What are Construction Services?
Construction services may feel like a broad term. After all, it doesn’t clarify much, which could lead to some confusion about the unique services we provide. Today’s blog is going to answer some of those questions—and give you a closer look into Summit’s Construction Services department.
Construction services can be many things, but one of the primary tasks that we at Summit perform is Construction Engineering Inspection. Construction Engineering Inspection—or CEI—first gained prominence in North Carolina as a result of the 1987 Highway Trust Fund. Due to the predicted peak in workload, the DOT foresaw a significant increase in construction project lettings. At the time, they were concerned about the volume of projects versus the possibility of continued employment of inspectors. Basically, the DOT was worried that the workload would not last forever and that if they hired many inspectors and technicians for the short term, there would be a labor shortage in the long term.
To address this concern, the Department of Transportation implemented a CEI process in the 1990s. The goal of this was to fill the labor gap by allowing contracted employees to perform inspection work on new roads and highways throughout the country, opening the door for private firms to begin supplying CEI inspectors. In North Carolina alone, there is upwards of forty firms that perform this vital service for infrastructure development—and Summit is one of the most prominent among them.
Beyond just CEI, our Construction Services department also handles Construction Management and Survey Verification. Our capabilities include construction staking, bidding services, contractor pre-qualification, contract administration, quality assurance, change order processing, final inspections, and more. In this month’s Summit Insights, you’ll learn all about Summit’s renowned Construction Services department, and the many responsibilities our team tackles on a day-to-day basis.
Summit’s Construction Services Department Background
Summit Design and Engineering Services got our start in the CEI business back in 2002 when we had only a single CEI technician. We’ve grown tremendously in the last two decades, becoming one of the leading Construction Engineering and Inspection firms in the southeastern US with a team of nearly 200 talented professionals. In fact, a 2020 survey of the CEI services conducted in North Carolina estimated that Summit’s CEI staff makes up between 13-14% of the total CEI staff working with the NCDOT. Our group has worked in every region of North Carolina through either on-call or project–specific contracts.
What is Construction Engineering Inspection (CEI)?
CEI, in short, is a method in which a private engineering firm monitors a construction project for an owner, overseeing construction for compliance to plans and specifications, material utilization, and overall workmanship on a contract.
CEI is important because it provides a set of eyes for a project that the owner can count on. These inspectors must verify that the project is being constructed according to the plans and desires of the owner while also balancing the responsibility of keeping the site safe and secure. The inspectors also provide contractors with a point of contact that is knowledgeable about on-site questions to assist with field adjustments. By keeping track of all work performed, the technicians ensure that the construction is legal, safe, and built according to design specifications.
The Difference Between Construction Materials Testing and Construction Engineering Inspection
At first glance, the difference between these two disciplines can be hard to spot. After all, they are similar in a lot of ways—and their services can even overlap! However, there are several critical differences between Construction Engineering Inspection and its close relative, Construction Materials Testing and Special Inspections (CMT/SI).
The biggest difference is that Construction Material Testing only involves material testing; this means they do not do other tasks, such as measuring or taking inventory of materials. Another large difference is that CMT/SI is a service that we normally provide to private clients, commercial projects and public institutions. This is because projects of this type have a different set of standards from the DOT. Ultimately, most commercial projects adhere to international & national building codes.
CEI technicians who do material testing also do measurements and ensure the project is built the way specs require. They have a broader range of responsibilities that go beyond a CMT/SI inspector, which we will explore below. It is true that our CMT/SI supplements our forces when working in the field, working alongside our CEI inspectors to certify the materials on-site.
The largest area of overlap between the two disciplines comes from private projects and developments that tie into existing DOT roadways. A lot of private developments (especially neighborhoods) have representatives, such as the HOA or developer, who may need streets maintained by DOT. For a road to qualify as DOT it must have a minimum of four houses; less than four, and the roadway will not qualify. In these cases, the street must meet DOT criteria for them to accept and maintain it, which means testing should be done before construction is completed.
Summit’s Construction Engineering Inspection Technicians
Summit’s Construction Services department comprises a range of technicians and their managers—Transportation Technicians level I through V, as well as Assistant Resident and Resident Engineers. These positions vary in level and increase in tandem with experience and education. The minimum qualification for Transportation Technician Level I is either a two-year college degree in a relevant field or four years of relevant experience in the field.
The DOT also has a two-year technician training program that provides those interested in becoming professional technicians with a means of pursuing the information and training required to become one. While Summit has had people graduate from this program (as well as people actively involved in the project), we also have a Summit training program that mirrors the DOT training. Summit Area Managers administer this program.
Becoming a technician also requires a great deal of specialized knowledge, technical expertise, strong communication skills, and sound judgment. After all, mastery over the materials and procedures is necessary to provide proper inspection services. Because of this, all Summit technicians need to obtain and maintain multiple NCDOT certifications: stone and soil sampling, soil density, asphalt inspection, asphalt density, concrete testing, and erosion control are among the basic certifications required of Summit employees.
Our higher-level technicians and engineers—including Level V Transportation Technicians, Assistant Resident Engineers, and more—generally perform a management role overseeing other teams of technicians. These responsibilities include safety, erosion control, conformity to plans and specifications, materials, communications, documentation, and project closeout.
As previously mentioned, our team performs a wide variety of construction services when deployed in the field. While our CEI department is sometimes the primary firm responsible for administering all of these tasks on some projects, others may only require assistance in the form of an Assistant Resident or a handful of technicians.
Some of the tasks we engage in include:
Our technicians’ partner with contractors and owners to ensure that safety is a number one priority on a project. This includes the travelling public, who may drive past or through a work zone; we must maintain and control the traffic control devices as well as watching construction activities on-site to ensure the safety of our own employees as well as our contractors. Together, we work to address any safety concerns and eliminate hazards to human health and wellbeing.
Our teams monitor the installation and maintenance of erosion control devices. We do periodic inspections of erosion control devices and fill out reports after rain events, which are then provided to contractors. These contractors perform the task of cleaning and preparing the devices so that they’re ready for the next event.
On the environmental side, we also monitor the compliance of any environmental permits associated with construction projects. When a project is near a body of water, such as a stream or river, it will likely require environmental permits. It is our job to monitor contractors and their compliance with these permits. This is a crucial service that protects our natural environment, ensuring that any possible pollution or degradation is mitigated.
Every material that’s incorporated into a project must either come from a certified supplier, be tested and approved on-site, or be sampled and tested in a lab off site. This means that every stone, brick, and layer of concrete must be certified before it can be used, a task that Summit technicians perform and document.
Our technicians must communicate regularly with contractors about any work related to an ongoing project. We also communicate with the owner to address any needs, desires, and challenges. This communication often comes in the form of monthly or periodic meetings conducted both on and off the project site. From time to time, we also open dialog with property owners who may be affected by our projects; it is crucial that we are able to accurately and amicably address their concerns. Sometimes, our team gathers information about local homeowners and impacted populations. Often, we provide the results of these surveys to the DOT—other times, we send in a specialist to discuss any issues the property owners may have.
Construction Management Services
Maintaining the timetable for a project is one of the most important services we can provide. Delay should be avoided at all costs to lessen the burden on civilians and keep the cost of construction reasonable. Performing this task varies from project to project. For example, on our higher-level projects, we need to keep tabs on the schedule and identify when the contractor may be falling behind. Once we identify any potential issues, we can then discuss challenges and solutions with both the contractor and the owner. Once solutions are explored, we utilize various methods of accelerating the project so that it can be done on time.
All aspects of the project must be documented for the project records. This is a tedious part of the project, but it is a large part of Summit’s construction services involvement. We are responsible for a daily field report which contains what’s happening on the project in their area. The equipment used, the manpower available, the weather conditions, discrepancies in plans or specifications, conversations that were conducted—these are the cornerstones of project records.
Our inspectors also have to monitor the various pay quantities and item qualities utilized, including details like material length, width, and weight. This necessary recordkeeping exists so that we can add these used materials into a monthly cost estimate. This ensures that contractors are paid, leading to our next critical documentation: certified payrolls.
Certified payrolls are a report submitted once a month by the contractors that identifies all the manpower present at a job site by name, job classification, and hours worked on the project. We must cross-check these with our daily field reports to ensure that that the laborers, operators, and foreman working get paid according to the proper pay scale.
As we reach the end of a project, our professional inspectors put together a punch-list identifying any items of work that the contractor needs to redo or address for any reason, such as incomplete or incorrectly completed tasks. This is to ensure the finalization and completion of the project.
As contractors work through the list, we then schedule a final inspection. This Is a meeting and walkthrough of the project by our CEI team, the owner, and often the relevant DOT or municipality; occasionally, the contractor will also participate in this final inspection. We walk through the project and identify any discrepancies in the plans and specifications, ensuring that everything is installed properly, that there are no damages to the project, and more. This normally generates another list that the contractor must address before we can close out the project.
We also take this opportunity to review project records. We want to make sure we have everything we need as this is when we are preparing to make our last and final payment to the contractor. Once we receive all the information we require, we pay the contractor, and the construction project is considered finished.
Our last responsibility is the Audit. The DOT audits our records on every project. This means that they go through every form, survey, permit file and record we’ve assembled to ensure that we’ve collected and completed all the proper documentation required by both state and federal governments. This final step is necessary to ensure that funding reimbursements go where they’re supposed to, allowing everyone to be paid.
Beyond these tasks, we also assist with contractor recommendations, bid administration, technical specification and document creation, development reviews, pre-construction activities, and more.
Another major service our construction service department provides is survey verification.
Our Construction Engineering and Inspection department works with our Surveying and Geomatics team to provide survey verification services. We can verify all sorts of contractor staking, including wet utilities, drainage structures, pipe culverts and wall structures, bridges, roadways, and more.
Survey verification is something Summit began pursuing in 2014. Its prevalence is owed to design-build projects we have been part of, such as the Monroe Expressway. When working on this project, we were asked to do ‘survey grade verification.’
Recent increases in technology have changed the way surveys are conducted, even down to the way they look. When you think of surveying, you may imagine wooden stakes in the ground marking a project perimeter. As technology has progressed, staking has become primarily a robotic endeavor.
Almost all modern survey equipment possesses a GPS on it. They don’t need to spend money or effort putting stakes in the ground and instead use a survey model developed by an engineer. The DOT also provides us with GPS rovers, which we can use for inspections. Summit and others have pioneered this service and currently work with over two dozen rovers!
Another technology we utilize is drones. We fly our projects monthly to document progress and produce marketing materials. The drone footage we gather is used in presentations and conversations with local communities to detail the work we are doing and answer any operational questions.
Construction services are broad and often encompass more work than we can describe. That’s why Summit encourages field trips for engineers and designers to get a ‘first-hand’ look at the work our field technicians are doing, every day. We believe that field experience is crucial to the development of office personnel and gives them a unique perspective of the work being done daily.
Extreme heat, severe cold—field staff are considered frontline workers who continue to build our infrastructure even in unpleasant weather, and they deserve recognition for their hard work and dedication to the craft. Our entire firm can be enriched by learning about the duties they perform—and we hope you’ve learned something, too!