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Getting What You Paid For

School districts are spending more on complex building systems, yet some find they are not getting the performance they expected. Thus, education clients are becoming more interested in verifying the installation and performance of their technology systems prior to final acceptance. This quality assurance process, known as commissioning, can ensure that technology systems are designed, installed, tested, and capable of being operated and maintained to perform as intended.

Many building commissioning activities span the entire construction process from pre-design through construction and acceptance. Although this may be desirable, education clients may not be willing to pay one more fee for work that should be done correctly the first time. However, retaining an independent commissioning agent after the project is completed can be money well spent.

For example, a school district in the Midwest opened a new high school and middle school this year and experienced problems with its technology systems from the start. An investigation by an independent commissioning agent revealed several major deficiencies in the installation of the technology systems — missing equipment components, substitution of less expensive equipment than that which was bid, and equipment configured improperly. The cost to rectify the identified problems totaled about $82,000. The agent's fee turned out to be a wise investment on the part of the school district.

The commissioning agent (CA) becomes the “keeper of the gate” when it comes to reviewing the technology specifications and installation for compliance with the school's intent. The CA is an objective advocate for a school, and ideally an independent third party.

Duties of a commissioning agent:

  • Reviews technology plans and specifications.

  • Reviews bid documents and change orders.

  • Develops checklists of equipment and systems to be commissioned.

  • Assembles a commissioning team (contractor, sub-contractors, etc.).

  • Verifies that all hardware and

Systems that should be commissioned include building wiring infrastructure; data networking systems; telephone systems; video systems; speaker, paging/intercom and clock systems; security systems; and wireless systems.

A number of reports have found that technology commissioning can range from 10 to 25 cents per square foot. The owner should establish an allowance to cover the cost of commissioning as part of the bid documents. Additionally, the owner should maintain a reasonable reserve of contract funds until all critical issues have been resolved. Do not rely on the warranty period to resolve critical issues.

Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected].

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