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It’s safe to say that engineers need to be focused on details. Getting absorbed in the small details of a site design are what make us good at what we do. But we must remember we’re not the only ones who work on a project. A developer has the idea. We design the site to fit their needs. Then a municipality determines if a site meets all its requirements. Next, a contractor interprets the plans and brings them to life. And, in some cases, the developer sells the property to an end user who was not involved with the development process at all. With so many cooks in the kitchen, it’s important to approach site challenges from everyone’s point of view before deciding on a solution. What works for the site on paper may not be the best solution in construction or for the end user. Below are some examples of the benefits of approaching your site design with the contractor, owner and end user in mind.

Contractor Let’s say you designed a diagonal valley in an asphalt parking lot to route stormwater runoff to an inlet. It’s more challenging for a contractor to grade a valley with a paving machine when it’s running counter to the linear direction of the paving. An engineer thinking about their design from multiple perspectives may regrade so that the valley runs parallel with a drive aisle or consider concrete paving be used so it can be formed more easily. After all, ponding on a new asphalt surface is a visible sign that something wasn’t perfect. Another example is, on tighter, more urban sites, does your site have room for staging materials? In addition to having a design that works, you will want to consider how deliveries are being made and how cranes and other equipment will navigate the site. Your design may need to include a sidewalk closure plan or a traffic control plan to be implemented in the construction phase.

Owner You’ve designed the perfect site to fit what the owner has in mind, except for one small problem. It’s not cost effective based on their budget. To keep costs in check, you must consider if there are alternate options that work as effectively but save the developer some money. It’s much more cost efficient to consider alternatives during the design phase than wait to value engineer the site after bids have come in from the contractor.

End User Is your design easy to maintain for the end user? How will it hold up over time? These are important factors to consider when designing a site. For example, your design might include a proprietary device for water quality, which uses sand filters that must be cleaned and/or replaced periodically. If this is for a multi-family property that will eventually be maintained by a property manager, the required maintenance might not be standard for them and therefore be overlooked. Are there other options to achieve water quality requirements that do not include as much maintenance? The best designs are those that stand the test of time.

Of course, the best way to see the big picture of a site from the perspective of all involved parties is to get to know them. Talk with your project’s contractor and know what challenges they commonly face. If you’re unsure of the developer’s needs at any point in the process, call them. Be sure you understand the municipality’s requirements and any concerns they might have about the development. Great site designs aren’t produced in a vacuum, but through collaboration and a big-picture mentality that considers all users.

About Wes Thrash, PE

Wes Thrash, PE, is a Senior Project Manager for the Land Development Division in Auburn, Alabama. Wes graduated from Auburn University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering and has over 13 years of experience in multifamily and mixed-use development, residential development, and commercial land development with a special interest in ADA compliance. Wes enjoys seeing concepts of design come to life in during construction.


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