Division 17: The great debate

Proposed MasterFormat Division 17 sparks deliberation within construction industry

September 01, 2001 |

Since its creation in 1963 by the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), MasterFormat has been the standard for organizing building parameters in new construction and renovation projects. Although updated every seven years, the system has essentially stayed the same since its inception, with major building systems separated into 16 divisions — until now.

A group headed by the National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA) and BICSI: A Telecommunications Association has proposed adding a Division 17 to the 2002 MasterFormat. The two organizations commissioned Rochester, N.Y.-based telecommunications design firm Archi-Technology LLC to create the proposal. Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA), the Association for Telecommunications Professionals in Higher Education and the Telecommunications Industry Association are among the supporters for the new division.

The debate pits the electrical contractors against telecommunications industry, with the latter in favor of splitting telecommunications, local area networks (LANs), security, audio, video and other types of low-voltage wiring from Division 16 into its own separate division. The idea is to ensure that these systems are designed into a building during the design phase, instead of retrofitting them during construction.

"Bringing these services out from under the umbrella of the electrical contractor and Division 16 is expected to allow more direct input from telecommunications professionals," says Jeffrey Lupinacci, senior telecommunications designer with Harrisburg, Pa.-based Brinjac Engineering Inc. "As prime contractors — rather than a subcontractor to an electrical contractor — they should get a seat at the job conference table to ensure that the corresponding heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, power and lighting issues are not ignored."

BICSI is so confident in Division 17 that it recently commissioned Archi-Technology — which in turn employed the proposed format — to design the telecommunications systems and other technology infrastructure for a 25,000-sq.-ft. addition to its world headquarters in Tampa, Fla. The new addition provides more administrative space and expands existing training facilities to accommodate the 3,500-plus students BICSI trains annually. The classrooms include the newest technology, including fiber-optic cable lines distributed to each desk for Internet access.

"The value of this format can be measured in the overall cost and ease of a project," says Richard Dunfee, BICSI's training manager and project coordinator for the building addition. "The Division 17 model provided more detail, which made the job much easier for the installation team. The requirements are all defined early, so it was a great coordination tool for everyone in the project. Plus, the model can help reduce labor costs — a crew can lose a lot of time waiting for clarification."

Integrate, don't separate

Organizations in the electrical engineering realm, including the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), are fighting Division 17, instead calling for revision and expansion of Division 16.

"No other division has experienced more change since the last MasterFormat revision in 1995 than Division 16," says Thomas E. Glavinich, chair of the architectural engineering department at the University of Kansas, and head of the committee that developed NECA's proposal. "Power, communications and control systems form the central nervous system of modern commercial, industrial and institutional facilities. And these interrelated systems are increasingly interdependent and inseparable."

"Twenty years ago, it might have made sense to give different kinds of electrical and communications wiring their own, smaller, specification divisions," says Brooke Stauffer, codes and standards director for NECA. "Back then, the technologies were fairly distinct — each type of system had its own dedicated control box; Ma Bell had a monopoly on doing phone work, and so on."

But today, Stauffer notes, the different power, communications and control technologies are being installed by the same professionals. With many operational connections between them, issues such as power quality and grounding cut across all these technologies. "That all should be approached in a common way, not a fragmented one," explains Stauffer. "Splitting apart the specifications for designing and installing different electrical, communications and control systems just makes no sense at all here in the year 2001."

Proposal evaluations

Earlier this year a MasterFormat Expansion Task Team was created by CSI and assigned with the duty of evaluating proposals and recommending which submittals should be added to the 2002 MasterFormat.

According to Chuck Wilson, executive director of NSCA and a member of the task team, of the hundreds of proposals submitted, four were chosen for further review, including NSCA/BICSI's submittal and NECA's proposal.

"After listening to presentations in mid-September, the task team will make the final decision on which submittals will be recommended for inclusion in the 2002 version of MasterFormat by Nov. 5," says Wilson. "Recommendations are due to the CSI executive committee on Dec. 31. The committee will then make the final decision on how to expand the MasterFormat."

MasterFormat Expansion Task Team members include professional representatives from several disciplines, including civil engineering, construction management, architecture. engineering and telecommunications. The task team also includes a guide specifications consultant and CSI staff from both the United States and Canada.

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