Software Solutions Help Put Baseball Back in the Nation’s Capital
More than a century old, Clark Construction Group, LLC, is one of the United States’ most experienced construction service providers, with more than $4 billion in annual revenue and projects throughout the country. The Bethesda, MD, firm supports its projects with teams of highly trained construction professionals and specialists to ensure that partnering, estimating, purchasing, scheduling, engineering, safety, and community relations go smoothly throughout the construction process to produce quality, award-winning projects.
For this project, Clark would join with Hunt Construction Group of Indianapolis and Smoot Construction Company of Washington, DC. The combined portfolio of these three firms includes construction of 11 of the past 16 Major League Baseball stadiums built in the United States.
Speed and accuracy
The city of Washington, DC, and their new Major League Baseball franchise the Washington Nationals were looking for one of those award-winning projects: a brand new baseball stadium that would showcase the team, blend in with the capital cityscape, and revitalize the Southeast neighborhood. Plus, they wanted the ballpark ready for play on opening day in 2008.
Most major league ballparks take 36 months of design and construction. Nationals Park, a 41,000 seat stadium with a $611 million budget and “green” aspirations, should certainly have taken that long. However, using a unique design and build strategy that had one section of the park still being planned while construction started on a previous section, Clark would have only 23 months from groundbreaking to offering to complete the new ballpark.
Clark wanted every edge in the shortened timeframe and looked for a computing solution that would make its information management more efficient and its communications more streamlined—anything that would keep its managers and builders working on site rather than shuffling papers in the office.
Move the construction office to the ballpark job site
Using Latista Field software equipped Motion LE1700 tablet PCs, Clark was able to do just that. The rugged, book-sized, portable computers could work on- and offline, allowing information to be created and saved electronically on the job site and then synchronized later, at the office or wherever an Internet connection was available. The tablets also had built-in digital cameras for photo documentation, and the software could recognize handwriting and speech, convert them to electronic text, and even automatically correct spelling. By uploading drawings and plans into the tablets, architects and engineers could access them instantly in the field, mark them on screen with changes, and share those changes with other users when the software synchronizes.
The systems were perfect for the punch-list quality control portion of the construction process. Previously, an architect, engineer or inspector would use a pen and paper to inspect the building and make notes. Then they would go back to the office and retype the notes into a spreadsheet, which could only be managed on office computers or as a paper copy. To communicate issues with the more than 100 subcontractors on the project an engineer would then have to go through the spreadsheet and create work orders to send out by email or phone; reports would have to be assembled manually for anyone who wanted one.
With Latista Field, the notes were automatically transcribed and organized, and work orders or reports could be created at the push of a button. “Having the data available nightly was much better than the old-fashioned way, which might take days or weeks” said Matt Haas, Project Executive for Clark. “And with Excel there’s a lot of opportunity for information to get lost or mishandled; there’s a lot of cut-and-paste and retyping. With Latista, we could do it all with a few clicks.”
Thirty-five Latista software end users, consisting of 20 HOK architects and 15 Clark-Hunt-Smoot engineers, shared 20 Motion tablet PCs on the stadium job site. Other users, including project owners and more than 100 subcontractors, were able to access information from their own offices through Latista’s exclusive web portal and via emailed reports. Latista‘s easy to use software interface meant that even novice and occasional users needed just fifteen minutes of training time.
Haas added that, though this was his first experience working with a tablet PC and Latista Field software, he saw it as a great new development. “I’m surprised tablets have taken so long to get to the industry,” he said. “The computers always worked and were ready to go and were synced up. I definitely think this is the way to go as tablets get smaller, lighter, and more durable.”
A time-saving home run
Using the Motion LE1700 PCs and Latista Field software, Clark was able to cut turnaround time, decrease staffing needs, reduce chances for error, and improve collaboration with everyone involved in the project. They managed tens of thousands of punch list issues in only four weeks, and delivered Nationals Park on time in March 2008 and within the $611 million budget. The stadium exceeded environmental expectations and was awarded silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the US Green Building Council. Notably, the project was awarded Washington Building Congress Craftsmanship Awards for underpinning, foundations, and excavation; cast-in-place concrete; and structural steel and was also named Best Overall Project in the Design-Build Institute of America’s Mid-Atlantic Region for 2008.
Clark employees were pleased with how easy information management became with Latista software. “Without the solution it would have taken more time or more people to manage the data and meet the tight project timeline,” said Weiser. “The older method would have taken at least three times as long (if not longer) for the data management portion.”
Since work site data was already uploaded to the system, Clark was also able to cut back-office staff by half and save time and money that would normally be spent transcribing notes and moving papers to resolve punch list issues. “It definitely saved us time,” said Haas. “We didn’t have to do as much data entry where we would need a bunch of people typing stuff in.”
Latista also helped by creating a standard language for punch lists. Under the pen and paper system, an architect would walk the job site and have to describe places and issues in his own words. When subcontractors would try to follow up with corrections, they might miss a reference point or get turned around, leading to confusion and more delays. “With Latista,” said Haas, “there were standard symbols and shortcuts that really cut down on inaccuracies and confusion.”
Clark engineer Todd Weiser agreed that the mobile and web-based software saved a lot of time and hassle in communications for the project. “I could run a report of all issues in one area, and turn it around to subs within five minutes. The owner could be remote and want a report, so I could do that and then send a completely different report to a remote subcontractor with just a few more clicks. Instead of a three-day turnaround on reports, we could turn it around that day.”