2045. As part of that process, commercial buildings, multifamily buildings and state-owned buildings of 35,000 square feet or larger must begin reporting their energy use in 2025, cut their energy use and GHG emissions in 2025, cut those levels (compared to similar buildings) 20 percent by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2040. The bill exempts laboratory, industrial and agricultural buildings from those requirements.
For building owners, the first step is to complete energy audits of their properties, said Elizabeth Larson, Sustainability Engineer with Bala Consulting Engineers.
“Getting those metrics and identifying energy efficiency projects can not only save carbon emissions but also save money,” Larsen said. “Oftentimes, we see reductions in energy use of 10 to 15 percent.”
Those savings tend to come from core improvements, such as installing LED lighting, and retro-commissioning building systems.
“Through retro-commissioning, you often find that a building was never running the way it was designed because three engineers ago, someone decided to take a short cut and change some set points. Things cascaded from there and produced a very inefficient building,” said Andy Horning, Sustainability Leader at Bala.
However, achieving the 20 percent energy reduction in existing and new buildings, and eventually achieving net zero will require further initiatives. Some buildings will achieve major gains by replacing old HVAC equipment with high-efficiency systems, such as variable refrigerant flow systems. Rooftop solar installations could offset carbon impact of properties, especially those with roofs measuring 100,000 square feet or larger. For other buildings, newer products may deliver benefits.
“If you have a tall, skinny building, you only have a tiny roof and you can’t install enough panels to make any kind of difference in your energy use,” Horning said. “But if you have a whole, south-facing side of the building, you might be able to use photovoltaic glass.”
Ultimately, many building owners and developers will need to consider electric heat and hot water systems. Legislators removed requirements for an all-electric building code from the Climate Solutions legislation. However, the bill mandates that Maryland adopt the International Green Construction Code and tasked the Department of Labor Building Codes Administration with developing recommendations for an all-electric building code as well as recommendations on the fastest, most efficient way to decarbonize buildings. Interim reports are due January 2023.
The bill also establishes a Building Energy Transition Implementation Task Force to recommend programs, policies and incentives to subsidize retrofits of existing buildings, support building electrification and other GHG-reducing measures that don’t provide owners with a reasonable return on investment.
Patrick Morgan, Electrical Associate at James Posey Associates, described the approach as prudent. “The bill is written to deliver studies rather than just passing the buck onto a lot of owners and designers and say, ‘You figure it out and, by the way, your building is going to be two times as expensive in order to achieve these goals.’”
The results and implementation of those studies will have widespread impact on building owners in Maryland.
During testimony on the Climate Solutions Now Act, some presenters assessed that the bill would impact “1.5 billion square feet of construction space and the cost would be in the billions and billions of dollars to reach the 2030 target,” Richard Tabuteau, Managing Member of Tabuteau, LLC, said at the April BC&E Construction Blueprint Series webinar. “Those are anecdotal numbers but I am sure they are fairly accurate.”
Furthermore, decarbonizing building operations isn’t the only looming impact of the legislation on the construction industry.
The bill also mandates decarbonizing the transportation sector. Widespread adoption of electric vehicles will require commercial, government, multifamily and other buildings to be outfitted with EV charging infrastructure.
“It’s going to take a lot of studying by the power companies to make sure the EVs and PVs and all that site distribution, microgrid transaction infrastructure can come together on a site,” Morgan said. “They are going to have to figure out what a new, connected building looks like.”
Maryland’s construction industry will also need to prepare for much greater deployment of renewable energy installations.
“On a building-by-building basis, achieving net zero isn’t going to be feasible for every project,” said Sean Soboloski, Sustainability and Building Performance Project Manager at James Posey Associates. “If you have a high energy use building, like a laboratory, where the EUI [energy use intensity] is over 100, you can’t put enough solar on the roof… As we incrementally step our way towards net zero carbon emissions, there is going to be a point where technology is only going to get us so far in decreasing consumption. To really achieve our emissions goal, it will come down to offsets.”
In part, those offsets could be achieved by covering numerous, large rooftops in solar panels for either solar power purchase agreements (PPAs) or community solar projects. But to achieve that, the energy and construction industries will need to educate building owners on what kind of buildings make suitable sites.
“As an owner-operator of a solar array, the biggest challenge for us is finding a rooftop that will last 20-plus years,” Rick Kilbourne, Senior Manager of Luminace, said at the BC&E Construction Blueprint webinar.
Many old schools and other buildings with new roofs, however, make excellent sites for solar, he said.
“While there are plenty of rooftops up and down the I-95 corridor in Maryland for us to try to take advantage of from a net metering or community solar perspective, to have a chance of hitting the 2045 goal, we have to start looking at utility-scale installations,” Kilbourne added.
Consequently, more construction companies will need to develop expertise in solar installations. James Crisafulli, Division Manager at Rosendin Electric, said that expertise includes the ability to thoroughly assess site conditions and building structures for solar installations, assess electrical infrastructure onsite (including the size of the service, age of switch gear and whether a site has bi-directional breakers), and the dependability and bankability to execute a big ticket, high speed project.