An exciting initiative to be working on at Tudor Place is the development of their Master Preservation Plan. In a nutshell it aims to address several infrastructure upgrades that will protect the long-term integrity of the historic structures and collections. I arrived just in time for the construction phase of the first project in the plan, which was the installation of a storm water management system featuring two large cisterns totaling 33,000 gallons. Rain water would be collected from the roof of the main house and collected in the cisterns to power existing irrigation systems. This work would remedy decades long issues with poor draining, erosion, and runoff.
As a retrofit that involved connecting to a network of existing systems in a dense urban area such as Georgetown, it comes with a price. Over $600,000 to be more precise. As Director of Buildings, Gardens, and Grounds it was now my job to oversee this work taking place on site and to manage the project in the best interest of the organization. For this post, I want to highlight one specific task that proved to be fairly technical and through in-house creativity delivered us some cost savings on the project.
Electrical Upgrade to Mower House Garage
When the project was originally priced through a project estimator it was assumed that the current electrical infrastructure was sufficient enough to power a pump station to control the flow of water for the cisterns. The pump was slated to be placed next to the garage [shown in slideshow below] and would simply connect to the existing line. However, as the project drew nearer and plans were reviewed it was determined that that the electrical line would need to be upgraded. The easiest way was to run a line from the Main House over 200 feet away and uphill. A trench would have to be dug around 12″ deep while navigating structures, existing pipes, and living material. It was not ideal and as you can imagine this change order proved to be costly to the tune of a similarly priced domestic hatchback car.
While the electrical contractor priced out the complete job, I offered to take control of all trenching and subterranean work. It would not only save us thousands of dollars in labor, but also allowed us to take greater care of soil disturbances and unknowns. So for over three days the gardens and grounds staff worked to dig the 200′ trench by hand, taking care of existing piping and assemblies such as the waterproof membrane and profile of the brick pad adjacent to the Main House. Additionally, we hired a masonry expert to help carefully create the opening into the stone foundation of the building.
While this project did take considerable hours away from other in-house projects, my decision to hand dig saved many headaches. Multiple undocumented underground pipes and lines were found and we were able to not disturb any living material through our extra efforts. We even found some nice archaeology specimens including pottery and bones.
As for lessons learned, it was important in this project to know all of the associated risks and explore the possibility of reducing risks. If the electrical contracts did the trenching, they would have used a machine trench digger and would likely have cut unknown lines and piping, creating larger problems. Secondly, it never hurts to ask how costs can be reduced. By asking these questions, the final price tag of the project was nearly halved and the outcomes were successful. The pump station is now supplied with an upgraded electrical line just in time for groundbreaking on the south lawn to install the cisterns.