Special projects may be the flavor of the day

anytime you see a job that is labeled where you think it might be a special needs child, don't sweat it and definitely don't avoid looking at it to maybe bid on it. Just know it's the current flavor of the day and leave it at that.

If every job is unique, then doesn't that make them all "special" and by inference not really all that special? For example, if every one of your children has the common thread of being a child, yet each has a respective different personality, body type, intelligence, hopes and dreams, etc., do their commonalities outweigh their differences or are they all special? And even if they are special, why bother to publicly label them as such? In doing so, who are your doing that for and in the end does it really matter?

I'm sure most of you are familiar with that canned verbal response in Southern vernacular when someone drones on and on about something you really don't care about, but you listen to be polite anyway and when they stop to finally catch a breath you respond, "Well, isn't that special?"

Over the past years, I've noticed the trend by some architects or general contractors to call some projects a "special project" (for their own reasons) and label them as such on project signs and on the plans. These projects have run the gamut from a plain-Jane warehouse and a box-and-shell strip shopping center to a mildly interesting and somewhat attractive multi-story office building and a pharmaceutical lab renovation in an existing R&D facility that I was project manager on that most would agree, considering the multitude of specialized mechanical high-purity air and fluid delivery systems, to be a true special project. But in regards to the others, which weren't any different than the million clones built before them, I had to ask, "huh?"

Sitting down recently with a job bulletin and online plan service, I found a half dozen or so jobs within my geographic area that I knew I wouldn’t be bidding on and that had some sort of "special this or special that" label to them and took a look at them. I read the general and supplemental conditions and the specs, and looked at all plan phases (not just the mechanical). For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what made any one of them deserve the label of being a special project. I had to ask myself was it a case of an owner or A/E firm just being very proud of this "child" of theirs, wanting to boast a bit by giving it the special label (nothing wrong with that), or was it something more?

Not being afraid to kick a shin or two, or ask questions, I called principals of all the respective jobs mentioned above and got different but very enlightening answers from two of the six.

The first project was a church where the architectural design was indeed spectacular, but not world-shaking. After some polite but firm drilling to find out what made the principal call it a special project, he somewhat sheepishly replied that it was "the special conditions" of the job, which weren't in the thumbnail job description in the bulletin or even in the specs.

When pressed for what those were, under promise I wouldn't disclose this publicly (the job has since been bid and awarded anyway), the principal replied, "Well, because of the economy, this congregation which has doubled in size every year for the past three years and is bursting at the seams and needs a newer larger facility never the less is flat broke, and they're looking for contractors who will take deferred payment church bonds at 3% interest as total payment and also agree to a fast-track schedule to have it completed in nine months instead of the eighteen months I told them it would normally take to have it done."

I couldn't help but accidentally let out a good laugh when what he had just said sunk in. I heard the embarrassment in his voice when he murmured, "Yeah, I know." But as mentioned above, the thing is, this job was awarded and is under construction as we speak. Desperate times call for creative and unusual financing arrangements, so I guess this would qualify for special project status, though for reasons not obvious.

The next project was a nice mixed courtyard job of some frontage boutique retail space, attractive professional spaces to one side and a passel of higher-end condos around back, away from the main traffic of the front. Lots of brick, wrought iron fences and curves within the layout of the parking lots and alleys make the site appear larger in square footage than it was. Again, very attractive, but nothing that stood out for me to think it was a special job.

Labeled as being under the special project divisions of both the architect and GC respectively, I asked the architect about the special label. The architect was very polite, but very honest and to the point when asked what made it so. "Uh, nothing really, giving it that label was strictly for marketing purposes only." Can't add anything to that, can you?

So, anytime you see a job that is labeled where you think it might be a special needs child, don't sweat it and definitely don't avoid looking at it to maybe bid on it. Just know it's the current flavor of the day and leave it at that.

Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited Master's licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. You may contact him via e-mail at [email protected].