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AV Smarts

Keep Your AV Support Team in the Loop

Here's why your campus audiovisual support department should be involved in large classroom AV construction projects from day one.

If you're in an AV support role on campus, you've probably experienced this scenario: A large classroom renovation project is underway, with an audiovisual design consultant subcontracted under the architect. The AV support team is brought into the project too late, after design decisions have already been made, after the AV contractor bidding process is complete, and often after construction has already started. When this happens, the project usually takes two different routes: Either the campus AV support folks ask the project manager for a bunch of changes to the AV system design to conform to their established standards, or the project doesn't have the money for more change orders, and the AV support department just has to live with a bunch of non-standard AV systems. Either way, plenty of extra time and/or money is spent, and it's a stressful experience for all project stakeholders. With a little foresight and planning, though, it doesn't have to be that way.

During the InfoComm show in June, I taught a seminar that focused on the phases of a classroom audiovisual installation project, and I received multiple questions from higher ed technology managers about how they should be involved in the larger design-bid-build construction projects that are typically led by a construction project manager and architect. In particular, attendees asked, at what point during a large construction project should the campus AV support department get involved? My answer: before the project even exists.

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For more information on the processes, players, milestones and deliverables involved in a large classroom renovation project, read our five-part series on the phases of AV design and construction:

You may be wondering how this is possible without a time machine. I'm suggesting that the AV support folks need to meet with the campus construction/facilities management department before projects start. Rather than a meeting about a specific project, this needs to be a general meeting introducing the construction project managers to the established campus AV standards, the AV support department's preferred level of involvement in larger construction projects, and the staff that's responsible for supporting and maintaining those systems. The project managers need to understand the importance of maintaining AV design and construction standards across all buildings on campus. Even if the construction project managers don't involve the AV support department at the very beginning of future projects, they can at least get the campus standards documentation in the hands of the contracted AV design consultant right from day one. (If you have not established clear AV standards documentation for your campus, you can read a 2015 Campus Technology article I wrote about the importance of documenting AV standards.) 

Now that you've stressed the importance of future AV system designs adhering to established standards, you can focus on the important milestones where the project managers need to get the campus AV support department involved. The first major milestone should be right at the beginning of the project, when the construction project manager is just starting the needs analysis (or programming) process with the client. This occurs before the architect has been hired on the project. The AV support folks need to be involved in these initial discussions to make sure that all stakeholders are paying attention to audiovisual system design and installation. I'm not suggesting that the AV department should dive right in and start the design process; rather, the AV team can help the client establish the basic AV scope for the project and remind the project managers that the AV design process needs to be a part of the project's overall design process. Depending on the size of the project, this may take the form of hiring an AV design consultant, looking to an AV contractor for a design-build contract, or relying on the campus AV support department's in-house design services.

Many clients don't realize the scope of AV that's needed on a project until well into the design phases, and sometimes during the construction phase. Having a set of experienced AV support department eyes on the project from day one assures that a relatively accurate AV scope is established. As a consultant, I'm sometimes not hired on projects until well into the architectural design phases, probably because AV design services just wasn't on the project manager's radar. Electrical, structural and HVAC design engineers/consultants are typically hired on the project at the same time as the architect, but many non-technical clients and project managers don't initially think of their AV needs. When I'm hired on a project right at the beginning of the architect's contract, and presented with a clear idea of what the project's AV scope will entail, I'm able to spend the proper amount of time on the AV design portion of the project.

The next major milestone for AV support department involvement should be the bidding process to determine the project's architect. Since AV design consultants are subcontracted under the architect, it's important for the AV support department to review the architect bids and provide an opinion on the AV design consultant attached to each architect's proposal. The campus AV department may have worked with these AV design consultants in the past, and can provide insight into the good, bad and the ugly. The AV department folks are also able to help with evaluating the qualifications of the proposed AV consultants. Watch out for architects who may want to squeeze AV design services into the electrical engineer's scope, or subcontract an AV contractor to handle design only. 

Because of the amount of work and deliverables involved with larger design-bid-build projects, typically the AV design consultant needs to handle the bulk of the work, rather than the campus AV department. Campus AV folks should retain a review role, but not be burdened with the bulk of the design and construction administration work. That brings us to the next major milestone for AV department involvement: The campus AV team should be brought in by the architect and AV consultant during the needs analysis process (during schematic design) to present the established campus AV standards. This will set the stage early on for a solid base of standardized design and installation processes, and allow the AV consultant to grab the ball and run with it for the remainder of the design process. I never feel that AV support departments are stepping on my toes when they ask me to understand their standards at the beginning of a project. Due to my experience in past jobs when I worked in their roles, I appreciate the fact that I'm able to gain an understanding of the established AV standards from the get-go, rather than much later in the project when I need to redo a bunch of design work.

As the design phases of the project evolve, the AV design consultant will be handling the heavy lifting, but the campus AV support department should be involved in reviewing design and construction documents from the architect and AV consultant. The conclusion of the schematic design, design development and construction document phases involves review and approval (by the client) of submittal documents from the architect, engineers and consultants. Typically these take the form of a program report, CAD drawings and construction/bid specifications. Getting these documents in front of the AV support folks is another cross check for making sure that AV standards are being met, and the design hasn't taken a wild turn for the worse. Most AV support departments aren't staffed with full-time design engineers to create all of this documentation, but they should be able to provide these review services as needed. Spending a little extra time in these phases to make sure the AV design is on point will prevent many headaches down the line.

During the bidding phase, when the AV contractor is hired, the AV support department should be involved either in suggesting the list of preferred AV contractors that will be asked to submit proposals, or at least in simply reviewing that list before the RFP is sent out. The AV consultant may suggest AV contractors that have been problematic on past campus projects. Often the AV consultant isn't local, so they don't have the same local market knowledge that the campus AV support department has.

After the AV contractor has been hired, it's typically the AV consultant's responsibility to take a construction administration role and oversee the AV contractor's work. This is one phase that the campus AV department should not be heavily involved with. The project managers need to rely on the consultant and contractor's expertise to install AV systems that adhere to the reviewed and approved design documents. Campus AV support folks may need to review change orders, but they can't get bogged down in the granular construction administration duties that the consultant should really be handling. 

The next milestone that should include the AV support department staff: the client training process, at the conclusion of the construction phase. In addition to a training session for the non-technical clients, the project's AV consultant and AV contractor should hold a separate training session for the technical AV support staff that will be tasked with supporting and maintaining the new AV systems. This should occur after the AV consultant and AV contractor have concluded the systems verification process and punch lists. If during this training session the AV support folks notice aspects of the AV system that don't conform to established standards, or simply aren't working, then someone dropped the ball back in the design and construction phases.

The final major project milestone for AV department involvement should be the AV contractor's close-out submittal. It's the AV consultant's responsibility to review and approve this submittal package, but the contents need to be passed along to the folks responsible for supporting and maintaining the new AV systems. Items such as as-built drawings, control system and DSP programming files, equipment and system manuals, MAC/IP address tables, equipment inventory, warranty details and service contracts all need to get in the hands of the campus AV support department.

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