US, German construction leaders gather for annual forum
March 15, 2013
FREIBURG, Germany - Senior leaders from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District, along with representatives from German federal and state construction ministries, came together last month to discuss progress, tighter collaboration and new initiatives during the 2013 Bauamt Partnering Meeting.
The annual gathering, first held in 1992, is aimed at building a stronger understanding between the partners, better coordination in common activities and highlighting developments on the U.S. and German sides. More than 100 people attended the Feb. 27-28 session, where they exchanged experiences and ideas with project managers and key figures from the ministries, local construction agencies and USACE.
"We have worked well together in our collective endeavors and seen great progress made throughout the past year," said Col. Peter Helmlinger, the Europe District commander. "This year, we carry the momentum forward, with continued emphasis on sustainability and energy management. … As construction agents, we have to deliver quality projects, on time, safely and within budget. I'm delighted to be part of this team."
The Partnering Meeting's opening day featured a presentation from Rich Gifaldi, the district's sustainability engineering manager, on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design implementation and how both countries work together to meet current standards. Adopting local "green" building standards to meet the Army's global environmental and energy-performance goals is an option under consideration by Europe District.
The U.S. Green Building Council developed the LEED metric rating system, used by the American side to meet criteria in renewable energy; design, construction and maintenance solutions; and other efficiencies. Germany has developed two similar -- if not equivalent -- "green" building assessment and certification systems: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Nachhaltiges Bauen, or DGNB, and Bewertungssystem Nachhaltiges Bauen, or BNB.
"LEED, BNB and DGNB all have the same goal of creating sustainable buildings," Gifaldi said.
The Shalikashvili Mission Command Center on Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, built by USACE Europe District, is the U.S. government's first LEED Silver-certified building in Germany. Many more projects are on the same path, and a couple could have a shot at Gold certification, Gifaldi said.
Overall, he added, the navigation process for the U.S. and Germany has become easier and there's a stronger understanding among LEED consultants. Recently, the German government designated an official to work with Europe District on weighing the sustainability rating tools and systems.
"It wasn't just somebody who didn't have enough to do around the office, either," Gifaldi said. "It was an individual who shares a passion for sustainability."
The meeting agenda contained an overview of current USACE programs, including updates on various construction projects across Europe.
The group also discussed the efforts of combined working groups, a concept that started about two years ago. Assistant Deputy District Engineer Lalit Wadhwa said the Project Close Out working group has completed its task, but fire-protection discussions are ongoing. Construction scheduling tweaks have been implemented on a test project.
Construction contract poor performance, design submittal requirements and design approval process, and management of punch-list items and warranty issues are among the themes that could be addressed by future partnering work groups, he added.
"Sometimes, our laws and regulations clash," Wadhwa told the attendees. "It's important that we work with the Ministry of Construction to come up with bilateral solutions. … The main thing is to learn from each other. We have experts here on both sides, and we can talk about it."
As the American and German construction partners steer toward the future, resource management and the timely awarding of contracts will be critical within an uncertain budget and fiscal climate.
"It's an unprecedented situation this year in Washington," he said of military budget sequestration.
The looming financial constraints will force the U.S. and Germany to re-examine priorities and needs, said Ralf Poss, undersecretary for the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development. Speaking about challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in U.S. forces construction, he urged both sides to employ honest interpretations, transparency and clear standards as they strive to find common ground and joint solutions.
"We benefit from close cooperation between our two nations. … We have a strong foundation from which to work successfully toward our mutual goals," he said through a translator. "But we have to remain sensitive to the other side's problems. If we identify standards, we must adhere to them throughout the project, even when there is a change in personnel on the U.S. side.
"We have a lot in common and a lot to look forward to. We're like an old couple that's been together for years and years. We know each other well, our cooperation is very good, but we can still optimize it."
Getting back to basic planning and construction fundamentals will help the agencies surmount obstacles, Poss added. They also must act in a spirit of partnership and not get lost in details during daily discussions by officials -- at the lowest levels, not just in the upper echelons of leadership.
"Germany stands ready to support and will be flexible," he said. "We need to find some quick solutions and come to fast agreements on our issues. We need to have clear definitions moving forward in order to best utilize our shrinking resources."