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Construction Administration & Management – What It’s Really Like

Early in my civil engineering career, when I heard the words construction administration, an image that came to mind was standing in the sun on a warm summer day observing as excavators, ‘dozers, and graders built something in the dirt similar to what I did as a kid with my Tonka toys. I imagine this would get boring after a while, but real life construction admin rarely does. In fact, there is very little opportunity to have that kind of free time, as often a day headed in one direction is quickly detoured by one unexpected development or another. Aside from the immediate construction issues that occur, many routine tasks will keep you occupied, including preparation of the daily report of activities, confirming quality control testing is performed and maintaining testing records, documenting any field changes to the plans, verifying quantities and reviewing contractor pay requests, reviewing submittals and shop drawings, facilitating a weekly construction meeting, and preparation of change orders, if necessary.

Night work: using a grinder to remove existing asphalt pavement
Night work: using a grinder to remove existing asphalt pavement

Construction administration provides a great opportunity to grow as an engineer. Often a project can be designed to work on paper, but not so well in the field. Construction administration gives a firsthand lesson in constructability. As an engineer, it is often easy to forget the contractor is looking for the simplest, most efficient way to construct a project. So, keep it simple. The more complicated the design, the more the project will cost to construct. Observing construction also gives the engineer a better handle on work flow and production rates. This helps during design when establishing a project’s construction duration. It is also helpful to look back on past production rates, when reviewing a proposed schedule by the contractor prior to construction commencing and then tracking throughout the life of the project.

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Construction administration provides an opportunity to encounter new resources for design. Contractors are a wealth of knowledge that can be tapped into for future help on design development and often innovative ways of approaching a project. Throughout my career, I have met and worked with some great contractors who worked with the design team as a partner. Maintaining this kind of relationship throughout the course of the project makes construction admin a pleasant experience. However, the majority of construction projects will still provide situations where good resolution and communication skills are needed, regardless of the partnering relationships within the project team.

Several aspects of past construction projects really stand out for me. A recent construction project I worked on included the element of blasting. We encountered bedrock that prevented installation of underground utilities, and when all other effort to remove the persistent rock failed, the final choice was blasting. I’d always hoped to work on a project with blasting, and now I got to experience it firsthand.

Another interesting feature of construction admin is the opportunity to spend time in a unique location and, for me, that has included places like Friday Harbor, Washington, and Ashland, Oregon.

Ashland Municipal Airport paving
Ashland Municipal Airport paving

The final reward at the conclusion of construction is the opportunity to see the design on paper actually built and witnessing the different elements come together as a completed project.

Grants Pass Airport
Grants Pass Airport

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