Dig This With Deb

A column to tell people about the building process written by Deb Blanchard

If you happen to be strolling down Island Street and notice an odd, three dimensional brick wall being built to the left of the gates that open into the library job site, what you are looking at is a pre-construction mock-up or sample panel. During our design development phase, the architect explained to the Library Construction Committee that full scale sample panels or mock up boards would be built by the various trades to allow the design team to see the actual selected materials, finishes and patterns prior to their actual installation on the building and to perform air and water infiltration tests. The common sense behind this saves time and money in the field to catch a problem on a small scale rather than discover a serious flaw on the actual building. Giving credence to the popular saying: “You can fix it now on the drafting board with an eraser or you can fix it later on the construction site with a sledge hammer.”

The current mock up at the library site highlights the bricks and masonry to be utilized by Cenedella Masonry out of Milford, Mass. First the mockup is oriented parallel to the current building to capture the correct lighting. Then the bricks are placed to demonstrate how the bricks will be laid at corners and in runs so the design team can compare to the existing Carnegie portion brick pattern. Matching brick color and patterns is no easy task. Rick Cenedella described the types of bricks to be used on our job during a field meeting and proposed an alternative corner pattern to one of our architects Meliti Dikeos. Because the architects work with samples, which may or may not end up being available at the time of installation, the final selection of brick color and style must be carefully examined onsite to see how it will look on a larger scale.

Another important function of this particular panel is to test the performance of the proposed exterior wall system to be sure it is watertight and performs well under our New England weather conditions. When the field tests were performed, our Envelope Commissioning Agent Josh Kivela from Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger was on hand to verify the results. If tweaks are needed, now is the time to discover this. The Envelope Agent is responsible to make sure that basically all the parts that make up the outside of building (or the envelope) are as weather tight as possible.

While the mock up was designed to hold a sample window, the team has instead decided to install one on the building itself and test it in place. Once given the green light, the remaining windows can be ordered. In the long run building mock ups save money and time in not having to reject a full shipment of windows after installing them and then testing them only to find them undesirable.

Our project will have other mockups as the work progresses to ensure that we are getting the quality products and installations specified in the bid documents. Besides the windows, there will be curtainwall and courtyard walk way elements to be tested.

Inside the building the materials and systems will be tested by Bob Goosens of WSP Flack + Kurtz who been have hired as the Building Energy or MEP (Mechanical Electrical Plumbing) Agents. All manner of tests are performed to ensure that our inside operating systems work properly.

In addition to testing using mock up models, the library has also retained the services of an independent company who field test all manner of materials on site to make sure they meet the correct standards. UTS (Universal Testing Service) of Massachusetts in Stoneham are doing periodic testing and filing reports on such things as: reinforcing steel strength, concrete compressive strength, soil compaction and density, and sub grade base conditions for the paving. All things that contribute to a safe and strong building to last for generations.

I even have my own special cadre of testers’ onsite now, albeit unpaid. Over the years, I’ve collected many delicious sounding dessert recipes, which I cannot eat due to allergies. So each week for the construction meeting I bake up a selection, which the workers are diligently sampling and offering their constructive comments. The winners will be featured at our grand opening when everyone will be invited to see the amazing results of all the testing, both food and building!

Photo: Mason Rick Cenedella (left) discusses brick placement for the sample panel behind him with Clerk of the Works Mike Luongo (orange jacket) and Tappe architect Meliti Dikeos (far right).