Time and again there are failures in pitch construction, especially drainage. Producing pitches that can cope in the wet winter months should be a basic and systematic undertaking. Yet, as often results, it can become a nightmare.
Proceeding hurriedly, with a chosen contractor, can lead to disaster or unnecessary expense where there has not been careful thought and diligent investigation.
Gordon Jaaback makes the case for using a consultant.
Where does it all go wrong?
An in-depth investigation of the site is often overlooked - why the concern? There is often little understanding of the susceptibility of soils to saturation and the need for surface drainage. Not enough attention is paid to detail and a little common sense. Matching the facts with the aspirations, and planning to a budget, is only achieved by someone suitably qualified. The time spent in proper investigation is always cost-effective, especially if the client is not sure of all the options open to him. Future maintenance, too, is often side-lined for later consideration - and the consequences can be sad.
All sites are different. Logical and sensible initial investigation would include an assessment of the lay of the land and the degree of levelling that is needed - together with a detailed study of the inherent soil profile. Without them, it is difficult to assess the magnitude of the earthworks and the drainage potential.
Also, knowing the limitations of soil types will influence procedures significantly. But, this is not where the investigations stop.
In new construction, there are matters like underground services, archaeological, ecological and environmental studies - in fact, it is vital to find out anything that, in one way or another, could influence the project or determine the final outcome. Only then can the concept design materialise, and enable a true and realistic appreciation of the estimated costs to achieve what is required.
Leave it to the contractor?
Going directly to a chosen contractor, and leaving him to assess all the facts and conditions, can be asking too much. Giving two contractors the option to quote on new construction, there is little chance that both would opt for the same method and quantify the works in the same way. Nevertheless, priorities should have arisen and, if investigations are properly undertaken by a local respected contractor, this can prove the route to follow - but, only if there is a clear understanding of all the facts and the client's required standards.
Naturally, all will depend on the contractor's integrity, method and choice of materials, and his proposal may not be the most cost-effective option available. Approaching other contractors for competitive prices leads to more confusion - with different methods and materials, there can be no comparing of 'apples with apples'.
There is a further drawback. All contractors have to make a profit to survive - they have their adapted procedures and profitability becomes the ultimate priority - sometimes even if some of the detail suffers.
The alternative route, often frowned upon as an unnecessary cost, is to appoint a qualified and experienced consultant. The initial exercise of professionally preparing a detailed study that assesses all the facts relating to the site and arrives at a concept design, cost estimates and implications, is always invaluable and cost-effective.
Limitations and options are made known and the client would be made clearly aware of what is to be achieved. The consultant would then prepare detailed working drawings, specifications and tender documents - but, most important of all, oversee the contract through to completion and establishment.
This approach is always of financial benefit to the client. With a panel of qualified and experienced contractors invited to tender for the same prescribed schedule of work, competitive prices always result.
Once the contract starts
Somewhere in the period of the contract, unforeseen circumstances are bound to arise. Immediate decisions must be made in order to achieve the most cost effective result - success hinges on the decision of the consultant and upon the integrity of the contractor, irrespective of the cost to himself - for he alone controls the minute by minute progress on site.
A detailed and up-dated programme of works should be monitored. Priorities change, and attention can be easily diverted, often leading to an extended contract period. There are no short cuts in completing a systematic schedule of work. All bulk items of work generally proceed rapidly, whilst detailed smaller items need more time.
During the contract, the value of unbiased minutes of regular meetings becomes invaluable. Disputes that arise can be minimised, or avoided, if differences of opinion are brought to the fore immediately they surface. These meetings also help to promote a cordial relationship between the contractor and the client - and the consultant when appointed. Understandably, the maintenance of this relationship augurs well for the whole success of the project. Failure to settle disputes, or deferring decisions, can lead to a 'festering' and the project could be jeopardised.
The weather plays an all important role. Handling soils in earthwork projects is a major consideration - whether too dry or too wet, firm decisions must be made if successful establishment is to be obtained and the on-going standard is to be sustained. There can be no excuse on account of the weather. Simply put, work must stop until conditions are suitable, irrespective of the effect of the delay.
Finally, the continuing maintenance programme can be the ultimate determining factor in the success of the project. In many instances, it can be that wise and diligent maintenance of a poorly designed project can be more successful than a well designed project poorly maintained.