Photo of employees outside the PG&E Gas Safety Academy.
The PG&E Gas Safety Academy is the primary training center for employees learning to operate and maintain every aspect of the company’s natural gas infrastructure. Photo courtesy of David Wakely

In the small town of Winters, California, on 40 acres of former tomato fields and apricot orchards, is the PG&E Gas Safety Academy, a training center that will make California a safer place. One of the largest combined natural gas and electric energy companies in the U.S., PG&E will use the facility as its primary training center for employees learning to operate and maintain every aspect of the company’s natural gas infrastructure.

After breaking ground in fall 2015 and completing in winter 2017, the Gas Safety Academy becomes the third in a series of gas safety facilities opened by PG&E since 2013. The academy uses simulators, virtual learning resources and hands-on scenarios to field-train and educate employees about gas transmission and distribution pipelines, meter maintenance, heavy equipment operation, welding pressure control and excavation, among other curriculum. The academy is a constant reminder of the importance of education, safety and the critical role PG&E employees play in keeping customers safe while delivering reliable service.

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The academy uses simulators, virtual learning resources and hands-on scenarios to field-train and educate employees about gas transmission and distribution pipelines, meter maintenance, heavy equipment operation, welding pressure control and excavation, among other curriculum. Photo courtesy of David Wakely

“This one-of-a-kind training facility not only represented a complex, technical project, but also reflected many of DPR’s own values,” said project manager Ian Bolnik. “Safety, integrity, and self-initiated change while striving for continuous improvement in quality and service are tenets that motivated us every day as we built the gas safety academy, which will foster the same principles for its trainees.”

Mirroring its customer’s commitment to safety, the DPR team (including subcontractors) completed more than 140,000 hours of work with no recordable incidents, as it built the $82 million, 96,000-sq.ft. facility during Northern California’s wettest winter on record (National Weather Service). Bordered on two sides by a Caltrans drainage canal, the site was used as a contingency relief area during years with heavy rain. According to drainage studies completed in the 1970s, if the water levels in nearby Putah Creek were too high for the canals to drain excess water into, the water would back up onto the tomato field. Prior to the start of construction, a civil engineer coordinated with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to create a diversion channel and remap the site. To avoid impacting schedule, DPR found a solution to raise the building pads by 6 inches to get them above the flood plain, allowing construction to begin. 

Mirroring its customer’s commitment to safety, the DPR team (including subcontractors) completed more than 140,000 hours of work with no recordable incidents, as it built the $82 million, 96,000-sq.ft. facility during Northern California’s wettest winter on record. Photo courtesy of David Wakely

Because of its various labs and simulators, the academy has a uniquely large amount of both gas and high-pressure compressed air below grade, as well as inside the building, which was installed by PG&E’s own crews. This amount of gas and compressed air is typically installed beneath roads, not under active construction sites. The DPR team engaged with PG&E subject matter experts and coordinated with other utilities to ensure that the infrastructure beneath the facility was installed safely.

PG&E employees will be trained in three distinct buildings on the campus:

  • The Learning Center: In addition to eight classrooms, a simulator room, and electrical workshop, the learning center includes a flow lab for high pressure gas simulation and gas chromatography, where employees gain hands-on experience in regulating and monitoring the pressure and flow of natural gas. A focal point of the facility, the flow lab contains large, 46-ft. long pipes that have nearly every valve that PG&E technicians might encounter in the field on transmission and distribution gas lines. The pipes are pressurized by a large 300-horsepower air compressor, about the size of an SUV, capable of reaching pressure between 700-800 PSI, allowing PG&E to train their technicians under real-world conditions without the hazards of actual gas. 
  • Transmission & Distribution Tech Center: This area includes a utility worker covered training area, plastic fusion lab and an industrial safety at heights training area, giving students a simulation experience on trucks and excavation machinery used in the field.
  • Weld Lab: The lab accommodates apprentice welders during three-year apprenticeships. 
Labs create real-life scenarios to train gas service representatives about different types of equipment they might encounter at residences. Photo courtesy of David Wakely

Outdoor training areas include the Utility Village, made up of 15 small homes to create near real-life conditions of emergency response and leak detection training for gas service representatives, the people who would come to customers’ homes if someone thought they smelled gas. At the mock neighborhood of single-family residences, duplexes and apartments, technicians practice everything from soft skills such as knocking on the doors of homes, to the technical skills of detecting, stopping and repairing gas leaks.

Designed to achieve LEED Silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, the academy has reduced water usage by 35 percent, energy usage by over 20 percent and recycled 75 percent of construction waste. Other sustainable features include the site’s stormwater management, as well as sunshade louvers on exterior windows, deep overhangs and covered outdoor areas on the building’s south side.

Employing 150 people, the academy provides nearly 36,000 hours of training each year as PG&E trains its next generation of energy experts. Through its commitment to continuous improvement, the academy will create ripple effects throughout the state as its graduates create safer gas and electric transmission and distribution lines, making California a better place to live for all. 

Employing 150 people, the academy provides nearly 36,000 hours of training each year as PG&E trains its next generation of energy experts. Photo courtesy of David Wakely
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Photo courtesy of Gensler

Energy efficiency is a challenge for many mission critical, energy-intensive data centers, but top pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck and Company’s new Tier III data center facility in Kenilworth, New Jersey has achieved just that. The facility recently received coveted ENERGY STAR certification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Delivered by the integrated design-build team of Merck, DPR, Gensler and CCG, the data center has been commissioned to satisfy Merck’s stringent design criteria and performance-based certification process to earn ENERGY STAR designation. This is the first ENERGY STAR certified data center for Merck.

Designed and built in just eight months, the integrated team delivered the facility a full month ahead of schedule. The project scope included conversion of a one-story, steel-framed manufacturing building into a new state-of-the-art energy efficient data center. The 42,000-sq.-ft. facility includes two data halls and administrative support space. Major components include a chilled water cooling system utilizing prefabricated chiller plants and computer room air handler units in each data hall, and an electrical system comprising two power train systems in an N+1 redundancy configuration. Each of those systems consists of switchgear with dedicated standby generators and four uninterruptable power supply modules.

Korn added, “ENERGY STAR certification shows that a company is looking to reduce costs and to operate the facility in the most efficient way possible, even while focused on creating highly reliable infrastructure. In data centers, you’re putting in redundant equipment which can impact energy efficiency. By installing highly energy efficient data processing equipment that allows the facility to operate at higher temperatures, Merck achieved maximum efficiencies and lowered its operating costs. Monitoring and documenting the equipment’s performance for a full year afterwards was key and takes time and patience.”

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Photo courtesy of ENERGY STAR

Engaging a design-build team with the level of technical construction expertise and data center experience that Merck, DPR, CCG and Gensler possess was also crucial to the project’s success. The project team focused on achieving energy efficiency goals from the onset. The team meticulously tracked and adhered to performance milestones to help the facility achieve both ENERGY STAR status and LEED Silver certification from the US Green Building Council.

At the end of the day, Korn pointed out that multiple factors contributed to driving the project forward to successful completion and to helping it attain ENERGY STAR status, including:

  • a knowledgeable motivated client committed to achieving specific energy-related savings goals and willing to take a different path in the design, construction, operation and monitoring of their data center facility;
  • a highly experienced project team that pursued targeted energy-related goals from day one, understanding if any system deviated from pre-established guidelines, it could not negatively impact the energy consumption of the facility;
  • the appointment of specific individuals on the project team responsible for actively tracking and monitoring the design criteria, systems, and performance indicators to ensure milestones were met; and
  • the team’s willingness to innovate by employing lean construction and extensive levels of prefabrication (estimated at 25 percent of the facility).

This data center project has allowed Merck to meet its business objectives in the region while building a solid foundation for future work and forging a lasting bond between DPR and Merck. “Merck’s mission is ‘Inventing for Life’ by improving the quality of life for the world,” shared Michael J. Abbatiello, who oversaw creation of Merck’s design criteria document which outlines the required technical specifications used for bidding, detail designing, commissioning and operating the facility. “Not only do energy efficient facilities reduce operating costs, but they also represent the environmental benefits that align with our mission.”

The Merck project was DPR’s first major new customer for its New Jersey office, which initially opened in 2008 and has doubled in size, serving customers throughout the state.

ENERGY STAR certification requires that energy consumption data be continuously tracked and professionally verified using an online reporting tool via EPA, hitting specific benchmarks. Recertification is required annually. For more specifics, go to www.energystar.gov/ENERGYSTARS.

VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital’s new C.A.R.E. Building opened in February 2018, creating a comprehensive medical center housing clinics, administration, rehabilitation and education services for the residents of southern Virginia and northern North Carolina.

Adjacent to the Community Memorial Hospital in South Hill, Virginia, the $14.4 million, 67,000-sq.-ft. C.A.R.E. Building represents VCU’s commitment to make comprehensive healthcare as accessible as possible for its patients. It is home to physician practices and hospital services including cardiology, pulmonology, family care and orthopedics. The new facility will also house a family dental clinic that is set to open later this year.

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This time last year, DPR Construction launched a monthly blog series dedicated to sharing stories of women who build great things in honor of International Women’s Day, International Women’s Week, Women in Construction Week and Women’s History Month.

Construction is a traditionally male-dominated industry that is only 9.3 percent women (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Since spring 2017, the Celebrating Women Who Build blog series has told stories of women who are successfully executing complex, technical projects for some of the world’s most progressive and admired companies. The goal has always been to help connect and inspire women in the industry as they build meaningful careers—whether it’s as a project engineer, a superintendent, a project executive, an architect or an owner.

The experiences, challenges and ambitions of the Women Who Build featured in the series resonated with people across the country, who responded with encouragement, support and excitement. Many reached out to share how the determination, strength and spirit of women they read about positively impacted their day, life or career path.

DPR’s initial yearlong campaign culminates with a video, but the Celebrating Women Who Build blog series will continue, just like our efforts to create a strong, inclusive environment where everyone thrives.

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Roughly 3,500 sq. ft. on the seventh floor of a historic building will become Sharefest’s flagship youth center. Photo courtesy of Sharefest Community Development

A project that will benefit scores of underserved youth in Southern California is getting some much-needed help from DPR volunteers, who are leveraging their skills as builders and planners to help transform a former jail in San Pedro, California into Sharefest’s new Youth Development Center. Sharefest, a non-profit organization that aims to build strong communities by fostering volunteerism and preparing youth to lead positive change, will use the center as a year-round safe space for Los Angeles youth.

Over the past two years, DPR teams have stepped up to lend their preconstruction expertise and time to help get the project off the drawing board and into construction. After participating in past rebuilding projects and developing a strong connection with the organization, DPR saw a prime opportunity to make a difference when Sharefest announced its plans to convert roughly 3,500 sq. ft. on the seventh floor of a century-old, historic building in San Pedro into its flagship youth center. The organization has received a long-term, low-cost lease with the city of San Pedro for the space. 

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DPR is self-performing concrete work on the project to help Sharefest turn the vision for its new youth development center into reality. Photo courtesy of Sharefest Community Development

Sharefest’s new Youth Development Center is envisioned as a safe place for under-resourced youth to positively engage with one another and in their communities. The organization has served over 3,100 at-risk youths through its Youth Development Academy alone.

“DPR’s volunteer efforts are saving Sharefest hundreds of thousands of dollars on construction costs by providing skilled labor we can trust. We can now use that money saved to invest in the programs we are creating to help youth break the cycles of poverty, find their purpose and become the people we know they can be,” said Chad Mayer, executive director of Sharefest.

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After participating in past rebuilding projects and developing a strong connection with the organization, DPR saw a prime opportunity to make a difference at the Youth Development Center. Photo courtesy of Sharefest Community Development

Recognizing there was an unfilled need for subcontractors on the project, the DPR team set to work enlisting the help of five major trades, including plumbing, mechanical, electrical and fire protection subcontractors. To assist with outreach efforts, DPR employed 360-degree photo technology to capture the existing space, allowing subcontractors to conduct virtual job walks before committing their resources.

While the team has contributed significant hours during the preconstruction phase, DPR will continue to be involved, and will be self-performing concrete work on the project to help Sharefest turn the vision for its new youth development center into reality. Construction work began earlier this month, and the project is slated to be completed later this year.

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30,000 sq. ft. of The Foundry, a mixed-use project, will become DPR’s new regional office space in Austin. Photo courtesy of Sixthriver Architects

DPR recently broke ground on The Foundry, a mixed-use project for Cielo Property Group in East Austin. 30,000 sq. ft. of its workspace will become DPR’s new Austin office, bringing the team closer to projects and customers downtown. Building great things in Texas since 1994, DPR’s staff in Austin has grown by 50% since 2015, causing the team to outgrow its current office space.

“We were looking for office space and Cielo was looking for a contractor to build the building as well as a tenant, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to extend an already successful partnership,” said DPR’s Matt Hoglund, member of DPR’s management committee who leads operations in the central region. “The location is ideal for a number of reasons, including providing us with an opportunity to create an environment where our employees will be able to take advantage of green space and other amenities.”

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The Foundry is aiming for net-zero energy certification as well as WELL Certification. Photo courtesy of Sixthriver Architects

Designed by Sixthriver Architects, the Foundry is aiming to become one of the first commercial buildings in Austin to earn net-zero energy certification from the International Living Future Institute, meaning it will produce as much or more energy as it consumes. It also aims to become one of the first buildings in Austin to earn WELL Certification from the International WELL Building Institute, a designation that recognizes buildings that improve health and human experience through design.

“This project is all about creating an office space that promotes wellness for our employees and at the same time ensures the building is efficient,” Hoglund said. “That is the reason we plan to seek the WELL Building Certification, which includes everything from the food brought in for employees to access to fitness programs.”

Opening in spring 2019, the Foundry will become not only be a great place to work, but DPR’s home in Austin for years to come. 

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The team recently began excavating the site as it works toward The Foundry’s spring 2019 opening. Photo courtesy of Mark Oliver
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Photo courtesy of Matt Pranzo

When Pat McDowell was a kid, she thought she was going to be a “mad scientist” when she grew up. With a desk covered with pipettes, test tubes and beakers, she conducted her own experiments for hours and hours–never enough to satisfy her curious mind.

Today, she builds the laboratory and research facilities where life-saving medicine and therapies are brought to market. As a MEP coordinator at DPR, she specializes in complex and ever-changing MEP systems in life sciences facilities, made particularly challenging because of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements and procedures. In most situations, the products being created in the facilities she builds will eventually end up in a person’s body, giving her work extra meaning. To her, MEP systems are “alive,” and once they are installed, it’s just the beginning. McDowell’s passion lies in making sure the systems–whether it is mechanical, electrical or piping–are integrated so facilities run as safely and efficiently as possible. 

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As a MEP coordinator at DPR, Pat McDowell specializes in complex and ever-changing MEP systems in life sciences facilities. Photo courtesy of Matt Pranzo

McDowell joined DPR in 1994 after she graduated from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo with a degree in construction management, because she was attracted to the company’s entrepreneurial culture and opportunities for growth. Early in her career, she had trouble initially convincing customers and craft workers in the field that she knew what she was doing. She chooses to drive a DPR truck because she has encountered people who have difficulty accepting that she works for a general contractor and belongs onsite–especially guards at security gates–while she is driving her personal car. Over time, she built a reputation as a hands-on, well-respected builder, earning the trust of her teams and customers.

“There aren’t a lot of people who do what I do, who look how I do,” she said. “Trust and respect are built by helping each other. We’re all one team, so something as simple as giving people a heads up of what’s to come, so we don’t get ourselves backed into a tight situation, goes a long way.” 

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When McDowell was a kid, she thought she was going to be a “mad scientist” when she grew up. Today, she builds the laboratory and research facilities where life-saving medicine and therapies are brought to market. Photo courtesy of Matt Pranzo

In her nearly 24 years with DPR, McDowell has grown with DPR, working on several large-scale projects, including:

McDowell remembers how in the early days of DPR, everybody worked across multiple roles, creating well-rounded talent and teams of dynamic seller-doers. After years of growth and change, she’s seen DPR’s unique, empowered culture remain intact and provide people with even more opportunities to develop and grow. Now, her focus is on sharing her experience and passing knowledge on to the next generation of builders. 

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McDowell is passionate about sharing her experience and passing knowledge on to the next generation of builders. Photo courtesy of Matt Pranzo

Speaking at a Girls, Inc. after-school workshop about careers in the construction industry, McDowell told the group of third to fifth graders, “Never settle thinking that you know everything, because every day you can learn something new. Be curious, and always try to learn just a little bit more. You never know when you will have your next breakthrough.”

It is this constant curiosity and desire to learn, develop and grow that has driven McDowell throughout her entire career. And every day she goes to work, doing what she loves, she hopes to teach and inspire others to become the builders, engineers or mad scientists that they dream to be. 

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Dave Seastrom, Mark Whitson and Matt Hoglund join DPR Management Committee

DPR’s collaborative spirit is exemplified through shared leadership. It began with DPR’s three co-founders, Doug Woods, Peter Nosler and Ron Davidowski, and continues with the Management Committee and throughout the company. Shared leadership focuses on combining the strengths of people to produce high-performing teams for our customers and projects around the world. 

During 2017, DPR added three new members to its Management Committee:

DAVE SEASTROM
Dave Seastrom‘s 35+ year career in construction started as a fascination with his father’s industrial engineering work, designing and laying out manufacturing plants. Excited to see the actual implementation of engineering designs, Seastrom pursued a degree in civil engineering with an emphasis in construction from the University of Southern California. Seastrom is a builder at heart. 

Working in Southern California throughout his career, Seastrom is the Southwest Regional Leader, providing leadership and management support for DPR’s Southern California and Arizona operations, which includes offices in Pasadena, Newport Beach, San Diego and Phoenix.

MARK WHITSON
Throughout his career, Mark Whitson has always gravitated toward more complex and technical projects that require a specific expertise and strong attention to detail. “What I love about construction is the impact we can have in helping other companies deliver best in class facilities for their people to enjoy and for the services they provide.” 

In 2014, Whitson was named regional manager for the Raleigh-Durham region, and in 2016 he assumed the role of regional leader for the Southeast. As a Management Committee member, Whitson is leveraging his operational expertise to oversee DPR’s operations throughout the Southeast, which includes offices in the Carolinas, Florida and Georgia.

MATT HOGLUND
Matt Hoglund is a builder in every sense. He works tirelessly to connect with employees and customers, energizing teams to produce truly great results. As Hoglund reminds us, “The real opportunity for success lies within the person and not in the job.” Hoglund serves as the Central Regional Leader for DPR’s growing Texas operation, which includes offices in Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. 

His career has included residential, retail, office and hospitality projects, including the JW Marriott, Charles Schwab Corporate Campus, and Aloft/Element Hotel. Matt received recognition in ENR Texas and Louisiana’s Top 20 under 40 list in 2012 and Building Design+Construction’s 40 Under 40 Class of 2017.

DPR recently celebrated full mobilization and the start of foundation work for the new 270,000-sq.-ft. Joan and Sanford I. Weill Neurosciences Building for the University of California, San Francisco.

To honor the milestone, which occurred by drilling the first production auger cast pile, the team celebrated with all project partners in the Big Room, a collaborative space that physically brings together designers, builders, trade partners and facility operators. 

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When complete, the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Neurosciences Building will make the neuroscience complex at UCSF Mission Bay one of the largest in the world. Photo courtesy of Barry Fleisher

“After a year and four months in preconstruction, we are extremely excited to celebrate the start of construction. We wouldn’t be here today without all our tremendous design and trade partners. Everyone in this room should be very proud to have played a part in this project so far, and I can’t wait to see the project built,” said DPR’s Tim Kueht, during a cake toast to kick off the celebration.

Prior to the ceremony, the entire Big Room team attended a presentation given by UCSF Medical Center’s nurses, doctors and researchers. These monthly presentations inspire and help the project team better understand the greater impact the facility will have on advancing the full spectrum of brain health through research, education and patient care.

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The 12 companies co-located in the Big Room celebrated the start of foundation work. Photo courtesy of Barry Fleisher

After pivoting from a career in computer programming, George Pfeffer joined DPR in 1992 as a project engineer, growing with the company as he went on to become a regional manager in the Bay Area. Pfeffer now leads DPR’s Management Committee.

The San Francisco Business Times recently interviewed Pfeffer for its ongoing executive profile series, featuring his thoughts on the future of the industry and what it will take to continue to build great things for its customers and employees in an ever-changing environment.

Following are excerpts from the San Francisco Business Times profile. To read the article in full, check out: dpr.com/media/news

What are some of the projects that you’re most excited about?
We pride ourselves on doing buildings that matter. An example of that is all our hospitals. You just feel really special at the end of the day when you’re finishing something that is helping save someone’s life. Hospitals that we’ve done recently include the Chinese Hospital in San Francisco, UCSF Mission Bay, and Kaiser Permanente facilities up in Sacramento. Some developers say construction costs are beginning to stifle development.

Do you agree?
There is no doubt construction costs are going up. There’s several things. It’s a continued, long-term healthy market. Coming out of the downturn several years ago, several construction companies either reduced their size, consolidated or wrapped up shop altogether. There are fewer players. Also, escalation of material costs is one that just naturally happens.

Is there anything that can temper construction costs?
Here in the Bay Area we have 825 craft union employees. We try to be as in control of our own labor force as much as we can to overcome those peaks and valleys. Separate from that, the industry is ready for disruption. There is a business disruption headed our way at some point for the positive—certainly through prefabrication.

Unions have opposed prefabricated construction on certain projects. Do you feel that’s a problem and how do you reconcile the conflict?
It’s probably an over generalization to qualify all unions as the same. Several unions are embracing prefabrication. The carpenters, for instance, are actually trying to find ways to do more prefabrication. They understand this disruption is coming.

You sound very positive about prefab.
We definitely are very positive about it. We work very hard in this company to try to eliminate waste in the process. We can eliminate some of the waste by improving efficiencies and how products are delivered. Ultimately, it’s a benefit to the project and to the customer and that’s what we want to do.

If there’s one thing you can change about yourself what would that be?
I’d like to be more of a morning person. I get up fairly early in the morning and it probably takes me longer to get going than I would like.