Regardless of the varying opinions surrounding Nashville’s largest public investment, two things are certain: the construction of Music City Center came together on schedule and on budget. Part of that is contributed to Lee DeLong, the vice president of Clark Construction Group, who headed up the day-to-day efforts of building the center.
DeLong, a former U.S. Army combat engineer, talked with The City Paper about orchestrating the construction.
The Music City Center isn’t just a big warehouse. This building is highly finished with quite a few details. Is there any way you can characterize the complexity of the MCC from a construction standpoint?
We understood by being involved in the project very early that the level of expectation for aesthetic and function and balancing the two. We had worked with TVS, the lead design architects, and we understood what level of quality they were after. They required us to really espouse the mayor’s goal for the convention center. We had to translate that to our planning and our preparations.
There are subtleties that are involved ... for example, doing mock-ups, doing very detailed planning and really understanding the scheduling so that we know the sequencing of their work. That’s the level of expertise that we bring.
What’s the balancing act between the budget and the design when you go through and look at a plan?
First, you have to know what the end goal is and where the design team has focused and what their vision is. It takes a few years to hear that and to translate that into planning.
There are normal budget pressures that happen on every project. ... We proposed alternate materials that at times could be less expensive, we proposed alternate construction sequencing or construction methodologies that could result in cost savings. It’s not always just outright material costs; sometimes if I can do something a bit quicker, it saves me some more money, and that value translates back into the overall project.
How much of a focus do you have on budget during the construction process? Is it something that’s always in the back of your mind?
At the beginning of the project, the budget and the design live independently. The design often is greater than the budget. At the beginning of the project, for really the first year, we focused on methods, alternatives and options to drive the cost down. ... After that, I won’t say every day, but quite often it then turns into a process when we’re trying to maintain the aesthetic and the budget. ...
Our management of our subcontractors, our management of expectations, our management of issues as they arise, the budget is always something that is a major factor. The budget and schedule are the two major metrics that we make any decision by. The budget and schedule really intertwine. At times, we were putting in $700,000 worth of work a day, so any small delay or problem with material, we had to be on top of. That could tend to have a cascading effect if we didn’t manage it properly.
To have this project come together like this, you had to catch a few breaks, right? Were there any intangibles that went in your favor?
I’ll tell you that from a perspective of the national economy ... we built the job at a point when there was not a lot of other construction work happening. So there was capacity in the market, and there was a softness in material pricing that allowed us to provide the very best value to the owner. As the market continues to heat up and as the economy improves, the budgets for projects will invariably increase, just as a pure function of supply and demand. We were the benefactor of a market that was in need of work.