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AV Smarts

The Ins and Outs of Classroom AV Construction Documents and Bidding

Communication is key for a successful classroom AV implementation — and that means getting the construction documents, drawings and specifications right.

This is the fourth article in a monthly series focusing on the design and construction process surrounding audiovisual systems in higher education classrooms. Over the past few months, I have written about the administrative, schematic design and design development phases of an AV design-bid-build project. After the majority of the design details have been hammered out in those phases, we're now presented with the task of creating the documents that will be used in the bidding and construction process. This phase is the construction documents phase, followed by the bidding phase.

Construction Documents Phase

After you've gone to all the trouble of meeting with stakeholders, performing site surveys, reviewing project documentation, researching equipment and creating AV infrastructure/technical design drawings, it's necessary to compile all of that information into a package that can be used for the bidding process, and shows the design intent for the construction phase. Typically, the construction documents created by AV design consultants are specifications and drawings. The key word for this phase is communication. Effectively communicating the AV design intent, scope of work and performance requirements can be done only with properly written and detailed construction documents. Providing contractors with incomplete construction documents is a sure-fire way to cause major headaches for all project stakeholders. Creating a well written/drawn set of construction documents assures that bidding contractors will submit similar proposals that can easily be compared to each other during bid evaluation. The construction documents also become part of the contract between the client and the contractor, so it's important that they're created properly.


Specifications can be thought of as a written document that defines the roles, responsibilities, scope of work, installation standards and performance requirements for the project's AV systems. The AV specifications are incorporated into the project manual, which includes specs for all aspects of the project (not just AV), as well as bidding information and contract terms and conditions. Generally speaking, audiovisual specifications typically appear in section 27 of the Construction Specifications Institute's (CSI) MasterFormat, which separates each aspect of a construction project into different specification sections. Within each section, construction specifications follow the CSI's three-part format, which separates the specification into general, product and execution requirements. Drilling down even further, the CSI created SectionFormat, which defines each paragraph header within the three parts of the spec. The goal is to provide bidding contractors with a standardized look to each section throughout the project manual.

Specifications can be written in many different ways, with most falling into the categories of descriptive, proprietary, performance and reference standard. Descriptive specifications detail the characteristics and requirements of a product without actually naming a specific make and model. This can be a time-consuming and wordy process and, in my opinion, leaves your spec a bit too open to interpretation. I prefer using more of the proprietary method, which lists specific acceptable makes and models. I go to the extent of depicting specific equipment in my design drawings, so I include that info in my specifications to make sure contractors are preparing proposals along the lines of my system design intent. Performance specifications describe the desired end result of an AV system, and the methods that will be used to test that desired performance. I incorporate aspects of this writing method into my specifications, while keeping in mind that excessive performance requirements will drive up the cost and length of the project. Reference standards specifications are similar in nature to performance specs, but they dictate that established reference standards will be used to define the specs. Citing ANSI standards would fall into this category.

Part 1 of a spec includes general information, with subsections including: administrative, references, system summary, milestones, submittals, site conditions, contractor qualifications and warranty. Part 2 of the spec focuses on the products, including acceptable manufacturers, equipment, materials and substitutions. I typically supplement this section with a detailed equipment list as an appendix. Part 3 of the spec includes execution details, like installation and performance requirements, systems verification, commissioning and closeout activities.

Specifications can be a daunting thing to write, since they're all-encompassing. They really cover all aspects of a project, from the bidding process through construction to the final project closeout. Spec writers walk the line of including enough details to give the bidding parties a proper overview of the project and cover the contractual obligations between the client and contractor, without bloating the document with too much information presented in a disorganized fashion. Relying on a qualified AV consultant for specification writing is essential to getting a concise yet thorough specification. There's certainly an art to writing a well-crafted spec.

In the higher ed world, often schools will establish a list of preferred/approved AV contractors through their procurement office. The school's purchasing staff negotiates rates, terms and conditions with preferred vendors. Signed agreements are on file with contracts active for a set amount of time, speeding along the procurement process from project to project. Contractor qualifications have already been vetted, insurance requirements handled and contracts signed. Bid specifications typically cover many of these topics, but since an institution's procurement office has already taken the time to handle this, then a project's AV specifications may take a bit of a different form when dealing with approved vendors. If the bid request is only being sent to pre-qualified preferred/approved vendors, then the AV consultant may not need to address vendor qualifications, administrative requirements, warranty or any other issues that have been pre-negotiated as part of the contractor's preferred vendor contracts. Specifications may take the form of a simpler "scope of work" document. Smaller projects may not warrant full-blown bid specifications. On those smaller projects, often the project's specifications are incorporated into the CAD drawings, in the form of detail drawings and notes.


The second major component to the construction documents phase is the finalized AV CAD drawing package. Most of my CAD drawing process takes place in the design development phase of the project, which I discussed in last month's article. Once we're up to the construction documents phase, I finalize my AV system design drawings and issue the 100 percent set. This drawing package will be included with the bid documents to AV contractors. Making sure the drawings, specifications and equipment list all match will prevent confusion and questions from the contractors during the bidding process.

Document Review

If the architect and project engineers are also in their construction documents phase, then it's important for the AV consultant to review their finalized construction drawing package before it's marked as 100 percent, stamped and sent out to bid to general contractors (GCs). The AV infrastructure drawings created by the consultant are typically labeled as "for reference only," with electrical, structural and mechanical details being translated from those drawings to the stamped architectural/electrical drawings created by the architect or engineers. Take the time now to review those drawings and make sure that all the AV infrastructure requirements correctly appear on them. Once the architect issues the 100 percent drawing set and sends it out to bid with GCs, any changes will have to be an addendum or change order. This also applies to the project specifications compiled by the architect. Confirming that all the AV-related specification sections are included and worded correctly will prevent issues down the road.


After the bidding package is compiled, the AV contractor bid is typically administered by the school's project manager and the facilities contracts department. Project funds originating from public vs. private sources will dictate if the bid is an open or selective bid. An open bid will be publically posted, with any vendor allowed to submit a proposal if it meets the specified qualification requirements. A selective bid is a request for proposal sent to only a select group of contractors, typically based on the school's preferred vendor list or past experience with the contractor. A school's AV design and support staff should be involved with recommending AV contractors for the RFP, to prevent a contractor from winning the bid that has had previous issues with AV installs on campus.

During the bidding process, a pre-bid meeting is helpful to get everyone on the same page. The client, architect and AV consultant will meet with all interested bidders to summarize the project, tour the site and answer any questions. When it comes time to evaluate the submitted proposals, refer back to the opinion of probable cost created in the schematic design phase and updated in the design development phase, to act as a benchmark for comparing pricing across multiple vendors. After the contract is awarded, we're on to the construction phase, which we'll discuss in next month's article.

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