Large, ongoing projects mean job security. They also often aggravate you to death since they contain a little bit of everything. This small firm rises to the challenge.

In July 1995, Apollo Surveying began a project in Kingwood, Texas, for the construction of a large gated retirement and assisted living facility. Apollo is a small firm in Kingwood with seven employees that often does construction staking projects, especially for schools and churches. These large, ongoing projects mean job security. They also often aggravate you to death. Most surveyors know why: The storm sewer installer will have a problem--he calls. The water line installer will have a problem--he calls. The pier driller will have many problems--he will not call; he simply will not drill. (Erghhh!) So the super will call. And so on. And so on. Sometimes these projects never seem to end.

Most major developers seek out large firms (engineering firms with their own surveying departments) for large ongoing projects such as this. In Texas, engineering firms often make "turnkey" bids, which include surveying work that they pass to their in-house departments. However, the developer of this project, Phoenix-based Village Estates Inc., had contracted with an engineering firm that did not have its own surveying department. Consequently, they were left with a finished set of plans but nothing on the ground. They had recently hired a new project manager, familiar with Apollo from previous projects, who called on us for the job. We had our reputation to thank for this project.

The challenges of a project such as this were obvious from the get-go. After all, these projects contain a little bit of everything. But I consider these normal and everyday surveying challenges. Quality control, expertise and state-of-the-art equipment are the ingredients to make a bread-and-butter job like this one a success.

Phase One Begins

The master plan of the undeveloped, heavily wooded 40-acre property included a reserve for a future church, a half-acre lake, five three-story resident buildings, a club house, private drives, covered parking and garages, and two main gated entries. We recalibrated our Geodimeter Geodolite 500 (Spectra Precision Surveying, Itasca, Ill.) and our Topcon 211D (Topcon America Corp., Paramus, N.J.), both with data collectors, then got started.

A boundary survey had been completed previously, so Apollo began by recovering and/or establishing all corner monumentation and FEMA benchmarks.Temporary benchmarks (TBMs) were established from the FEMA benchmark and marked with a chiseled "X" in two places in the center line of the existing street.

Working from the final engineering plans, we proceeded in carrying in our own horizontal and vertical control points. Using hub and tacks to mark our control points, we pig penned them with laths and flagging. Usually, dozer operators, superintendents, etc., know to stay away from these hot-pink flagged, triangular enclosures around the hub and tack. We established approximately 20 control points, strategically placing them to form a loop passing through our TBMs in the street.

The general area of the streets and parking had been cleared of trees and brush. We established grade stakes for rough cuts at 2' offsets of the back of the curb every 25'. The bulldozers followed us, until we had completed grade stakes on all areas required.

Approximately two weeks passed until we were called back to set "blue tops" or "whiskers" (or whatever they call them in your part of the country). We established these every 50', including a 2' offset edge of pavement and center line throughout all the streets and parking. Once this was completed, we marked the location of the club house and main building for clearing and scraping. Two days later, we set the exact footprint of the clubhouse foundation with offsets. The main building foundation plan of the clubhouse required drilled, bell-bottom piers we located for marking according to what the drill operator desired.

The first thing we do when preparing to stakeout someone else's design on the ground is to input the plan into our COGO and establish our own coordinates--literally duplicating their design. In this case, the dimensions for a certain pier were obviously in error because it did not fit the beams. Part of our responsibility as surveyors is to bring up any errors we encounter. (If we ignore them, we are eventually blamed in the long run anyway.) We brought the problem to the architect's attention. After eight calls, including an explanation that we were in the process of staking his piers, on the ground, the problem was resolved, resulting in only a short delay.

The drill operator liked large nails to mark drill locations, about 16 penny size. We set these nails, but first pierced a piece of folded flagging on the nail for good sight purposes. With 5' offsets, we then located actual building corners for the main dwelling. We were called upon to check top of form elevations on the streets and building once completed, prior to actual pouring of concrete. Then we staked out the location and depth of the lake. Next, we staked sanitary and storm sewer locations including cut-and-fill stakes for storm and grate inlets, all of which were located in the pavement and established with offsets so excavators would not dig everything up when trenching for the pipe. We only set intermediate elevations along line of pipe for the storm sewer. We discovered an error while doing this. A manhole top rim elevation was 1' higher than the pavement surface on the engineering plans. We called the engineer who met a crew that showed him the called-for elevation of the pavement (It was still dirt at that time, thank you God, so he could easily see the error). The engineer produced a sealed amendment to the plans, and we lowered the elevation stake for the top rim 1', resulting in no real delay.

Over the next 18 months or so, we were called upon to perform various checks and what-not, including water line easements, etc., as they tied into existing easements. The project manager advised us that interior dimensions and square footages would have to be performed and mapped on an as-measured basis in order to file condominium-type plat recordings with the county. Each unit was sold based on square footage price, making the measurements critical. He informed us when the first and second floor framing was nearing total completion. This was very beneficial to Apollo, as we were able to walk from unit to unit and "through" the walls since only framing existed. This huge time-saver consequently kept our cost down. This, along with a complete as-built of everything took roughly six months. Since the final maps did not have to be filed until prior to applying for certificate of occupancy, we had a large time frame window on this particular step, as I'm sure all surveyors can appreciate.

Five Years Later

For our future benefit, while we did as-builts, we also set final control points within the site with chiseled "X"s in the new private streets, along with onsite fire hydrants throughout for future vertical control. Everything went without any major problems, including as-built elevations within .1--amazing, since it included flow lines of sewer lines, top of grate inlets, etc. Phase I, which included a total of 162 units, was completed in late 1997 and has a 100 percent occupancy rate. Apollo Surveying also did all of Phase II and Phase III.

By the way, there was never a contract involved in this job. They called and requested the service and we showed up the next morning ready to work. They let us know when they're ready for the next step, sometimes on very short notice, and we scheduled the work accordingly. Pretty simple, huh?

Smaller firms such as Apollo often have more affordable fees than larger firms, are more flexible, yet still have enough personnel to get the job done on schedule. I respect the large firms as they often provide Apollo with referrals for jobs they consider "too small." This time, however, we won the "big" job, proving that small surveying firms like Apollo can provide almost any service needed and go head-to-head with the big timers.