Home > The Monday Musings Column > Things that go bump in the night – More fun on the Facilities Front Line

Things that go bump in the night – More fun on the Facilities Front Line

We tend to talk about the things that we’ve done well, but we learn more from the things that go wrong, so with Halloween approaching , and in the spirit of things that go bump in the night, maybe it’s a good time to look at a project that went wrong. And so here’s a skeleton from my closet.

The project was to replace the water storage facility for a substantial sprinkler system. To repair it was a difficult job and would have taken the system out of action for at least 8 weeks which was not acceptable to the client or their insurers and there was also a desire to expand the system which would have required additional capacity. On that basis we elected to go for new storage which gave us the option of repairing the original one at our leisure should it be needed in the future.

In working through the options open to us the most economical way forward was to install a pair of cylindrical tanks about 50 metres from the original installation where we had an available piece of ground that would require little preparation to accept them. An appropriate engineering contractor was engaged to design the system and provide us with a specification that we could put out to tender and it was during this exercise that we made a mistake in communication, although no-one realised until much later. We had our own mechanical and electrical team and had given them the lead in working with the design engineer. When the subject of connecting an appropriate power supply to power the pumps came up, our man said that we would do that and this was true; we would do the connection at the panel. We meant the one in the nearest building; he meant the one in the new pump house.

Specification done we went out to tender. There were not too many companies capable of a job of that size so we short listed three for the final stage and had them all in on the same day for the site inspection and a question and answer session. At some point the power supply question came up and the answer was given “Client is arranging connection” by the design engineer. No-one on my team queried that because we had no reason to.

At the time our biggest issue was getting planning permission for an installation that would be partially visible to residential neighbours, many of whom were openly hostile to the site and we were into the games that one plays in these circumstances and were happy that we got through that stage with the decision that we wanted.

A contract was placed for just over £100k. It was not a hugely disruptive project because of the site that we had chosen and work proceeded quickly. At about two thirds of the way through I took a walk around with the contractor. Both tanks were substantially complete and the pump house was up and being fitted out. Laying the power cable from the pump house to the nearest building would involve digging up the road causing my occupiers possible disruption so I asked when that was scheduled for.

“But you’re doing the connection” he said, and the misunderstanding back at the start of the design stage began to emerge. Our spec did not allow for cutting and filling a trench to bridge the 50m gap and it cost us £10k to do it. All because of an ambiguity in the spec: Always read the small print, especially if you wrote it yourself.

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