Jonathan Vaughan, PE, CCP, CEM, LEED AP

We talked with Jonathan Vaughan, CCP, CEM, LEED AP, Principal/Commissioning Director (featured left) at Page. With roots extending well over a century back to 1898, Page is an international firm providing fully integrated architecture, interiors, planning, consulting, engineering, commissioning services to a diverse portfolio of clients.

Page’s commissioning practice was formed in 2001 in response to the devastating Tropical Storm Allison. Floods affected downtown Houston and the Texas Medical Center, including our clients’ critical facilities such as vivariums and labs. Jeff Willis, Director of Engineering, brought commissioning to the table as an emergency response to mitigate the catastrophic damage, and Page became fully focused on commissioning in 2003.

Jeff began participating in BCxA events and attended our National Conference in New York City in 2005, where he met Ed Faircloth (Gilbane and BCxA President Emeritus). Ed was in charge of all construction projects at the NASA Johnson Space Center and wanted to bring LEED™ into NASA programs for new construction and major renovation projects. Page provided commissioning that was the start of a long-term relationship that is still going on.

That same year, Jeff hired Jonathan Vaughan to develop the Page Commissioning business group, successfully winning academic contracts for the University of Texas System, including MD Anderson Cancer Center, the University of Houston, Texas State, and Sam Houston State University.

Later, after speaking at our national conference in Chicago, Jonathan joined what was then the Southwest Chapter. He says, “I remember sharing a bunch of ideas with Liz at a BCxA booth, and she sweetly asked if I would like to volunteer to help with those ideas.” Well, Jonathan has held numerous voluntary BCxA roles since then, including leadership in what became the Texas Chapter, and he is a current member of the BCxA International Board.

Cx Project Example

Page Cx has been providing commissioning services for ExxonMobil for many years, including research labs in Beaumont, TX, Billings MT, Clinton NJ, and compounds in Equatorial Guinea and Guyana, all specific to research support buildings.

The largest commissioning project was a joint venture (general contractors Gilbane and Harvey), commissioning the new ExxonMobil 385-acre campus north of Houston, Texas, totaling over 8 million square feet and accommodating about 10,000 employees. The campus includes 14 office buildings, a computing facility, research laboratory, wellness center, and an energy center including over 3 million square feet of parking garages with an elaborate tunnel system tied to a 359,640 GSF central utility plant (CUP) with a cooling capacity of approximately 20,000 tons. Engaged in the design phase, Page spent 4 years doing fundamental and enhanced commissioning, including life safety Cx, that helped the project earn LEED Gold certification.

Lessons learned:

Delivery on that scale included teaming with 3 other commissioning firms that were, at one point in time, verifying systems performance for all buildings simultaneously. It was all worked out on paper beforehand, and everything needed to be like clockwork. There were 30 people from 3 commissioning firms coordinating, communicating, and having regular meetings together to meet the owner’s project requirements.

Importance of controls coordination. It became clear that such a strong owner needed to understand the role of Cx verification that enforces the process. When it came to going through the controls submittal process and getting an approved process, writing SOOs from engineers and controls were all coordinated – the biggest success was working together actively to have efficient troubleshooting by working out integration issues beforehand.

In closing,

We asked Jonathan to talk about certification, the future of commissioning, and recommendations for people considering or entering the commissioning profession. Here’s what he says:

1.  CCF Certification: what it means to be a CCF providing a CCP to projects

The Page team of commissioning professionals is led by a BCCB (Building Commissioning Certification Board) CCP (Certified Commissioning Professional), demonstrating our commitment to building industry success.

Everyone on our commissioning staff has some credentials; we have 4 BCxA CCPs and 2 ACPs. Becoming a CCF was a no-brainer. As a Certified Commissioning Firm (CCF), Page continues to demonstrate the highest standards of proficiency, ethics, and commitment to our commissioning customers. We think organizations that hold the CCF designation stand out as firms that consistently demonstrate the desire and ability to provide the highest quality product to their clients and the commitment to the advancement of the commissioning profession. Page has an in-depth knowledge of the commissioning process and a thorough understanding of expectations at each project phase, from design to operations and its application to commissioning services.

The team includes highly qualified and experienced professional engineers and field technicians, using time-tested tools and processes based on industry standards and best practices and supported by technical resources found in all areas of building design.

Team knowledge is leveraged with the experiences of other commissioning service providers through participation in professional forums such as those hosted by the BCxA.

As a provider firm with the Building Commissioning Association (BCxA), Page actively participates at the national and regional levels, setting direction and developing best practices for the commissioning profession. Page commissioning experts have served, and currently are serving, as members on the International Board of Directors and Texas Chapter of the BCxA.

2.  Cx impact with (and after) Covid

Some projects were canceled and/or projects placed on hold. Most projects are now back on track. In terms of testing procedures, we worked in a virtual environment as much as possible, such as meetings and even some BAS front-end controls verification; field testing followed social distancing protocols. Most onsite testing with contractor participation is now back on track. Controlling the equipment has to be in person, and we went into the field wearing masks.

3.  Future of Cx – WHY it’s NOT a commodity

I often quote the Farmer’s Insurance commercial, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.” Page firmly believes that qualified commissioning professionals are necessary for successful project delivery.

Given the pace at which technology is changing and the complexity of integrated controls, the Cx Provider will continue to be a necessary participant for successful project team collaboration. Collaboration cannot be commoditized.

Page is now offering both Cx and TAB under the same roof, with teams aligned – that enables us to get the balance right in order to efficiently commission systems.

Page commissioning is not about the low bid, not just checklists, and we don’t just put the paperwork together. Fees are based on level-of-effort required by a clearly identified scope and owner expectations.

“What’s frustrating is the stuff that leads to a feeling of commodity,” says Jonathan. “Often, we’re in a competitive bid where we’ll be leading scope of work. We define and describe the process, and system performance Owners want and develop our fee accordingly. Some firms have a “different idea” that they say will take a quarter of the time. If the owner hires those guys, who are not delivering a quality service, they don’t end up getting the quality-assured systems they expected. Part of the commodity conversation is that people are cranking out stuff on paper to meet LEED certification; they hardly lift a finger, not giving the value to the owner.”

We avoid that scenario as much as possible by educating the owner. It’s important to have a conversation about scope, expectations for delivery; we build a fee based on what we feel will deliver the work. Long-term business development works when you have a relationship, especially with more sophisticated clients like mission-critical and universities. You don’t need to convince them they need commissioning; they have a basic understanding that it’s not about the low fee; it’s built based on the scope of work. But it is a continuous dialog.

4.  Your recommendations for new entrants to Cx?

New entrants to commissioning can become stronger professionals by:

  • Staying on the learning curve in the industry
  • Becoming a member of the BCxA
  • Actively seeking a CCP certification
  • Receiving training by the BCxA
  • Participating in BCxA webinars and tech talks
  • Volunteering for BCxA, including international and local chapter committees
  • Attending local chapter events to grow their business network
  • Attending the BCxA Annual Conference
  • Participate in ASHRAE and organizations that are critical for professional growth

Join a company like Page, which provides lunch & learns; people are invited to come in and speak, or we tap someone internally; for example, we provide training in the engineering department on what’s coming up in low voltage technology; discussions on terminal units; functionality and concept of how we’re designing, and expected functionality. There is so much to learn about equipment and systems, it’s always evolving.

Image Courtesy of Page/ Exxon Mobil Houston Campus