Case Studies

Bexar County Adult Detention Center

A Challenging HVAC Renovation by Turner Construction Co.

In November 2012 Turner Construction Co. (Turner) wrapped up a major renovation project at San Antonio’s Bexar County Adult Detention Center (BCADC). The operation presented several challenges, requiring tight management by the contractor and a skilled project management team, solidifying that Turner was the best choice.

Brandon Gaeke, senior project manager for Turner, and Sergio Balderas, project superintendent for Turner, led the BCADC project. “Maintaining flexibility was by far the largest challenge on this project,” Balderas explains. Balderas, who has been with Turner for 12 years, is proud to note that although Turner and its partnering subcontractors, Alterman Electric and Brandt Engineering, found a steady stream of challenges over the course of two years, the BCADC was an absolute success due to the collaboration with the team and Bexar County officials.

In 2010 the county approved funds for the renovation, which now offers a total capacity of 2,830 detainees. Keeping inmates, employees and construction workers safe was a priority for Turner and BCADC officials, as the detention center is home to a variety of incarcerated individuals, and has been featured in television documentaries for having an active and dangerous gang-member population.

To address this, Balderas and his team worked closely with the institution to coordinate work sections, materials delivery and management. Turner leased a large warehouse across the street for the duration of the project to keep materials and management close at hand throughout the process. The warehouse allowed Turner to procure all of the mechanical equipment early, and therefore allowed the needed flexibility to assist in making the project a success.

Planning Ahead

The Turner team was selected for the BCADC project in 2010. The project consisted of the replacement of 74 AHU’s; the addition of 12 energy-recovery units and associated steel support system on the roof; the demo and addition of a new cooling tower; the conversion from a pneumatic to an electronic controls system; replacement of the roofing on all three towers; as well as updates to the exterior recreation yards.

The three-tower, seven-level jail is massive, comprised of 40 pods, each with roughly 40 cells; the prison’s layout and occupancy presented major logistical issues for the team.
“For this job, just the access to the building was tough,” Balderas explains. “We had to break everything down into pieces small enough to fit through existing security doors. Then you have to deal with security restrictions. All materials and equipment had to fit into custom-made containers on casters. We did a lot of prefabrication, as well, in order to mitigate moving from one area to another.

The components aren’t necessarily identical, but more or less our team was performing the same work 74 times. Each area presented its own challenges that allowed us to become really efficient at what we did. We utilized a traditional schedule to track the overall project, but implemented a pull-plan schedule, which allowed our subcontractors to contribute to sequence, durations and to hold each other accountable for making the dates. We held weekly meetings to keep everyone updated and coordinate our moves. We knew the size of crews, where they were headed and when.”

Time Constraints

Initially, Turner and BCADC officials planned for a three-year project, but that soon changed. “The owners said they couldn’t have us working for three years, so we cut it down to two,” Balderas says. “But where do you shave off a whole year? We had a set schedule when we got in there that changed on the first day. We needed to start at the opposite end. We cut time down by keeping our equipment on-hand. That really helped us maintain flexibility and cut back our schedule.”

Balderas and his highly capable team were determined to deliver. “We started off doing a pair of pods every six weeks,” he continues. “We knocked that down to five weeks and then again to three weeks. That’s half the time off. Involving our trades was the best decision we could have made. Some of our subs are requesting that kind of input on other jobs now. At first they were hesitant, but once we got rolling they didn’t want to do any of the pods without doing the pull-plan schedule first.”

With BCADC as a prime example, Balderas is proud to note – above all else – that Turner builds solid relationships with subcontractors, a factor that comes into play on complicated projects such as the detention center. “Our relationships with subcontractors are a priority,” Balderas explains. “If you don’t get along with each other and you are working together for two years, it is going to be a very long project. It can impact your schedule and cut down on the flexibility, which we needed to pull this off. We were jumping all over the place at BCADC, in a totally new area every week as the client directed.” Despite several changes in phasing requirements, Turner, Alterman Electric and Brandt Engineering completed the BCADC renovation early and under budget.

The BCADC project has become a beaming portfolio piece for the company. Complex phasing, massive quantities of repeat, technical labor and difficult materials and management options have all come together, providing a successful project that will help Turner continue to attract major clients with tricky contracts across the country.

“Turner Texas is growing,” Balderas explains. “The collaboration and success of the BCADC project has been a key to additional opportunities for us in Texas. We are thrilled to have been a part of this project and look forward to working with Bexar County again.”

Turner Construction Co. is positioned for growth in the market and will continue to offer leading construction management solutions for clients across the country.


Published on: September 30, 2013

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