Rushing to design and construct a building or other engineered system without researching all functional aspects of its proposed location can be a tremendous financial error for any project manager or design engineer. During the early stages of project planning, the parties involved in design and management should obtain “will serve” letters from all pertinent utility provider companies, including but not limited to: electric, potable water, telephone, cable, sewer, fiber optic, and internet services.  A “will serve” letter is typically written by the utility company and addressed to the engineer or prime contractor.  Within the letter, the utility company should detail its understanding of the scope of work, and whether or not the utility provider can furnish services to meet the demands of the proposed construction project.

There are several questions any engineer should ask while considering service requests, including:

  • What is the current land use?
  • How does the current land use compare to the proposed land use?
  • What utilities are ultimately necessary for project completion?
  • What local ordinances or regulations pertain to the work?
  • What magnitude of service is needed? e.g., a small residential home requires far less power than an energy-producing plant

Performing due diligence is paramount to avoiding major logistical catastrophes. For example, imagine you are the project manager in charge of designing a new manufacturing facility for your client in a remote location in upstate New York. The property was obtained at a low cost due to its location and various municipal developmental incentives. Since the area is incentivized and the property was adjacent to a major thoroughfare, you assume that there is ample utility service and proceed to design and bid out the large job to several contractors. You award the job to the most qualified bidder and hold an on-site pre-construction meeting shortly thereafter. During the meeting, one of the contractor’s team members brings along a utility mark-out technician to perform the on-site mark-out work and discovers that there is no sewer piping on or near the site. You place a call to the local sewer district and are troubled to find out that the nearest public sewer connection is several miles away from the property border. The only reasonable alternative suggested by the sewer district is to design and install an on-site septic system.

At this point, the project manager is close to exceeding the project budget. Furthermore, design revisions must be done to include the septic system, which also has to be approved by the local health department. Additionally, the job needs to be rebid to avoid price gouging by the awarded contractor. A significant amount of time and resources not previously accounted for must be put into the project. This major issue could have been easily avoided by proactively contacting the sewer district prior to design to obtain the service information; at that point, the project manager would have the opportunity to inform his or her client that the scope of work is far different from what was originally expected. Instead, the client is extremely frustrated, and the project manager’s company will walk away with far less profit and a poor reputation that may last for years to come.

Walden has an experienced team of professional engineers with decades of experience performing due diligence and addressing other pre-construction planning issues. We draw on this experience and proactively work on our client’s behalf to ensure that project planning, design, and construction efforts are coordinated with all involved parties. Scroll through our featured projects to see other examples of Walden’s creative problem-solving. Give us a call at (516) 624-7200 today to learn more!