Building for GSA May Soon Require Building with BIM

GSA Region 5 Building Information Model standards could set national agenda in government contracting

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) manages 370 million square feet of building space for the federal government, and is responsible for construction of all the feds' non-military buildings. If you're involved in building courthouses, office space, border stations, police facilities or other government buildings, learning how the GSA wants to work with contractors using Building Information Models (BIM) will dramatically improve your odds of winning federal work.

Richard Gee, senior architect and BIM champion for GSA's Chicago-based Region 5, recently presented an overview of achievements from years of building industry leadership to the Chicago BIM/IPD Users Group.

Gee presented BIM project case studies; benefits; business process improvements; laser scanning for as-built conditions; strategic approaches to BIM standards; facility management implications, and other topics. The presentation included discussion of Building Information Models used to visualize construction at the EM Dirksen Courthouse. Four days per floor were scheduled for mechanical systems work. When the team studied a color-coded phasing/scheduling model that included condensate piping and perimeter induction units; fire alarm work (risers and conduit); VAV replacement; demolishing columns; toilet renovations; and general build-out, it became clear to them that two floors needed to be worked on at the same time.

"Then we scheduled six days for two floors and saved weeks on the project" Gee says.

As a huge building owner and steward of the American people's money, GSA officials have long sought the considerable savings that come from advanced use of Building Information Models (BIM) and the business processes they enable. Reduced energy use, reduced material requirements, reduced accidents and dramatic reduction in change orders during the construction process have already contributed significant savings in building design, construction, operation and management process improvements.

Gee has been at the GSA for 20 years and has been involved with BIM at a high level since 2004. He is on the GSA National BIM Committee and is a leader in creating the internal GSA BIM Standard.

The draft standard has so impressed observers that other countries are considering adopting it. Osker Valdimarsson reported to Iceland's Minister of Finance, "This standard (GSA Region 5 BIM Standards) is now being introduced to other GSA regions and might well become a GSA PBS National Standard . . . Instead of initiating such work in Iceland, and in the spirit of common international standards, I will now look into the possibility of getting permission to adopt this standard for the Icelandic BIM projects."

Valdimarsson is not alone in his recognition of the BIM work being done at GSA Region 5. The American Institute of Architects honored GSA Region 5 with a 2011 BIM Award for BIM Deployment Process Innovation at the Chicago Federal Center. The AIA jury cited the GSA region for addressing many issues from "open standards to interoperability." The jury also noted that the region's projects, "document the process as lessons learned from the projects and disseminating throughout the region." This standardization of BIM processes for use throughout the GSA is a public benefit that can be observed and replicated.

Region 5 BIM Standards are available at: or

Gee specifically pointed out that the GSA is focused on leadership beyond the technology and is working with industry partners, including the American Institute of Architects, Associated General Contractors, National Institute of Science and Technology, American Society for Testing and Materials International and others to increase awareness and capabilities of building-industry professionals interested in BIM's benefits.

Gee emphasized the importance BIM plays in building lifecycle management, "because the GSA is a facilities management operation." Maintaining accurate information from early planning through construction to operations and maintenance can be of great importance. Some information is more valuable than others. "MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) is a big thing – it is very closely tied to facility management, which is critical to GSA," Gee says.

An example of how accurate building information can reduce facility maintenance costs was offered involving Chicago's 40-story, 1.2-million-square-foot Kluczynski Federal Building, completed in 1974. Gee says, "We get ten to 20 calls a day from tenants who need service related to building operations. They are too hot; they are too cold; the door needs to be fixed."

The process was to go to the tenant, identify the problem and then get resources necessary to address the problem. "Each call could take between four hours and a couple of days," Gee says. "We learned there are 26 different lock sets for doors throughout the building. To fix a problem, you had to go up to the office and then down to the shop drawings room to find the lock set specifications. It could take all day to find the right item."

With an appropriately configured Building Information Model, Gee says it is possible to reduce facility management service calls regarding something like a broken lock in two hours. Applying this savings over the entire 35 million square feet of space managed by the GSA Region 5 will add up to dramatic savings.

Maximo is one of the key facility management software programs that receives data for facility management from the design and construction phases, according to Gee. However, he noted that a key GSA focus is on the Construction-Operation Building information exchange (COBie) to transfer data from BIM software to facilities management and Building Automation Systems/Computer Maintenance Management Systems software, including Maximo and any other software program. He also stated that GSA supports Open Standards.

"For the structural side, can your BIM data be reflected in calculations and be passed through to fabrication?" Gee asked as a means of describing preferred practices.

Another question established a clear preferred practice. Gee asked, "Are you using Revit, or practicing BIM?" Understanding how to use software, and understanding how that software changes your business practices are two very different things. But when you do understand both the software and the impact on business practices, clear benefits are achievable.