The People Behind the Project: Q&A with Justin Haley, Superintendent

Earlier this year, Swinerton delivered a 160,000-square-foot call center facility in Irving, TX, for a high-end retail client. Previously, we shared the project story from the perspective of Project Manager Kris Harding and Assistant Project Manager Joel Stephens. In this post we’re sharing the project’s story told by Justin Haley, a Superintendent in Swinerton’s Dallas office.

Backed by 16 years of construction industry experience, three of which have been with Swinerton, Justin has earned a reputation for quickly resolving onsite issues and upholding excellent construction standards. When preexisting and unforeseen building conditions caused a number of challenges for the call center project, his composure and decisiveness on the jobsite proved to be invaluable. Leveraging Justin’s commitment to collaborative problem solving and true builder mentality, Swinerton was able to deliver a facility that not only exceeded expectations, but added significant value for the client.

We sat down with Justin to hear his perspective on tackling construction challenges and the importance of communication on the jobsite.

Q: This project was notably difficult due to the base building’s existing conditions. Can you walk us through some of the specific challenges you faced?

JH: When the project started out, we definitely thought it would be a straightforward, two-level call center. However, when the client purchased the property, the project ballooned to two buildings with three floors each. That jump was difficult enough given the schedule and budget. But once demolition started, we quickly figured out how much work we had cut out for us.

The most obvious issue was the floors. From end to end, they were out of level up to five or six inches. This affected doorways, ceilings, millwork that was supposed to be installed on the first floor—everything. There was a significant amount of water under the crawl space, too, as well as structural limitations and obstructions in the mechanical room that severely disrupted the ductwork and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) pathways.

Q: What was it like in the field when you encountered each of these problems? Did you develop any best practices for devising solutions and mitigation plans?

JH: When you encounter significant unknown conditions like we did, it tends to cause a domino effect. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but you really just have to take it one step at a time. What a lot of us love about construction tends to be the thing that makes projects difficult: no bucket of problems on any two projects is ever going to be exactly the same, so you can’t copy and paste solutions, so to speak.

As far as best practices go, we really just kept open a line of communication the entire time and stayed focused on doing all we could to make up time in the schedule. As soon as we started running into field conditions that didn’t reflect the drawings, we would get together with our trade partners and talk it through. For me, it really became about telling a story: Here’s our problem, here’s the potential impact, and here’s the way we propose to fix it that is going to be the best value.

For any major issues, our goal was to have a mitigation plan in place before we went to the architect or the owner. That extra effort and coordination on the front end making sure our solutions were airtight—and making sure our trade partners were 100% on board—helped to streamline the process. Knowing we were all on the same page and were able to deliver on our solution also gave us an extra boost of confidence going into those meetings.

After that, determination was key. We spent a lot of time with the owner, architects, and engineers marking up documents and making sure everyone was aligned. We made light it of it all, too. When it came to the submittal process, we would have “Submittal Parties” where we sat down with the owner and the architect, and no one left the meeting until we had come up with a solution.

Q: Complex projects like these can cause a lot of stress for a project team. Can you tell us about how you all worked together, and how you brought your expertise and problem-solving skills to the table?

JH: I worked pretty closely with Project Manager Kris Harding and Assistant Project Manager Joel Stephens. Luckily those two were willing to spend a lot of time with me on the jobsite or in meetings—sometimes as early as 6 a.m. or as late as 6 p.m.

Honestly, our personalities just meshed really well. Kris and Joel were great guys to work with. I think it also helped that we all knew our responsibilities and what it would take to reach our collective goal, which was delivering a great facility that was as close to the client’s original design as possible.

We had multiple FaceTime calls with each other and kept a group chat together. Along with a great working relationship, this made it so easy to just snap a picture, explain the problem, and ask each other, “Hey, what do you want to do here?”

Anything that we could fix in the field within reason without getting the engineering and the design team involved was the best option for us. Of course, we ran anything major by them, but for the most part, we were able to fix a lot of things with our own expertise, often within 30 or 40 minutes. Getting on the problem as soon as we could was something we knew we just had to do, because we were already limited on time. When I couldn’t come up with a solution on the spot with our trade partners, I would engage Joel or our Project Engineers for RFIs to find the best value fix.

Q: Despite the challenges, it seemed you and the team had a great mindset throughout this project and were open to learning from each other. Is there something you learned throughout this journey that has stuck with you?

JH: One of the best lessons I learned was the importance of communicating with your teammates. We worked closely with all of our key trades to make sure everyone could maintain their schedule.

It can be extremely difficult to save the schedule on a project that has so many preexisting building factors, but having the right trade partners who can be flexible is really a blessing. I was lucky to work with some expert subcontractors who were very involved in finding solutions to our problems. Communication also opens up avenues you might not have considered on your own. You really never know what you can do unless you ask.

For example, the structural deficiencies we discovered in the building didn’t allow us to achieve the ceiling heights our client initially wanted, or fit the ductwork and other MEP above-ceiling, so we had a lot of talks out on the jobsite with our trade partners. It really helped to just get out there, talk, and understand what they could do in order to figure out what we should do. Making sure we were all 100% on board with the new pathways and the layouts allowed us to give our client the highest ceiling possible—much higher than we initially thought we could.

Q: As you stated before, construction is a challenging industry where no two problems are exactly alike. What personal advice would you give to someone who may be encountering difficulties in their current project, or may be faced with challenges in the future?

JH: There are going to be a lot of things you can’t control, so focus on what you can control, which is your outlook. Communicate openly and build those relationships. Great teammates make a job a lot easier—even if it’s a hard job. Having people in your corner like Kris and Joel who are willing to go to bat for you no matter what can definitely change the outcome of a project.