By leaning on industry close-out best-practices, while incorporating some modifications to address the unique considerations for an MRF, the close-out can give the owner the tools needed to run their facility in a safe and efficient manner going forward.
By Evan Williams

When constructing a new or retrofitting an existing Material Recovery Facility (MRF), the focus tends to be on the equipment, its commissioning, and the training of the sorting and operations staff, as that is the critical area for performance of the facility. What often gets left behind in that focus are the other important tasks of the balance of construction completion such as: punch list, close-out, commissioning, training, hand-over of the facility to the staff that will need to handle its operation going forward, as well as warranty coordination. These steps, while lower in priority to the sorting and processing equipment, are essential to the proper functioning of a successful facility and should be addressed in a detailed and comprehensive manner.

Equipment being tested and final mods taking place. Photos courtesy of Cambridge Companies.

Construction Completion
In the rush to get the building complete to allow the facility sorting and processing equipment to be installed, certain tasks may have been left incomplete to focus on higher-priority items, or work was put on hold to allow other trades into the same area. There needs to be a running list of these items and a realistic plan to implement their completion that is coordinated with the equipment installation team. Typically, with effective coordination, access in and around the equipment can be accommodated to allow other building work to be completed, while not impacting its installation. An added complication is that many building sub-contractors (electrical and fire sprinkler for example) are also working on, around or under the equipment, and their resources may be over-extended, so the work takes a bit longer. Generally speaking, you can get a temporary Certificate of Occupancy (TCO) to allow the owner to begin to bump the motors and test the equipment even while you finish up some of the items that would fall in this category. If you are not able to secure that TCO, it may be a risk to the project schedule, the subs, the owner and equipment vendor. Everyone needs to be on the same page with regard to the project priorities as well as their impacts (cost, schedule, etc.) to have the project finish strong.


Punch List
This is a critical item to ensure overall project quality, owner satisfaction, and a smooth turnover from contractor to owner. As the work is nearing completion, the construction general contractor should be keeping an internal punch list of items they have observed, which need to be either completed or corrected. About a month prior to turnover, an in-person Punch List walk-through should be planned with the owner’s staff (may include project architect) as well as the construction staff to walk through the facility. They can consult the Construction Field Manager’s list as well as add items they observe as they walk through the space. Care should be taken to classify which items are punch list (deficiency or omission) and which are owner’s changes (deviation from project drawings). The punch list should be updated to include these items and issued to the project team. This list will be circulated by the construction team to the sub-contractors with plans of action set out and completion dates attached to these items. Depending on the project size and the Punch List size, a second punch list walk-through to confirm these items were satisfactorily addressed may be required, but this typically involves fewer attendees.

Equipment Accommodation
This is not a step in a typical building project close-out, but it is typical that changes or additions need to be made to the building to better accommodate the equipment. Typical items include: convenience outlets in-around the sorting platforms, moving lights to avoid equipment or better distribute light, additional openings in the building to accommodate conveyors, access points or similar items, addition of lights under platforms, adding of protective bollards or equipment guards, adding floor striping to define pedestrian and rolling equipment paths, adding fencing to close off areas under the equipment to protect employees or visitors, adding safety signage, adding fire extinguishers, or adding sprinkler heads under equipment and other such items. These items are often difficult to anticipate earlier in the design process, but are likely to come up once people can see the equipment installed and get a real life visual of how the space will function. These can be addressed with a budget allowance early in the project or as an owner’s additional work order. It is best to identify these items quickly and group them all together for ease of owner approval. These should be added to the Punch List for tracking purposes if they come up late in the project lifecycle.

Equipment commissioning.

Safety Walk
Typically, about eight weeks prior to project completion and equipment testing beginning, the owner and the contractor should walk the facility and the site to identify all safety items that need to be addressed. This could be floor striping, enclose space markings, poor lighting, lock out/tag out items, access points, exit paths, bollard protection, hazardous item storage, truck maneuvering modifications, safety lane items, parking areas, visitor access and many other items. Oftentimes the owner’s safety team is not involved in the project early enough, so this is their opportunity to point out anything and everything that will make the facility safe to operate.

This task involves addressing and closing out the project contracts and agreement, final payment(s), contingency/allowance reconciliation, retainage and waivers. This is then added to the close-out book. This should not be done after the project is essentially complete, as once the project communication and engagement diminish, collecting this information will become much more difficult. Project administrative staff should be collecting this information as the project progresses and start to actively work toward gathering the close-out paperwork concurrent with the construction completion work.

Commissioning of building systems will have an increasing role in building close-out. The HVAC systems will need proper testing and balancing. Updated energy codes are increasingly requiring third-party testing to confirm the systems are performing to the designed specifications. Other commissioning may include building envelope testing, thermal performance testing, as well as electric controls testing. Additional systems that may require commissioning include elevators, storm and sanitary lift stations, fire alarms, fire sprinkler and other complex building systems. Coordinating these activities, as they are often required for the building Certificate of Occupancy and the staff to perform this commissioning, often have a backlog of work, so getting this scheduled well in advance is key.

Final under equipment fire sprinkler being installed.

Having a complete facility with installed systems that are properly commissioned is critical. Equally important are properly trained owner staff that will need to operate these systems going forward. It is critical that the owner makes staff available during commissioning to learn the systems and how they operate. In addition, all the building sub-contractors should have hours in their contracts to properly train the owner on how the systems work. Just providing a manufacturer’s operation guide in the O&M Book is not enough. Ideally, the owner’s staff will have experience running similar facilities, so they should have some familiarity with the systems involved. At a minimum, the O&M Manual should have a 12-month calendar laid out with critical maintenance activities identified. These would include seasonal HVAC service, filter changes, back-flow preventer inspections, yearly elevator service and license renewal, fire extinguisher inspections and other similar tasks. At the end of the day, the owner is responsible for running the facility, but a better informed and engaged owner is better prepared to correctly run the system, minimizing call-backs and warranty issues. Time and money spent on training may be tough to justify at the end of a long project, but it is essential for the successful completion of every project.

Upon completion of all the above-mentioned project completion steps, it is time for formal hand-over. This typically incorporates the completed Project, Warranty, and Operations and Maintenance (O&M) books that have been prepared by the general contractor. These books often have records of the building Certificate of Occupancy, issued by the local jurisdiction, and any other completed permit information and inspections that took place during construction. Typically, a date of substantial completion is set, which is either when the Certificate of Occupancy is issued, or a date upon which the Owner and General Contractor mutually agree. This is the date upon which the one-year warranty coverage period starts.

Typically, construction projects of this type carry a 12-month warranty. Any issues that come up during that timeframe can and should be addressed by the contractor. Items covered under warranty are items that are of no fault of the owner, such as the HVAC compressor failing and light fixtures failing, just to name two. Items damaged due to owner operations such as an overhead door getting knocked off track due to someone hitting it would not be covered. Towards the end of that 12-month period, the contractor and owner should schedule another walk-through. This will allow both parties to identify and confirm any warranty items that need to be addressed. This protects both groups, as it formalizes expectations for the warranty work, and it clarifies the end of the warranty period, after which repairs are the responsibility of the owner.

Safety and Efficiency Moving Forward
MRFs and similar facilities exist primarily as machines for receiving and sorting material streams. The buildings that enclose and support them can take a somewhat lower priority when the project is nearing completing and all attention is focused on getting the system up and running. By leaning on industry close-out best-practices, while incorporating some modifications to address the unique considerations for an MRF, the close-out can give the owner the tools needed to run their facility in a safe and efficient manner going forward. The building general contractor should take the lead to ensure a structured project completion process that addresses the owner’s needs and best prepares them for success. | WA

Evan Williams is a Design Project Manager at Cambridge Companies (Griffith, IN), a design-build firm working with the waste industry for more than 25 years. During this time, more than 150 solid waste design-build projects have been completed including new build, repairs, upgrades and/or modifications at transfer stations, recycling centers/MRFs, hauling companies, landfill facilities, office buildings and more. Cambridge continually monitors the industry to determine any new needs, changes or improvements that will benefit their clients and improve their design-build solutions. Evan can be reached at (219) 972-1155, via e-mail at [email protected] or visit