Resident Project Representative: A Young Engineer’s Perspective
A resident project representative (RPR) is responsible for keeping track of daily construction operations to assure that the project is being constructed per the contract documents and construction plans. They are there to reduce – and if possible – eliminate the potential for construction defects or deficiencies. In order to do this the RPR must be organized, communicate effectively with the Client, Contractor, and Engineer, and always research and plan ahead as much as possible.
For my first project as an RPR, I worked on an airport that included two separate projects. The first project I worked on was for a runway rehabilitation which involved removing existing asphalt and shoulder pavement, adding lime rock and compacting it with the existing base course, paving, striping, and a new electrical system. The second project involved some heliport site improvements. A roadway, taxilane connector, parking lot extension, and sidewalk were added to an existing helipad.
Prior to going on-site, an RPR is given many resources to gain familiarity with the project and site. First and foremost, an RPR should keep safety in mind. They should be aware of the phasing of the project to determine when and where heavy equipment will be operating, points of contact for potential emergency situations, and check the weather each day. See this article for additional information on safety awareness while on-site.
The two main resources include construction drawings and a project manual containing contract documents and technical specifications. These documents can include a bound 200-500-page project manual and a set of 20-100 sheets of design plans. Utilizing these resources by clarifying details and enforcing standards can seem like a daunting task even if, as an engineer, you are heavily involved in the creation of these resources.
I began by assessing each technical specification and highlighting the numerical and qualitative units that I needed to ensure were being constructed to code. For example, according to the Federal Aviation Administration standard for the P-401 Hot Mix Asphalt (HMA) Pavements:
“The initial placement and compaction of the HMA shall occur at a temperature suitable for obtaining density, surface smoothness, and other specified requirements but not less than 250° F (121°C).”
In this case, I would take note of the 250° F requirement of the HMA mix that came on-site and use a thermometer to test the temperature of the mix while it was in the delivery truck before it was placed down as pavement.
Keeping all documentation including the daily reports, construction meeting minutes, change orders, shop drawings, pay applications and test results organized was required. These would be referenced at different points in the project, and it was important to be aware of how one change would affect the project schedule and budget.
Planning Ahead & Researching
Weather, unforeseen circumstances, and schedule changes can always impact a construction project. Several unforeseen circumstances that came up while my coworkers and I were on the site included a base course that ended up pumping a lot of water, digging up existing electrical wires, and numerous potholes that started popping up on a runway that was being rehabilitated.
To stay on track, an RPR utilizes communication and organization, but to handle these unforeseen circumstances, they must also be creative. When situations like this arise, the RPR helps alleviate confusion and coordinate and implement a strategy that will allow the project to be minimally impacted. Researching potential issues, details, and situations that weren’t familiar enabled me to have a database to pull from in these situations. Planning ahead by looking at the weather and familiarizing myself with relevant specifications and schedule details enabled me to mitigate the stress that came from these situations.
An RPR keeps a mental account of the city/county standards circulating as they watch all construction operations, verifying distances, lengths, taking photos of each process, and communicating with the Contractor. At any point in the work, if something looks off or is not being done as a standard specifies – the RPR must communicate quickly and effectively with the Contractor or Engineer.
The RPR is also in charge of scheduling testing. In my case, I was scheduling and monitoring the Geotechnical Engineer conducting density tests of compacted limerock, collecting concrete cylinders, and taking asphalt core samples. I watched how they took their tests, verified they were using the correct numbers and processes, and that their results matched what was required per specification.
It’s an iterative process to identify an issue, bring it to the Contractor’s attention, and ask them their method of resolving the issue; and if it is an issue that’s not made clear by taking a closer look at plans and specifications – it has to be run by the Engineer. At that point, an RPR must provide a clear descriptive explanation of the scenario and the feedback they are requesting from the Engineer.
As you can imagine, this process of going between the Contractor, Geotechnical Engineer, Engineer, Client, possibly the air traffic control tower and other personnel from the city or county can cause a variety of reactions. This could feel easy and simple or awkward, frustrating, and complex. Reactive communication is rarely effective communication. As an RPR, you will be subjected to many peoples’ reactions, including your own. You must remain calm and firm on your decisions while still maintaining a good relationship with the Contractor and Client. Communication involves coordinating schedule updates, preventing issues, addressing the Contractor’s request for changes and clarification, and problem-solving unanticipated issues. An RPR must be clear, calm, and consider how communication truly can resolve most issues.
For a young engineer, independently being an RPR for the first time can be overwhelming. However, going onsite to gain that experience is the best method of learning to manage all the demands that come with this being an RPR. The on-site experience bridges the gap young engineers have between designing engineering plans and the construction of the project from those plans. Having completed this experience, I feel significantly more equipped as an engineer than I did before.