CSI keeps mechanicals unhappy

Special to CONTRACTOR ALEXANDRIA, VA. The Construction Specifications Institute has failed to win over any converts in the mechanical industry to its dual Scheme A and Scheme B proposals to change its MasterFormat specification system (November, pg. 1). Scheme A would eliminate Divisions 15 (Mechanical) and 16 (Electrical) and divide their content among a proposed group of new divisions containing

Special to CONTRACTOR

ALEXANDRIA, VA. — The Construction Specifications Institute has failed to win over any converts in the mechanical industry to its dual — Scheme A and Scheme B — proposals to change its MasterFormat specification system (November, pg. 1).

Scheme A would eliminate Divisions 15 (Mechanical) and 16 (Electrical) and divide their content among a proposed group of new divisions containing expanded content for mechanical, electrical and plumbing. Three new divisions, covering Communications, Life Safety, and Integrated Automation and Control, would be created.

An additional division was created to deal with the integrated instrumentation and control systems, which have become more prevalent with the advent of “smart building” technology. The proposal would separate HVAC work from piping, especially industrial type of work.

Scheme B would divide the MasterFormat into nine “super divisions” of which mechanical would be one. The nine divisions would act as subject matter umbrellas.

“In our 76 years of work, we’re doing all of those pieces,” said Mark Shambaugh, president and CEO of EMCOR unit Shambaugh & Son L.P., who objects to CSI “splintering” mechanical functions into different divisions. Shambaugh performs not only all the mechanical disciplines, but also self-performs power, lighting, telecommunications and data on the electrical side.

“We’re not able to identify in the scheme proposed that what they’re doing improves the construction process or communication in the construction process in those particular divisions,” said Tom Williams, president of the construction division of McKinney’s in Atlanta and president-elect of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America.

Nobody has said that Division 15 as it presently exists is inadequate, Williams said. He added that he’s old enough to remember when MasterFormat first came out and “created order out of chaos.” Mechanical contractors are not trying to be disruptive or resistant to change, he said, but there needs to be a reason for change and significant value added.

The construction industry is difficult because it’s the only industry that doesn’t know what its delivered cost is going to be, Williams said, mostly because of all the labor on the jobsite. Local area practice dictates how work is contracted and how contract documents are applied, but at least a pattern exists because of MasterFormat.

“It could be a major disconnect,” Williams said. “We’re not trying to be critical, we just want to make sure the changes made benefit the industry.”

Bill Jones of new construction contractor Raven Mechanical in Houston noted: “I don’t know why the industry hasn’t had more involvement in this. We don’t see that this will improve the process at all, and strongly suggest that CSI go back to the entire industry and come back with a consensus document that has the input of all the players.”

Lake Coulson, government relations director of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association, said the group opposes elimination of Divisions 15 and 16. The association also believes that creating super divisions will create confusion within the mechanical community, Coulson said.

Many of the arguments of the mechanical industry revolve around trade jurisdiction, said Dennis Hall, an architect in Charlotte, N.C., and chairman of the CSI MasterFormat Expansion Task Team. Mechanical contractors are particularly upset about HVAC and plumbing work being split. CSI regards questions such as who installs the grab bars in bathrooms to be jurisdictional issues in which it will not get involved.

How a general contractor divides the work is his right and responsibility, Hall said, not CSI’s, not MCAA’s or anyone else’s, because those parties don’t hold the prime contract between themselves and the owner.

MasterFormat must be expanded, Hall said, to accommodate work such as roads, bridges, waterways and maintenance. The organization is trying to take a document that has become fragmented, he said, and create a new version that will last 40 years.

Even with such change, Hall said he doesn’t believe it will be as disruptive as opponents say. CSI changed 80% of the numbers in the MasterFormat in 1995 and most in the industry were able to make the change to items such as software programs in a week.

Also, the work section, not the division, is the basic building block of a project. If a project has 100 sections in it, it will still have 100 sections and the titles will probably be the same and all the words will be alike. Just the numbers attached may be different.

Both versions of Draft Two can be found on the official CSI Web site, CSINet, at the MasterFormat Expansion Task Team Update page, www.csinet.org/technic/mfrevision.htm. Feedback and comment can be submitted at the official commentary site on Infraknowledge (www.infraknowledge.org), which can be reached from the Task Team Web site.