Sometimes I feel like I been tied to the whippin’ post…—from “Whipping Post,” by Gregg Allman
Some weeks are just like that. You get an invitation from a friendly GC to bid a project that looks fairly basic and the due date is something like a week and a half—far out enough that it won’t intrude too much on your regular management duties, so you take the bait and download the plans. At first glance the project looks pretty straightforward and the plans look pretty typical. This is the same scenario that befell me several weeks back—a ridiculous affair that steadily degenerated from what promised to be a common task to an unmitigated disaster in gradual downward steps masquerading in the form of addenda. I share my experience here solely as an offer of commiseration to the many of this readership who have been similarly abused.
The project in this particular case was a new middle school consisting of two identical two-story classroom buildings, a one-level administration building and a multipurpose building (auditorium/basketball court/band—you know). The shell was 90 percent masonry, so the majority of my work was interior—pretty simple, right? Well, I’m one of those old-timers who likes to have a backup set of paper plans in addition to running two screens, so after a quick scan of the floor plans, I ordered an architectural set for each building right away so I could get started on a takeoff the following day.
Upon receiving the paper plans, I discovered the first flaw. The wall types page carried a typical matrix of wall components: sound insulation, moisture-resist board, tile backer, rated walls, impact board, multiple layers—a whole slew of optional elements to flag the various wall locations on the floor plan pages. Trouble was, only one of the buildings, the admin building, had wall-type indicators flagging the different walls on the floor plan, which duped me into thinking that they all had. It was a serious omission that threatened to severely delay my work.
I placed a call to the GC pre-con guy who tersely reminded me that the protocol was to submit an RFI (the deadline for them was three days away, plus five days turnaround for answers) and wait for a reply. I explained what the omission was and how critical it was to my estimate. “Oh that,” he chuckled. “We’re expecting an addendum presently that will clear that up.”
OK. I can still do a lot of the takeoff based on best assumptions and do add-on conditions when the addendum comes. But that’s extra work, and if the addendum will issue shortly (my GC friend did say presently), it makes more sense to just do the admin building then go into a holding pattern and turn out some pending management work that will allow for clear sailing once the needed info comes through.
And so I violated a cardinal rule for estimators: Words like presently, or soon or shortly are subject to interpretation by the user, and never to be depended on. After two days of waiting for the addendum, I could no longer restrain myself from calling the GC again. He sounded predictably annoyed as he informed me that the delinquent info was being distributed as we speak (his words). Now, as we speak is slightly less abstract than presently, but in the context of construction vernacular, it’s still pretty loose-y goose-y. So I waited, stewing in my skepticism. Of course the email hit my screen at 10 minutes before quitting time, so I hung around after hours to peruse it. Bad news: The addendum covered only civil and MEP revisions—no floor plan pages. The choice now was between apoplexy and alcohol. No need to stop on the way home—there was plenty of ice in the freezer, as I recalled.
Next morning, my email spit up an announcement for addendum #2. I quickly downloaded it and was pleased to discover revised plan pages with wall type indicators for the multipurpose building. My gratification was short-lived, however, upon finding no revised pages for the classroom buildings—the two buildings with the most takeoff and presumably the most numerous variations in the wall types. Rather than blow a gasket, I began taking off the MP building, resigned to making piecemeal headway as I received piecemeal revisions. And just like clockwork, I received addendum #3 the following Monday—complete with the flagged walls for the classroom buildings. Now it should be noted that each of the three addenda referred to a required bid form that had not yet been issued, and firmly stated that the bid date had not changed. That bid date was three days away now—still doable, but the clock was ticking.
Refusing to be dispirited by the absurd delays, I plowed through the estimate, harangued my vendors into same-day pricing, and assembled a detailed proposal by the afternoon before bid day. Although I felt pretty pleased with my work-product, the nagging awareness that that stupid bid form had not yet issued spoiled the self-satisfaction.
Predictably, the form came at the end of the day via addendum #4. I was beside myself. It required several alternates, including manipulation of different wall types, phased work (construction of one of the classroom buildings was to be delayed a year!), added sound insulation at all ceilings, sound board at the auditorium, and so on.
I immediately sat down at the computer, addressed an email to the architect and composed a tirade nearly identical to the one that Clark Griswold recited about his boss when he’d found his Christmas bonus consisted of a membership in the jelly-of-the-month club.
“I admire your use of the language.” It was my boss standing behind me, perusing my diatribe. “And I completely sympathize,” he continued. “But don’t hit send.”
I worked late that night, and I bought a new bag of ice on the way home.
Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager working in the Phoenix area.