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Behind the Build Interview with Scott Lopian, Senior Construction Administrator, Eastern Municipal Water District

Behind the Build: Interview with Scott Lopian, Senior Construction Administrator, Eastern Municipal Water District

It can be easy to take access to basic life amenities for granted–water being one of them. But not for those working behind the scenes on public works projects that provide safe and clean water to our communities. Among them is Scott Lopian, a Senior Construction Administrator at the Eastern Municipal Water District which provides water for almost a million people in Southern California. 

This week, on Behind the Build, we speak to Scott on his role at EMWD. We learn how his approach to project leadership is opening up new opportunities for innovation on important district projects. Read on to learn more. 

Tell us more about the work that Eastern Municipal Water District does. 

Eastern Municipal Water District is a wholesaler and distributor of water for Southern California. We cover around 550 square miles to provide water to a population of more than 825,000 people. We’ve been an agency now for quite some time and are one of the larger ones in the area. 

These days, we’ve never been busier. The amount of work to do is just insane, which is exciting to me. We are currently at the cusp of wrapping up a $75 million project–the Temecula Valley Regional Water Reclamation Facility. 

What has it been like working on the Temecula project? 

For us, the project is a megaproject, and it’s quite groundbreaking. We are taking an existing reclamation water facility, and we are expanding it from 18 million gallons a day to 23 million gallons a day. This includes the addition of new technology to the district, a membrane bioreactor (MBR) which is a certain form of disinfectant. It’s extremely expensive and only been done by a few agencies here in Southern California. 

Previously, the way our company would work on these types of projects is that we would hire third-party construction management consultants. We used to be very hands-off, meaning that we would just let the third-party CMs run the job. But most times, they wouldn’t manage the project effectively, unfortunately. 

I’ve always been of the opinion that if we are holding the purse strings, we need to be controllers of a project’s budget and schedule. When I came on with the district, I wanted to change things. I wanted us to be the focus of anything that had to do with the costs or the time on the project so we could make proactive, not reactive decisions. The district took a chance on me, and it’s been successful so far.

Right now, we are on schedule. For reference, our district has never been on time for a project of this size in our history. 

What has been key to the project’s success so far? 

We have taken partnering with our contractor, Walsh Construction and Archer Western, to the next level. We have kept communication open and honest. 

We also introduced PlanGrid on this project. Our contractor brought it to our attention as a tool to use in the field to keep everyone in the loop. I’m all for any technology that can provide advancement and efficiency to my staff. Knowing that our inspection staff was just overwhelmed by paper, we thought it was a great idea for us to start going paperless and be on the leading edge of advancement in terms of water districts. When we ended up seeing the product in action, we knew this would be a game-changer in the field–how can you not get excited for that?

How is PlanGrid helping your team build better? 

Ultimately, we’re getting to be entirely paperless. We manage our entire capital improvement program with PlanGrid. We can upload all of our plans and documents into the software and start assigning our team projects. Then our inspectors have all the documents they need, even before we issue the notice to proceed with the contractor. This gives them back time in the field to look at documents and understand what the experience will be in the next couple of months. Right out of the gate, they’re gaining some efficiencies by getting early eyes on those projects. 

Once they’re in the field, we’ve been finding that other contractors are using PlanGrid as well. For instance, on another large project we are working on, our contractor approached us and asked if we could get on their PlanGrid project. Now, we can share information out in the field quickly. We can see red lines and photos from the jobsite. It’s real site pictures, and it shows you exactly where it is on the plans–you can’t get that information anywhere else. 

What do you love most about the construction industry?

Every day is different and unique. While the projects are basically just dirt and sand, you get to interact with so many kinds of personalities, and you never know what you’re going to get. That’s exciting to me. 

How has technology changed the way you work in construction?

From the CM standpoint, I started back in the mid-’90s. At that time, we didn’t have a lot of electronic tools. While of course, we had Excel and Word, schedules were very rudimentary. As I’ve advanced in my career, I think technology has really hit its stride in this industry. 

Whenever I go to any large conference or convention like AGC or ASCE, you see how many options are out there. Everyone is hyper-focused on what their solution can do and how it can do it differently to bring value–it’s exploding.

Even with BIM and real-time modeling, you can now go out in the field, hold a tablet and walk a pipeline alignment to see if there’s anything that’s going to be an obstruction–that type of technology was not available years ago.  

While there are so many cool things available, we’ve never been able to get away from paper. Everybody likes to say, “this is the year we’re going to get away from paper.” Well, you know what? This is actually the year we’re getting away from paper with PlanGrid. You can’t put a price on that. 

What advice would you give newcomers in the industry? 

Always be ready to adapt and improvise–hear the train, before you see it. 

It’s a similar philosophy for technology adoption in the industry. If you don’t jump on it, you’re going to be passed by. 

Further Reading:  10 Incredible Construction Photos You Need to See: Announcing the 5th Annual Axe Contest Winners

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