Thursday, April 26, 2012

Zen & the Art of Construction Management with Bart Mendel

ZEN & THE ART OF CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT WITH BART MENDEL -- Peace of mind and home construction? Impossible you say? Most people are familiar with getting a piece of mind from somebody during any construction project -- but who knew that there was a construction manager (CM) out there who actually practices and instills peace of mind on every project?  Well, now you -- our stylish reader -- know that such a person exists because we can't keep a good secret here at Studio of Style when we hear one! Meet Bart Mendel (pictured above) of Stonemark Construction Management -- he's a CM and a practicing Buddhist of 35 years who brings a Zen approach (love it!) to every job (from residential to commercial and 50+ sacred spaces and nonprofit facilities) and manages to stay centered, even in the midst of the many challenges that construction brings. And he's even developed a "Top 10" list that is certainly filled with sage advice (gotta love that too!). Managing architects and contractors on a project can be a daunting task, for sure, but the bottom line is that when a project is on time -- or better yet -- under budget, then everybody wins (the alternative would be foregoing the CM and ending up in litigation should a project go awry -- yikes!). Admittedly, being a CM isn't a glamorous job -- but just look at the results with this fabulous 12,000-square-foot Tuscan-style villa in Montecito, California (shown above) with interiors by Sorrell Design and architecture by Robert Senn who worked with Mendel to oversee the management of it. Says Mendel, "I have never found an instance where the costs and quality of materials could not be better controlled. And doing so, without any sacrifice to the original vision and functionality of the residence, is a true art form."  Well put!  Okay, now onto the even more interesting aspects of Mendel's other passion. He and his wife Suzan Garner opened the Bodhi Path Buddhist Center in Santa Barbara, California in 1997 -- and he's taught the Dharma throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe, not to mention being a director (along with his wife) of the Siddhartha Foundation International which supports the activities of the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje. And he's also been a guide for a travel company that offers transformational guided tours of the amazing Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. So know you know why Mendel is known in the industry as the "Zen master of the bottom line" and why he can stay focused on a construction project! Here are the "master's" tips for a blissful building process:

Bart Mendel’s Top 10 Zen Zingers For Peace of Mind Construction
Disaster stories in construction abound: unfinished homes and buildings, blown budgets, lawsuits and contractors fleeing the state.  Here's a true story: a potential client came to Bart Mendel after receiving an anonymous packet on their front doorstep after they had hired a contractor, containing 200 pages of his nefarious crimes: his restraining orders, lawsuits and judgments – he even hooked his pickup truck to an old client’s electrical service and ripped it out.  Mendel has had 35 years both as a Buddhist teacher and construction professional counseling others on how to avoid disputes and disasters in construction - here are a few Mendel's tips to maintain your sanity:
1. Seek Wisdom in All the Right Places
Hire the best construction professionals within your means. Going too cheap may cost you in the long run, sending your peace of mind right out the window. King Solomon wrote: “Listen to wise advice and follow it closely.” Maybe he learned this from building his temple.
2.  Deconstructing the Construction Team
Get to know the players before they're hired.  Don’t just check licenses and the references they provide to you. Talk to former clients, vendors and people outside their reference list for true enlightenment.
3. Take a Big View on Time and Budget
Manage your expectations. Remember that the best work may not always be the cheapest and fastest. Carefully think through what you can afford, and then allow a substantial contingency – 10-15% or more. Expect to spend every penny of it and you won’t be disappointed.
4. Hire a Master and Let Go
Professional construction managers are essential to keep large projects on time, on budget and risk managed. The money invested will end up saving you substantially, often more than the CM's own fees. A CM will keep all the players on the same page.  Let go and let them do their job.
5. Plan, Plan, Plan
Prepare a preconstruction plan with your team, or best, have a CM do it. Seek contractor input early and pay for estimating services (in this way you won’t feel obliged to hire them). Planning saves real time and money in construction where 90% of the cost and all the liability occur.
6. Value Real Value
Don’t automatically pick the lowest bid – pick the one that gives the most value. You get what you pay for, and if you pay too little, you often get even less. Pick general and trade contractors, architects, engineers and consultants based on relevant experience and value, not just price.
7. Be Omniscient
Remember the initial price from your architect or contractor is not the same as the final price.  A low price that doesn’t include the entire scope of the project is meaningless - throw it out and get bids that provide a realistic budget for everything you want or may need from the get-go.
8. Say No to Stress
Know and manage your stress and risk tolerance. Stay within your means and don’t take on a bigger project than you can handle. Embrace change - learn to accept chaos and dust as progress.  During construction? Meditate each morning and maintain a sense of humor.
9. You Don't Have to be a Hobbit to Go Green.
Focus on ways to reduce energy and water use. Site your building to take advantage of passive solar. Improve the efficiency of your exterior walls and roof to reduce energy for heating and cooling. Enjoy the peace that comes from reducing energy consumption and sustaining the environment.  
10. Positive People Power
Buildings are designed and built by people so clear, calm communication is your essential survival tool. Offer praise regularly.  Remember, job satisfaction is often more important than compensation. Help them do their best work--after all, they are building your home. People often undervalue the knowledge required to design and build successfully. Just because you own a hammer and a cordless drill, the odds are construction professionals know more than you do. Evaluate them, hire them, trust them and let them build you a great home, where the real peace of mind begins.

Bodhi Path Buddhist Center, Santa Barbara:
Photo of Bart Mendel by Breeze Munson
All images courtesy Stonemark Construction Management