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Big Bulging Budget

A Study in Time Management

You’ve heard rumblings about this gargantuan hotel project for months, maybe years, but nothing had ever come of it. It was rumored to consist of a 40-floor high-rise tower destined to be planted smack-dab in the middle of downtown, just a stone’s throw away from your office (oh, and be careful about throwing stones; the entire skin is said to be glass). But lately it’s been crickets, and the age of COVID-19 has made you a skeptic. A good 90% of your backlog consists of healthcare work, and downtown already seems saturated with hotels.


However, just two weeks ago, your estimating team unexpectedly received a request to budget the interior framing and drywall on this mammoth project. And you, having no ongoing commitments at that point, bravely volunteer to take it on.


Now, you know from experience that these hotel projects are typically quite repetitious in nature, so you are not intimidated by the enormous size. And, from a purely perfunctory overview, your assumptions seem to be correct: Although huge, the guestroom levels look to be nearly identical, and you hope that the takeoff of one floor will provide the parent for a dozen children or more. There are a couple of other good indications that the work load will be easily managed. Several floors are reserved for parking. They will consist of repeating elevator cores and a few utility and service rooms. Also, the podium—lobbies, retail and amenities—look pretty generic, not the ornate attempts at Bellagio replications that typically adorn more developed hotel drawings. Prognosis: Even though it is a behemoth, two weeks seems like an excessive chunk of time to devote to such a conceptual set of drawings that lends itself to such easy duplication. You could be more productive squeezing in a small project before tackling the monster.


And so that’s exactly what you do. You jump on a one-level office TI that had caught your eye. You put Hotel Gargantua on the back burner and concentrate on some low-hanging fruit instead. Trouble is, that easy TI that looked like a few days’ work took most of the first week due to multiple addenda. By Thursday afternoon you are renaming pages on the hotel project and feeling a twinge of anxiety. There are more atypical levels than you recall, and you see that even the repeating levels have different deck heights. Nothing to get alarmed about, just an annoyance that will slow you down a bit. You start plugging away on taking off the levels that will be duplicated; sheer volume will give you a sense of accomplishment. By Friday noon you are making good headway. Since the plans are lacking wall type indications, you are able to assign your own basic six wall types—typical assemblies and conditions learned from taking off many hotels in the past. Best of all, there are no problematic details to hinder you. In fact, the volume of takeoff you’ve produced in one day gives you back your confidence that you can hit the due date (a week from Monday) without working the weekend.


Ah, but Monday, Monday—can’t trust that day. Monday morning you receive a narrative created by the design team, one that changes your wall types and adds a boatload of details and finishes. Still, it’s no hill for a climber. A few extra-long days should take care of it. Then, on Tuesday, you receive a request from the GC for an alternate to go to framing and EIFS in lieu of stand-alone CMU on the podium. That’s a bit over the top. You call to ask for more time, but he doesn’t pick up. Then you get an email from him thanking you for “stepping up to the plate.” He says he’s got a critical meeting scheduled with the design team, and he implies that he does not have other coverage.  So much for begging extra time.


So you bite the bullet and work the long hours and weekend to get it done by Monday noon. You breathe a sigh of relief when you email the proposal, only to get a slap-in-the-face auto-reply: “I’ll be out of the office until next week …”


Come to think of it, he didn’t say when his critical meeting was. Buck up. You just learned another tough lesson in estimating: Always expect the unexpected.

Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager working in the Phoenix area.

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