The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Tennessee County Municipal Advisory Service

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Step 1: Define the Construction Project

Reference Number: MTAS-803
Tennessee Code Annotated
Reviewed Date: October 04, 2017
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1. Define the Construction Project

The first and perhaps most important step to making your project a success is to define the project (Waldrup, Heathcoat, Sweeney).

  • What is the purpose of the project?
  • What do you want to accomplish when the project is complete?

These are big-picture questions. At this step, the details are not of major importance. Begin by discussing the following questions within the administrative board. You may not have complete answers, but answer as best as you can. Be cautious about jumping to the details too quickly. Specific technologies and solutions will come later, as the technical personnel add their input. Consider the following questions:

  • What is the project?
  • Why this project at this time?
  • What problems will be solved?
  • What is the expected useful life of the completed project?
  • What are the long-term consequences?
  • What opportunities are gained?
  • When does the work need to be completed?
  • Who will manage the project?
  • Can the community afford the project?
  • How will you describe a successful project?

Review and discuss your deliberations with your city staff. In most cases, staff members will have initiated the project, so they have already answered some of the important questions for themselves. Their involvement during the project development and decision-making stage is critically important. The people who work in the area will be able to add clarity to the questions and answers. They should be able to fill in details about current capacities, rates of usage and regulatory concerns. Their input could redefine the whole project. It may be appropriate to request that a technical-assistance provider or a regulator be part of your discussion. These professionals frequently can add direction because they can point out options that are not available due to regulations or public health and environmental concerns. They also may direct you toward similar projects that have been successful or unsuccessful.

There may be other technical experts who could be involved in the discussion at this time. Take time to visit similar projects to discover problems encountered or processes that worked well.

Again, a word of caution about jumping to the details: These initial discussions are about general ideas and general concepts. This will be time consuming, but the time is well spent to have a clearly defined project. Consider the following questions for the next round of discussions with staff, regulators or assistance providers:

  • What is the project?
  • Will the project solve the problem?
  • What are the long-term consequences?
  • What is the expected useful life of the completed project?
  • What opportunities are gained?
  • When does the work need to be completed?
  • Who will manage the project?
  • What assistance is needed to complete the project?
  • What are the regulatory considerations?
  • What will the project cost?
  • Can we operate it once it is built?
  • Can the community afford the project?
  • How will you describe a successful project?

Next, think about operations (Dr. Joe Middlebrook):

  • Will a plant be able to produce the needed effluent or drinking water quality?
  • Will a collection or distribution system deliver the appropriate service?
  • What are the capital costs?
  • What are the expected operation and maintenance costs?
  • What level of operator skill will be needed?
  • What number of operators will be needed?
  • What is the ability of the community to support the facility?

The process of defining the project may take significant time. It is a circular process of asking questions of why, what, and how several times to several different groups in order to come to a consensus of what is best to meet the public needs. If this process has involved all the various parties that will be involved in the design and operation, your partnership is well on its way.

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