Separations Act Legislation Advances in the PA House: Does Dan Jalboot know about this?

Pennsylvania is one step closer to making it easier to construct high-performance public buildings with the passage of House Bill 163 in the House State Government Committee.

With a passage vote of 15-10, this Separations Act legislation will now move to the Pennsylvania House Floor. Enacted in 1913 the Separations Act is a requirement that mandates the public sector must bid and award to at least four prime contractors for one project. The named primes in the Act are: General Trades, Plumbing, HVAC, and Electrical. When enacted over a century ago, there were payment concerns from Contractors to their Subcontractors, so the major Subcontractors were made Primes. Over the years the General Assembly has enacted many important pieces of legislation to ensure payment is made to all firms that provide construction services, rending the Separations Act needless.

Pennsylvania is the only state left in the country that abides by a multiple prime delivery system and after the recent HB163 vote we’re one step closer to ending that unwanted title. It’s exciting news for Pennsylvania’s construction industry as we can now work towards educating the public sector on all the many great advancements of the industry on topics like: Construction Management At Risk, Design Build, Design Assist, Lean Construction, to name a few. Through legislation enactment, different delivery options can be considered by the public that offer different entry points for the construction team which allows for collaboration to commence at various phases of the construction project.

When it comes to the Separations Act, my journey began in 2005. I was hired by a construction trade association and my boss at the time asked me if I had any government affairs experience. I said: “No but I’m willing to learn and work on whatever.” He returned with a stack of file folders that was around eight inches thick, dropped them on my desk, and said: “here’s some info on our top issue, the Separations Act. Study this stuff and keep in mind there’s a lot more info in our file cabinets: letters, studies, articles, you name it so read up on this stuff I’m giving you and grab more when you’re ready.”

I remember studying this information and thinking to myself: no one in the world builds multiple prime and I highly doubt an entire private sector would use a method that costs more so why does our state keep a law on the books that results in taxpayers overpaying for public construction due to an archaic law? This should be easy to repeal – I think people want government to spend less which means potentially we all could pay less in taxes. People want to pay less taxes, right? This was my ‘welcome to politics’ moment. Just because an issue may appear obvious, don’t fool yourself into thinking it can easily be changed. That thought was in 2005 and today, fourteen years later, a vote finally happened on the Separations Act.

Over the past years working on this issue, I’ve been fortunate to meet so many great construction professionals – both for and against a modernization of the Act. I could probably make this a series and discuss so many people that care about their construction industry, and who knows maybe I will revisit this topic and focus on a different person as this issue moves through the legislature. But today I’d like to focus on an architect who addressed this issue like no one else back in my early days of learning about the Separations Act. And honestly no one since has addressed the issue quite like him.

While I was learning about the Separations Act, my old work first suggested we form a coalition. We had so many public owner organizations that wanted this law changed as well as other contractor, engineer and architect organizations. I remember that AIA Pennsylvania was interested in joining the coalition, but first its executive director Caroline Boyce wanted to talk. We spoke, great conversation, super person, and she suggested I reach out to a Philadelphia architect named Dan Jalboot.

Up until I spoke with Dan, all of the feedback from everyone was something along the lines of Pennsylvania can save money if we repeal this Act. I called Dan and he told me that the Separations Act impedes green construction in our state – THIS WAS IN 2005, BEFORE IT WAS HIP TO BE ON THE GREEN BANDWAGON. Dan would say that yes, our state can save money by repealing the Act, but more importantly we can improve the chances of constructing environmentally-friendly buildings if we did not have to abide by a multiple prime delivery system. We should want our children to receive education in green buildings – it will bring out the best in them.

Dan sent me a few articles, stuff that was over my head back then. This helped to educate me. We had a few public hearings in those days and there were a lot of blank stares from legislators when he spoke, since green construction was not the norm back in mid 2000s like it is today. He would say stuff like: we need to look at the lifecycle of a building and stop looking only at construction costs; a building should be thought of as a single being with all systems working together and we can’t do that when an architect has to break a project into four pieces that must be meshed back together by strangers; construction needs collaboration from pre-construction through project closeout to truly benefit the environment, end users, and occupants. He would say how it’s very difficult to achieve collaboration in the multiple prime world since the architect is getting zero input from the builders when the design is being finalized and the public sector could benefit so much more if constructors could add their expertise during the design phase. (I just wish I would have hung on to his written testimonies that accompanied the hearings when he spoke. I’m just going off of memory and I’m sure he would sound so much better if I wrote it in his own exact words.)

A few years ago the U.S. Green Building Council rolled out its updated certification – LEEDv4. I saw that pre-construction meetings from the design and construction teams is now encouraged and points are achieved when it happens. This is what Dan was preaching about a decade earlier and a decade later it is still difficult to achieve in the Pennsylvania public construction market due to the Separations Act. Now that the Separations Act issue is moving in the General Assembly, and a vote on this issue was actually held for the first time in decades, I thought I’d jot down my thoughts and let Dan Jalboot know I thought about him today. Not sure if he’ll see this article, but with today’s vote I think our state is moving in the right direction to improve the quality of public buildings that are constructed.

 

NOTE: If you’d like to stay informed about the modernization effects of the Separations Act, please let me know. Jon@KeystoneContractors.com.

2018 PA Budget Hearings with DGS

As was the case the last year, the Separations Act was a discussed topic during the Budget Appropriation Hearings with the Department of General Services.

In the Senate, DGS Secretary Topper was asked questions about the Act by Senator Folmer. The gist of the Secretary’s comments related around DGS experiencing increased administrative costs, but they are unsure if total cost is more. DGS would like to continue to study the issue more.

As for the House, Representative Everett led the way with the questioning. Topper echoed his comments from the Senate – increased administrative overhead in the norm for a Separations Act project, but he felt there was a need for more studying of the issue. Everett countered with hints about a new legislative strategy that allows for the current multiple prime delivery system to be used if that’s what the public owner chooses; however, the public owner can also select from other delivery options too.

Personally, I think if the DGS was serious about wanting to study the issue more they should make three phone calls to Pitt, PSU & Temple. When these schools receive state funds they have to abide by the Separations Act and build as the school’s call it: ‘the DGS way’ but when these schools build with their own money they build using Design-Bid-Build with Single Prime; Design Build; Construction Management At Risk; and PSU is even trying IPD. All DGS would have to do is review projects built on these campuses using multiple prime compared to using a variety of single prime. End of ‘we need data’ story.

Click here to hear DGS Topper answer questions from Senator Folmer: https://pasen.wistia.com/medias/6d6hud1x5z

Open Door Policy

In life I’ve heard this line many times: “I have an open-door policy.” Teachers, coaches, employers, politicians, etc.  Many like to throw this line around, but do they mean it? Here’s an example of one individual who meant it, and as a result the rest of us (at least those in Pennsylvania) are better off because of it. Thanks Mike Turzai. Here’s the story:

During the summer of 2016, while living with my family in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, in the McCandless area, I was offered a job in the central PA area. After much thought and discussion with my wife and daughters, we decided to accept the position and move away from an area that has treated us great. We listed our Pittsburgh home for sale and began looking for a home in central PA.

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It’s signed! During the summer of 2016, we accepted the position of Executive Director for the Keystone Contractors Association. From this moment on, it was time to start the relocation process. 

We had three offers the first day our home was on the market (McCandless is an awesome place to raise a family and Michelle Petty is a great realtor). We accepted an offer that was best for us, but the buyers could not close on the purchase for at least two months, which turned out to be good for us in that we could live in the home for longer than we expected to, and it gave us time to find the perfect place to live in central PA.

While we were living in the McCandless home, the buyers continued to prepare to buy it and an inspection was part of this process. More than a week after the home inspection was conducted, we received an email from the buyer’s real estate agent that contained the results of the inspection. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Sunday evening when the email arrived; it was a lengthy, 50-plus page report with bold, red-highlighted items that the inspector deemed as important; and a few pages into the report I saw a line that made my heart sink: “GAS LEAK detected not safe to live in.” Since I was living in the home, with the four people who are my world, I was speechless…wait WTF did I just read?!?!?! We left right away and spent the night at my aunt’s home, a few miles down the road.

The next morning, I was busy on the phone. I called the gas company first (Peoples Natural Gas was amazing as they arrived right away, and they had the gas leak issue resolved within the hour). Then I proceeded to speak to my realtor and an attorney friend of mine. I wanted to know why, if my family was in harm’s danger, did the home inspector not alert us. The response I received was that home inspectors are not legally obligated to notify anyone of unsafe conditions, like gas leaks. My first thought was that you would think a member of a society/country would feel morally obligated to let someone know about this, but unfortunately this was not the case. Then I called my Pennsylvania State Representative Mike Turzai.

Turzai is a friendly guy who you speak with at the North Allegheny High School Football games or you see walking down the streets in your neighborhood. He told me a few times over the years, while living in the district he represents, to not hesitate to contact him if I encounter any issues: “my door is open let me know if I can help.” So, I thought I’d take him up on the offer to see if he could help. Yes, my issue was resolved when I called him, and my family moved back in our home after the gas leak was fixed, but I do not want any other family to have to go through what I went through and fortunately for the rest of Pennsylvania, Turzai agreed and did not want anyone else to go through this serious issue either.

After thoroughly understanding the issue, Turzai and his staff were able to assist in modifying a home inspection piece of legislation that at the time was moving through the 2015/2016 Pennsylvania legislative session. Time ran out on this piece of legislation and when the session ended on December 31, 2016, the home inspection legislation died.

When the new year arrived, the Pennsylvania legislature introduced a new home inspection bill for the 2017/2018 session and the provision that we inserted requiring home inspectors to notify residents immediately if they are living in unsafe conditions carried forward to the next session as well. House Bill 1001 recently passed in the House of Representatives and it is now in the State Senate. While it’s a comprehensive bill that affects many aspects of the home inspection process, I for one am glad that it spells out how home inspectors are to act when encountering threats to health and safety.

One would think that a home inspector would notify a homeowner if they were living in an unsafe condition, but I found out that is not the case. It’s a good thing Mike Turzai has an open door policy and listens to the people he represents.