Summer Punch List Mania

By Will Craig

It’s that time of the year again – everybody else is out enjoying the weather but we’re struggling to complete classroom upgrade, renovation, and construction projects that need to be open this fall. In the rush to find, hire, and oversee the work of contractors who are themselves overworked, a lot of things can get overlooked. Here are issues we found on a recent college classroom project inspection (all in one room) and what they may portend for the room’s future use if not corrected.

First, a note on punch lists: In order to be able to hold a contractor’s feet to the fire for correcting items that do not meet your standards, you have to have those standards written into your contract with them. The most straightforward way to do this is in your specifications. The more detailed they are with respect to standards, aesthetics, materials, and execution, the more the final product should resemble your original intent.

The project we inspected was a classroom renovation. The classroom had been built in the 1960’s as a 120-seat sloped floor auditorium crowded with 120 tablet arm seats jammed in from wall to wall – an average of only 11.05 assignable square feet per student. The renovation would convert the room to an 80-seat flat-floor room with moveable seats and fixed student tables, two projection screens (in the front corners of the room), and complete ADA accessibility for students and faculty.

The contractor was hired based on their availability to provide a bid and complete the project according to a demanding schedule. The college used a consultant-written specification and design. The technology design was based on the last set of rooms completed by the college in terms of equipment selection and signal routing.

The installation took the contractor three days. One of the projectors was dropped off a ladder, cracking the case, and was replaced by the contractor. The final configuration included two data/video projectors (the survivor and the replacement), two 50” plasma monitors mounted towards the back of the room, a custom-built instructor station, and a high-quality sound reinforcement system. Crestron programming was done by the college’s favorite programmer, who was required by the specification to be hired by the AV contractor as a subcontractor.

The following items are from the substantial completion inspection punchlist:

Item 1: “Contractor used Philips head screws used instead of security rack screws.” The specification required use of star-post rack screws to help deter casual thieves. The same effect can be obtained by using one security screw per device, so replacing each and every screw is unnecessary.

Item 2: “Missing rack screws.” The contractor, in his haste, overlooked about 20% of the rack screws in the rack and podium.

Item 3: “Plastic wire ties below ceiling.” The specification called for use of Velcro wire management on all signal cables below ceiling level, while the contractor used black plastic ties.

Item 4: “Power plugs in rack not fully inserted.” Several of the electrical cords in the rack were not fully inserted. Also, the DC power transformers (“wall warts”) were not secured to vertical power strips, and several were close to falling out only weeks after installation.

Item 7: “Cables not consistently labeled according to acceptable scheme.” Only about two-thirds of the cables were labeled with any type of label – machine printed or otherwise. Uncorrected, this would have a significant affect on the ability of the college to troubleshoot or upgrade the room.

Item 9: “Documentation stuffed in rack.” Instead of being placed into three-ring binders, the installer had jammed the manuals inside the rack between the equipment and the side panels.

Item 11: “DB-9 connectors not covered with hoods”. The installer explained that he had left them off in case the programmer needed to switch pins, but that he failed to remember to come back and put the covers on. Because the soldered connections on the back of the DB-9 connectors are fragile and exposed, covering them with metal hoods is a reasonable precaution to ensure reliability.

Item 14: “Barrel not connected to rack PC audio connector.” The contractor had carefully soldered a stereo mini 1/8” connector but had forgotten to slide the barrel on the wire first, and apparently didn’t want to correct the oversight. As above, a barrel to protect the solder connections is a good idea, particularly with a PC where connections are likely to be changed in the future and the connector exposed to damage.

Item 15: “Individual RG-59 used for RGBHV cabling.” This is not necessarily bad, but the specification required use of specialty RGBHV cabling inside a single jacket. In this case, the contractor used what he had in his van, which was RG-59 CCTV cable. If the coaxial cables were cut to the same length, this would have worked fine. Unfortunately, as Item 33 notes, a color-shift of pixels on one of the projectors indicates a possible difference in RGB cable lengths among the individual strands.

Item 16: “Big sloppy hole in ceiling tile at plasma monitor location.” In the contractor’s defense, the hole was near the edge of a tile where the ventilation duct was inches above the tile. The hole cannot be seen except when standing directly underneath the monitor and looking straight up, and the hole around nearby sprinkler fixture is much worse. This sort of subjective, aesthetic issue is best handled on a case-by-case basis.

Item 23: “No audio settings in project record manual.” Actually, no project record manual at all. The specification required that the nominal audio settings be documented so that the college could return the system to normal in the event that the settings were changed or lost.

Item 32: “Signal cables entwined in AC power above ceiling.” The contractor had a low-voltage cabling bundle running above the ceiling. When the installer came to a high-voltage flexible whip, he ran some of the wires to the left, some to the right. In addition to less-than-optimal cable placement, we noted that there were few cable hangers used. The installer used hangers already in the ceiling from other contractors, as well as laying cables across ducting and red-iron structure.

Item 37: “Balancing for microphone and program audio.” Testing the program audio sounded fine, and testing the microphone sounded fine, but running them both together, as if an instructor were talking over a program source such as dialog from a movie, showed that there needed to be changes made in order for the system to function optimally.

As you punchlist your own projects over the next month, keep in mind that small details will affect the usability and robustness of your rooms. Enforcing your specification in a reasonable fashion ensures that contractors will give you what you are paying for.

Will Craig CTS-D CDT, is a Multimedia Systems Consultant with Elert & Associates, a nationwide multidisciplinary technology consulting firm.

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