We caught up with BCxA member Christopher Pell, Associate at Jaros, Baum & Bolles in New York, who is preparing to sit for the Building Commissioning Certification Board’s Certified Commissioning Professional (CCP) exam. Chris, a New York transplant from the State of Utah, has experienced – and recovered from – the culture shock. His answers to ten questions reveal just how much he has progressed as he took on the role of commissioning provider.
What caused you to want to be an engineer, operator, technician, or another building-related career?
I was always interested in math and science and did well in them, but I wanted to know how things worked and to solve problems. That drove me toward engineering. It’s intriguing to walk into a building and think about everything going on behind the scenes that most people will never see, from the building systems moving air, water, or electricity, to the operations staff who keep all the systems running and respond to any issues that arise.
When and why in your career did you first engage with commissioning?
I started my career in the energy industry in Utah, where much of my job consisted of tasks that were “relatives” of building commissioning, although commissioning is not a commonly used term in the upstream energy industry. My first exposure to commissioning as we know it was when I moved from Utah to New York City in 2016 and was introduced to Ryan Lean and JB&B. What better place to see how things work and get to solve problems than in New York, with some of the tallest and most complex buildings in the world?
What challenges did you face coming into your profession? How have those challenges changed over time?
New York is quite different than Utah, where I’m originally from. It’s a bit of a cliché, but the pace in New York is radically different than anything I’d previously known. Embracing my career shift to commissioning while adjusting to a new place with such a different culture was certainly a challenge. As I’ve progressed, my daily challenges have evolved from being mostly technical in nature to stepping into the role as a leader and managing a talented team of commissioning engineers. This is not something that was taught in engineering school. This opportunity provided me with the space not only to learn and grow but to pass what I’ve learned along to those I manage.
What drives/motivates you every day?
People and problem-solving. I love the people I work with at JB&B, enjoy the diverse range of people I get to interact with on job sites and get great satisfaction from solving a tricky problem on a project. We’re just one piece of the puzzle, but what we do makes a difference to our clients, the buildings we work in, and the places we live.
Describe the proudest moment in your career.
I have to say one of the proudest moments of my career was completing the SUNY Old Westbury Alternate Care Facility for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the early days of the pandemic, I was fortunate to be a part of the design-build team that worked around the clock to design, build, and commission a 1,000+ bed tent hospital on what had been college athletic fields, all within 21 days. The amount of teamwork and dedication that was directed into that project by the design and construction team was like nothing I’d ever seen. At the same time, the reason we had to build this project in the first place is something I hopefully will never have to see in my career again.
When hiring, how do you evaluate entry-level candidates?
It’s important for a candidate entering this industry to have some baseline technical knowledge, but what can really set a candidate apart is good people skills. For me, someone who has the skills to navigate interacting with the various parties we encounter each day, to be a collaborative member of a team, and who has the curiosity and desire to continue to learn, is a home run.
What advice do you have for newcomers considering entering the building-related field?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I attribute so much of what I know to asking questions while on a job site, whether it meant asking a Contractor I was working with or a more senior member of my team.
What is on your professional agenda that you want to accomplish?
In the immediate future, I’m signed up to take the CCP exam. Longer-term, I hope to continue the push to better leverage technology in commissioning. My objective is to make our processes more approachable and efficient during a project and enhance the turnover of data and information to building operators at the end of a project.
How do you think the field of commissioning might change because of the current pandemic?
A few things come right to mind:
· An increased use of technology (i.e., photos or videos) to review deficiency items that can be closed visually (e.g., equipment nameplates) to cut down on unnecessary site visits.
· A renewed focus on IAQ in commissioning, ranging from outdoor air reset sequences to new technologies in air handling systems and IAQ monitoring.
· The volume of new construction and commissioning work in the commercial office sector may decrease and give way to an increase in other sectors such as healthcare and life science.
What’s one thing no one knows about you?
I have a high school varsity letter in dance (yes, seriously).