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First Time LEED Construction Project Manager Beats Gold and Helps Build Schuchart’s Green Portfolio: Interview with Joe Giaudrone

Joe_Giaudrone2-FIX In mid 2007, George Schuchart committed to integrating sustainability into the way Schuchart approached its role as a general contractor. With Parson’s PR and O’Brien & Company, they embarked on a process to turn that commitment into reality. Three short years later, in a challenging climate for the construction industry, they’ve just completed the Bastyr University Student Village, certified Platinum under LEED for Homes, on-time and on-budget. They have also been selected as the contractor for the new Bullitt Foundation headquarters, pursuing the Living Building Challenge.

Joe Giaudrone joined Schuchart in 2007 as an assistant project manager. He was given the opportunity to cut his teeth on the company’s first LEED for Homes project, targeting Gold. His thorough style and tenacious attention to detail contributed to the project’s Platinum achievement and earned him an O’Brien & Company Hummingbird Award. Alistair Jackson of O’Brien & Company followed up with Joe to find out how this project had tested and developed his capacity as a construction project manager.

To start us off, Joe, can you give our readers a thumbnail of this project?  JOE: We built 11 student housing “cottages” and one support services building on 4.5 acres at Bastyr University, located near Saint Edwards Park in Kenmore. The cottages are 4,500 sq.ft., three-story buildings that can accommodate up to 12 residents. Each resident has their own private bedroom and private bathroom with a shower. Residents share additional study areas, a great room, and a large kitchen fit for a food network cooking show.

What excited you about getting the project? This project was a real treat for me! First and foremost I was excited to manage my first LEED project; Schuchart gave me the opportunity to participate in and manage the LEED process. What made it even more special was the location. I was raised in the neighborhood; my childhood home is just a mile away through the woods, and currently I live two miles away. I was pleased to have the opportunity to complete such a monumental project for both Schuchart and a place with such personal significance for me.

LS20100623_bastyr_006 What made you nervous? I was nervous for many of the same reasons I was excited. This was the first LEED project I’d been involved in so I anticipated a steep learning curve. It was Schuchart’s first opportunity to participate in a LEED for Homes project and they were entrusting me with a lot of responsibility. I felt like there was a lot at stake and a lot to gain for both Schuchart and myself.

What role did you personally play in the project? As the Assistant Project Manager, I managed submittals, RFIs, office and field communication. I was also involved in field engineering, and our quality management and quality control processes. And as I mentioned earlier, I had full responsibility for managing the LEED aspect of the project.

What challenges did you face? Familiarizing myself with the LEED for Homes rating system and really nailing down the general contractor’s role in the process was the first challenge. Then we had to develop a plan for ensuring all LEED features were properly installed during construction, and to track and acquire the necessary documentation. Another challenge we faced was how to deal with subcontractors who were intimidated by and/or new to the LEED process.

And how did you face these challenges? I read the whole LEED for Homes rating system before we got started and spent a lot of time on the USGBC website understanding how the process works. We were engaged early in the project, so we were at the table with the architect, Collins Woerman, during the design process. Being familiar with the Rating System really helped me understand how and why certain design details were included. Because I had studied ALL the credits, I was even able to pick out some possible credits we could easily pursue during construction, which the architect hadn’t picked up on.

O’Brien & Company, as you know, was our LEED for Homes Provider, and you really helped with planning for implementation. I especially appreciated the tools you provided to clarify which consultant, contractor or sub is responsible for which credits, when they need to be initiated and completed and what the verification requirements are. Once I understood the documentation requirements, we realized we could integrate the LEED performance and documentation requirements right into our regular submittal process. This put it into a framework that both Schuchart and our subcontractors were familiar with, avoiding a lot of the perceived burden of LEED documentation that construction teams seem to dread.

Any lessons learned you want to share from the project? Get started on the LEED process early, VERY early. I can't say this enough. Other lessons learned:

  • Make sure to pursue all the credits that are easy to obtain – the low hanging fruit – that make sense for the client and project. The one thing that I am most impressed with about the Bastyr project it that we were able to obtain a LEED Platinum rating without including big ticket items generally thought to be necessary to achieve Platinum. There are no solar panels, no geo-thermal system, no grey water reuse systems – those are all great but they weren’t in the budget. The target for this project was Gold, but we had a good cushion of “Maybe” points that we had control of in the construction phase. Through early planning, good team communication and careful construction management, we were able to capture almost all those points, exceeding our goal.
  • Communication is really key. Make sure subcontractors are aware of the LEED requirements associated with their particular scopes of work from the get go. That starts with the office staff and the estimators, making sure they understand requirements for materials control, scheduling, and submittals. But it also has to go right down to the laborers. I can tell you, walking the site with a group of non-English speaking insulation installers, showing them what Grade One batt installation looks like in pictures and in the walls themselves was time well spent. Noone had held them to that standard before – if we hadn’t taken the time to show them and check them, they would have done the same job they’ve always done. But once they knew what was expected and how to get there, it just became part of the process.
  • Develop a good plan for documenting and tracking the LEED credits. Start a file at the beginning of the project, label and file everything as it comes in – after you make sure it includes the information you need for LEED. It’s much easier to chase down a vendor the week they deliver (and before they’ve been paid) than months later when the project is over.

From this vantage point, what positive outcomes occurred for Schuchart as a result of building this project? The project has provided a wealth of experience in the LEED process, and I can share that with the rest of our team. We had to figure out a lot of solutions in the field; more efficient ways to meet the LEED performance requirements, like running our wall sheathing long so the seams were in the middle of the band instead of at the top plates. This eliminated the need for a lot of expensive peel-and-stick sealing material. It took time and a change of construction approach to figure that out, but from now on, it will be common practice for us – better performance, less cost. This gives us a competitive advantage on future projects, green or not.

Schuchart has also received quite a bit of publicity from being part of the project. It is definitely a feather in our cap. We hope that our success on the Bastyr project leads us to more such projects in the future.

LS20100623_bastyr_008 How about for the owner? Bastyr University has also received a great deal of public attention for the project. Even USGBC was impressed that we aimed for Gold and got Platinum. That doesn’t happen often. It has been a great opportunity for Bastyr to showcase their commitment to promoting sustainability in human terms – a healthy life style and healthy living.

How does this project fit into Schuchart’s corporate vision/mission/business plan? The current trend in the construction industry is going towards more “green” projects and Schuchart would like to be at the cutting edge of this movement. This project was the perfect opportunity for us to gain experience needed to become an industry leader in the green movement and to demonstrate that by greening the way you think about and run your business, you make it easier to build greener buildings.

What tips would you share to a green building contractor who wants to do their very best? Any tips for owners wanting successful green building projects? I’ve touched on this earlier regarding challenges and lessons learned. Get started with LEED early! Study it to identify the credits that will reap the most reward with the minimum impact on cost. If you wait, you'll miss opportunities. And once more, as cliché as it might sound: Communicate!Good communication is key when it comes to maximizing efficiency, minimizing costs, and achieving the project’s goals, whether these goals are associated with LEED or any other aspect of the project.

Joe Giaudrone began his construction career as a carpenter for a local Seattle-based general contractor. His goal to transition to construction management was realized when he joined Schuchart Corporation as an Assistant Project Manager in 2007. Joe holds a Bachelors Degree in Sociology and Anthropology and has completed the Certificate Program in Construction Management at the University of Washington. This interview was conducted by Alistair Jackson, LEED AP, CSBA. Alistair is Principal in Charge of O’Brien & Company’s Residential Technical Services, and is a LEED for Homes Rater, LEED for Homes Faculty, Energy Star Verifier and Performance Tester, an ARCSA Accredited Professional, and a Built Green Verifier. Laura Swimmer is the Photographer for the Student Village Project.

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