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From Division 17 to CLA

Modern technology and convergence help give cabling infrastructure a formal position in the building design and construction industry.

July 1, 2004  

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The content for the long-awaited 2004 edition of the MasterFormat has been completed. All that is left is the implementation.

This announcement in January by the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) signaled the end of an unprecedented four years in development, which included four document drafts with major revisions and additions, numerous stakeholder symposiums with participation from every affected section of the industry, many trade magazine articles, and countless e-mail comments from industry professionals.

To view an outline of MasterFormat 04, visit

Published by CSI and Constructions Specifications Canada (CSC), MasterFormat is the most widely used organizational model for commercial building design and construction projects in North America. It is updated every five to seven years.

“This particular MasterFormat revision is the most revolutionary in its 40-year history, more than tripling the number of divisions,” says Dennis Hall, managing principal of Hall Architects in Charlotte, N.C.. A member of CSI, Hall served as Chair of the MasterFormat Expansion Task Team (MFETT).

“The Task Team looked at needs of an entire construction industry,” says Hall. “We wanted the document to be logical, have built-in flexibility for future expansion, and affect the entire life cycle of the facility, not just construction.

“Master-Format 04 had significant industry input, starting with BICSI’s Division 17 initiative.”

Submitted to CSI in 1999, Division 17 was a proposal to establish a formal position for telecommunications and technology infrastructures in the process of the design and construction of commercial buildings by adding a 17th Division for telecommunications to the MasterFormat, which had 16 Divisions.

In the past, telecommunications infrastructures were usually retrofitted during the construction phase or in some cases even after construction, frequently resulting in less efficient and more expensive systems.

With so many daily activities in a modern commercial building dependent on the telecommunications infrastructure, BICSI realized that in order to provide building owners and occupants the best and most economical service, the design of that infrastructure now required a dedicated set of drawings and specifications and a formal position in the design and construction process.

BICSI member Tom Rauscher represented the association on MFETT.

“All the dust has settled, and the document does include new divisions for computer and telecommunications networks, integrated building automation, and electronic safety and security,” says Rauscher.

“This is everything we’d hoped for from the Division 17 initiative. The goal was to include a new and independent division for telecommunications in MasterFormat 04. The actual division number was never an important issue.”

In fact, in the new document Division 17 was left blank, reserved for future expansion.

Converging to CLA

Telecommunications systems are included in MasterFormat 04, grouped in three new areas: Division 25-Integrated Automation, Division 27-Communications, and Division 28-Electronic Safety and Security.

The systems and infrastructure covered in these three divisions include communications cable plant, data systems (both wired and wireless), voice systems, communications services, integrated audio video systems, distributed communications systems, intercom systems, dictation equipment, paging systems, public address, other audio systems, sound masking, electronic/digital signage systems, tracking systems, video systems, MATV, CATV, CCTV, internal cellular, internal paging, healthcare systems, nurse call, hospitality and entertainment systems, clock systems, access control, electronic surveillance systems, intrusion detection systems detection and alarm, personal protection systems, integrated automation instrumentation and control.

“That’s a lot to say when someone asks what’s included in the new divisions,” says Rauscher. “At one point during the MasterFormat 04 development, the division titles were Communications, Life Safety, and Automation, so the term CLA was coined and it stuck, even though the division titles have changed.” CLA is gaining prominence in the building, construction, and telecommunications industries as a term referring to the group of systems and infrastructures that transport information in a building, similar to the commonly used MEP (for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing), which refers to systems and infrastructures that transport energy in a commercial building.

CLA is also an expression of the telecommunications industry phenomenon known as convergence.

“Convergence is not new to our industry. It was first noticed in the early 1990s when the then separate or divergent technologies of voice and data began to operate on the same cabling infrastructure,” says Mel Lesperance, Acting BICSI Executive Director. “Now we’re seeing security and automation added to the mix.”

BICSI President Russell Oliver discussed the issue in his inaugural speech at the 2004 Winter Conference. “An evolution is underway in our industry. Our traditional telecommunications base is expanding to include wireless, security, voice, data, audiovisual, and automation,” he said.

“These disciplines are converging and BICSI is being pro-active to make sure our members are informed of the changes and synergies in the communications, life safety, and automation or CLA industry.”

So what’s next?

The design and installation of CLA systems now have a formal place in the building process, reflected by Divisions 25, 27, and 28 of MasterFormat 04. This gives the CLA industry equal footing with the MEP systems in the ability to design, consult, and bid directly to architects, general contractors, and building owners.

“This is a great step for our industry, but there will be some challenges,” says Rauscher. “Typically, communications consultants and contractors are not familiar with standard construction contracts, coordinating with other trades, producing and reading construction drawings and specifications.”

Architects, owners, consultants, engineers, and contractors will have a learning process as well. “These folks are familiar with the MEP systems, which are often code driven. However in CLA systems, there are more standards than codes, which makes the design process more subjective,” says Rauscher. “In addition, the nature of the systems requires a fluid, flexible, and expandable design process.

Also, MEP systems are architecturally focused and can be reviewed by the owner, but CLA systems frequently need input from different tenants and their IT departments.

“The challenge for architects, engineers, and contractors will be learning to coordinate with other members of the project team to ensure that the building environment can accommodate the CLA system efficiently,” adds Rauscher.

Tom Heineman, is an architect and specifier with North American Design Consulting, in Miami, Fla., a firm specializing in specifying construction administration, and training. He welcomes the MasterFormat 04.

“I see CSI’s MasterFormat 04 as giving telecommunications the scope it needs to do its job,” he says. “The document serves as a checklist during design. This edition has a more complete and logically organized classification system that will aid the CLA designer and specifier, as well as the estimators and mechanics who are next in line.”

Heineman, who was involved with other projects in the rebuilding of Miami International Airport, recalls observing a US$500 million construction project there that required portions of the terminal to remain operational while other sections were being built. To do this, the design and construction work had to be fragmented throughout the process, yet everything had to be fully commissioned and functioning on the day of completion.

“The whole process must have been like herding cats, but it was particularly bad for the CLA systems, which only work if totally unifie
d,” says Heineman. “MF 04 will help prevent situations like that.”

The above article first appeared in the March/April issue of BICSI News. Due to space constraints, portions of the original text have been omitted. Terry Cone is the publication’s managing editor.

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