A Balanced View
It’s a natural tendency in life to want to balance the unbalanced.
When it comes to construction, balance is sought throughout the design of a project. A good engineering design balances all of the costly construction tasks in an effort to minimize the time and material costs required to build a project. This is especially true in site development, where it is crucial to balance the site grading with the site design layout in order to minimize earth excavation and movement about the site.
For example, excavating a mountain down to fill in a valley will result in a flat and balanced building pad, but this approach is extremely inefficient due to the labor and equipment costs associated with moving and placing all of this earth, as well as the amount of time required to achieve this “balanced” site. A better approach is to optimize the site grading in conjunction with the site design in order to minimize the overall amount of earth movement while still balancing the site.
Designed to Succeed
Langan Engineering & Environmental Services, headquartered in Elmwood Park, N.J., understands the need to balance all of the various aspects of a construction project. Over the past 40 years, Langan has become a premiere provider of integrated land development, geotechnical, environmental and surveying consulting services. Langan utilizes their vast design and construction experience to provide their clients, which include developers and contractors, with cost effective designs for their projects. Langan achieves these cost-effective designs by thinking outside of the box and using innovative technologies, such as the site optimization software SITEOPS.
Langan was approached by a developer to evaluate a potential project located in eastern Pennsylvania. The developer provided a site layout showing his desired configuration for a retail component anchored by a 50,000-square-foot food store and a gas station. The retail space, food store and gas station were tightly arranged together, with nothing more than a grass median and an access road separating the buildings.
Langan graded the site using SITEOPS and produced a balanced site with 202,000 cubic yards of earth movement while maintaining the client’s desired site layout. The client was extremely pleased with the results of this grading analysis, but Langan knew they could improve upon the design of this site and decided to take it one step further.
Utilizing the speed of SITEOPS, Langan optimized several alternate site plan layout configurations in less than a day. After evaluating these layouts, Langan chose the best site design to present to the developer, which kept the food store in the same location on the site as the original layout but positioned the proposed gas station within its own separate outparcel. By separating the retail buildings from the gas station building, the software was able to optimize the site grading of each building, which greatly reduced the earthwork down to a total of 85,100 cubic yards of earth movement.
Additionally, the steep slopes of the access driveway were greatly reduced in the new design, allowing for a safer driving experience. Because of the new site layout, Langan provided the developer with two additional outparcels for future development, all while keeping the site balanced.
“Being civil engineers, we can visualize in our minds the site layouts and grading scenarios, but the challenge is to translate our thoughts into the computer quickly,” says Iyad Kojak, P.E., principal engineer for Langan.
“With the alternate layouts generated via SITEOPS on this project, we were able to create a better layout and traffic flow for the site as well as better visibility and access to the gas station—the two extra outparcels were a bonus for our client.”
Gregory Elko, P.E., LEED AP, principal engineer for Langan, presented both scenarios, the original layout graded by Langan and the optimized SITEOPS layout, to the client. The client chose the SITEOPS layout because of the lower cost of moving earth—a reduction in site costs of $279,000, or $9,000 per acre.
“This is a perfect example of the flexibility of SITEOPS,” says Michael Semeraro, P.E., P.P., managing principal for Langan. “The software allowed our team to evaluate several layouts and develop the most optimized earthwork grading in a fraction of the time.”
Using SITEOPS, Langan produced a similar result with a much larger project in California. The original design provided to Langan was a “balanced” earthwork project for a 600-acre site, but it required approximately 13.5 million cubic yards of earthwork movement to achieve this balance. With SITEOPS, Langan maintained all of the site features, including roads and buildings, and optimized just the site grading. This reduced the earthwork movement down to 10.5 million cubic yards—a savings of nearly $5 million to the client.
“Rather than raising and lowering an entire site as a plateau, you can enter parametric tolerable metrics for grading and parking features,” Semeraro says. ”And the software adjusts the grading per the artificial intelligence instructions, minimizing costs.”
Langan continues to evaluate sites for their clients, some of which include site designs developed by other engineers. In the latter cases, by simply keeping the buildings, roadways and other site features in the same locations as shown in the other engineer’s designs, the SITEOPS grading optimization routinely provides designs that save between $7,000 and $20,000 an acre.
“If you’re a large contractor and have in-house engineers, you should be using this software up front in the conceptual phase to achieve the most optimal plans,” Semeraro says.
“If you’re a smaller contractor, SITEOPS needs to be a requirement of the engineers you work with. If they are not optimizing sites for you—whether it’s on the front end or back end—you are losing projects.”