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Out of chaos comes order, according to what Friedrich Nietzsche once said. It is doubtful that the German existentialist philosopher had parks installations on his mind when he made that statement in the late 19th century, but Nietzsche's idea certainly seems applicable to the seemingly insurmountable undertaking of building a city park. Out of empty, open spaces comes massive earth movement with heavy equipment, mounds of dirt displaced into piles and loaded onto dump trucks to be hauled away and replaced with green sod, irrigation, concrete, asphalt, buildings, site furnishings and trees, among other things, to create an ambience of relaxation and a variety of recreational activities for the young and old alike to enjoy. What was once barren, desolate and unfruitful land can, with imagination and proper planning, become by design a thing of beauty that can go a long way to further a community's enjoyment. Creating beautiful, award-winning parks became somewhat of a specialty for Gothic Landscape, Inc. It is safe to say that nearly all park installation projects feature similarities, but each park project is also designed individually, with its own unique qualities to avoid the increasingly unpopular "cookie cutter" look that has dominated the landscape of many cities in years past (particularly on the West Coast). While it is extremely important to follow a somewhat rigid or static step-by-step design plan to create an award-winning park, there should always be enough flexibility left in the plan to allow for in-progress or even last-minute changes during the installation process. Such flexibility will not only help ward off costly demolition and repairs when such changes are called for, but will also aid in giving each park its own unique appearance. Handling Up-front Concerns "Prior to beginning construction on a park project, it is imperative that the Landscape Contractor make certain that the deal or contract is a good one on the front end before signing," said Rick Blitzstein, Account Executive for Gothic Landscape's Las Vegas branch. Blitzstein stresses the importance, first and foremost, that the Landscape Contractor's sales executive, project manager and the superintendent walk the project carefully and take detailed notes on how the entire job will be constructed and sequenced. Sequence of construction should be a major priority, the importance of which should not be diminished in any way. It would be disastrous, for example, if flatwork such as walkways were completed prematurely, or if plants and trees were put into the ground before the irrigation. To put the process in perspective, it is perhaps best to try and visualize what takes place up-front, before the ground is ever broken. During the estimating process it is important to develop and maintain a close working relationship with the city parks officials in whose jurisdiction the park will be built. Working closely with the client on budgets can help ensure that the job will be brought in on target fiscally. All parties must be in complete agreement on this aspect before putting ink to paper. According to Ron Reitz, Chief Estimator for Gothic Landscape's Las Vegas Branch, the project's scope of work should be clearly and fully understood by both the Landscape Contractor and any subcontractors at the project's outset. Getting off on the right foot at the beginning of a project will help ensure smooth sailing to a project's conclusion. Going after the lowest bidder isn't always the wisest decision, said Reitz. "Insist that any subcontractors be familiar with park projects and have a proven track record," said Reitz. "The lowest-priced subcontractor may end up costing your firm in the long run due to liquidated damages or substandard work that must be redone if they are unable to perform as required." As an additional preparation before actually starting a job it is wise for the Landscape Contractor to conduct regular internal pre-job meetings between its various divisions. Grading, landscaping and purchasing divisions need to work closely with each other, particularly during these critical preparatory stages, to establish the scope of work. Submittals for site furnishings, buildings such as restrooms, electrical plans, concrete, landscape, trees and shrubs, irrigation, and so forth need to be carefully put together and delivered to the client for approval. After the client has approved the submittals and a set of plans has been delivered to the contractor, all of the materials that are needed to complete the job need to be purchased. While the cost of materials is certainly important, quality should not be unduly sacrificed. Poor materials quality can make the difference between a mediocre park and an award-winning one, but more importantly it can mean the difference between a fully satisfied client and a client who may not want return business. Gothic vice president Brian Meehan, also manager of the Las Vegas branch, credits Gothic's repeat business and solid client base to the company's commitment to service for providing the extra competitive edge. "We service our customers to the maximum degree possible," Meehan emphasizes. "That's translated into our extraordinary track record for repeat clients. Once we service them, they keep coming back...our mission is and has always been to create a true partnership with our clients, ensuring mutual success through outstanding, personalized service and problem solving. We possess the resources, equipment, experience and manpower to coordinate and complete just about any landscaping need, including parks. That sets us apart from other landscaping firms." Developing a Critical Path After the client has officially awarded the job to the Landscape Contractor, it is crucial that the contractor develop a critical path, or schedule, that is both reasonable and timely for all concerned parties. A typical critical path will show, for example, a task name, duration of the task, start and finish dates for any given task, and so forth, leaving nothing that is going into the park to the imagination. By this point all of the subcontractors should have been selected, contracts executed with them, and all plans and specifications delivered to them. After contracts have been sealed and relationships cemented, the site on which the park will be built has to be surveyed to verify the grade, prior to any structures being installed or built on the property. "Subgrade cuts per specifications of structures, i.e., bathrooms, walkways, handicap areas, parking lots, sod areas, and so forth, must be verified," said Rick Mier, Grading Division Manager for Gothic Landscape-Las Vegas. "Cut and compacted subgrade must be certified, and all grading coordinated with surveyors." Perhaps one of the most important aspects, if not the most important, before beginning a job is to verify that all subgrade elevations and finished grade elevations are accurate to the specifications, said Mier. This aspect of the project is emphasized because it is a crucial step that if completed correctly will get the job off to a smooth start. If any of the subgrade elevations and/or finished grade elevations are incorrect at the outset and are not corrected before proceeding, the entire job will be a disaster. "After the subgrade has been verified and certified, the next logical step is to unleash the subcontractors so that they can begin installing the 'wet' utilities, items such as water lines, storm drains, and sewers," said Larry Batchelor, Project Manager for Gothic Landscape-Las Vegas. "If at all possible, all building structure foundations should also be started at this time." According to Mier and Batchelor, surveying for the staking of light poles for baseball fields, soccer fields, tennis courts, trenching for installation of electrical and lighting, and so forth, should be scheduled next. After the lighting is set, pouring concrete for sports court pads should be completed. "That way we can bring in concrete trucks without driving across sidewalks and so forth, and minimize damage of our subcontractors' work," Batchelor said. At this stage, flat work such as walkways and masonry, i.e., retaining walls, should be installed. However, it is very important that the retaining walls be constructed prior to installing any walkways that will adjoin or abut them. After the flat work and masonry has been successfully completed, it is appropriate to begin running mainline for irrigation, following walkway hard edges as a guide. After water has been established, begin bringing in the trees and shrubs for installation. By this point in the project many of the final touches will be completed simultaneously, including the aforementioned plant material installation, parking lot installation and paving/asphalt, site furnishings, and so forth. This would also be a good time to touch up finish grade on any soccer or baseball fields, and to complete finish grade and installation of rock mulch. When all of the above has been completed, it is safe to bring in and begin installing the sod, making certain that standard landscaping guidelines are followed for irrigating newly installed sod. Finishing touches include having the lighting connected and parking lots striped. It is extremely important -- and this point cannot be stressed enough -- that at least eight weeks lead-time be allowed for the power company to come in and hook up the lighting. Lastly, schedule a final inspection after a detail crew has gone in to clean up everything -- trees and plants trimmed, asphalt and flat work washed down, any punch list items rectified, and so forth. This would be the time to take care of any items that need to be repaired, replaced, or for anything that might have inadvertently been missed or overlooked during the park's creation to be corrected. Covering Important Issues During the entire park installation process it is vital that the Landscape Contractor frequently follow up with the subcontractors to make certain that the specifications are being followed. The quality of work performed by each subcontractor is very important as the turnover and subsequent acceptance by the city or county entity is contingent upon all work having been completed according to the specifications. Construction meetings should also be held once a week with the on-site city representative, client representative (developer), subcontractors, and the architect. Similarly, safety or tailgate meetings should be held weekly. Another very important issue during the course of construction is that as-built plans be developed, as well as controller charts and anything else that is required per the bid documents. These items must all be in order for a successful turnover. After the park has been turned over and accepted by the city or county entity, be prepared to begin any post-installation maintenance periods agreed upon in the contract.Finally, keep a clean and up-to-date paper trail record of all documents including permits, plans, as-builts safety logs, daily construction logs, sign-in sheets for meetings, and photographs of the work in progress, as these may be beneficial for the submission of any change orders or any legal issues that may arise in the future. The guidelines provided in this article have proven successful for Gothic Landscape's Las Vegas branch, and have been equally important in achieving customer satisfaction. If the Landscape Contractor is willing to go the extra mile, return business and prestigious awards can be assured.

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October 13, 2019, 7:05 pm PDT

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