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Welcome to a whole new year!

train tracks to the future

Well, folks, it’s happened.  One minute we’re rushing around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to find that elusive gift for the hard-to-buy-for-cousin; the next, we’re drinking in the new year.  Is it really 2012 already?  Yes, Virginia, it is a new year!

As we look forward to our adventures in the year ahead (hence the train tracks!), let me again thank all of you who have invited me into your email boxes each week!  Here’s to a happy and prosperous new year. (And to hoping the Mayans were not correct!).

Photo: (c) Barry Hunter via CC license.

NCSU’s Huge New Home (News Note)

the pointWolfpack Chancellor Randy Woodson is likely having a great holiday season as he settles into his new pad at North Carolina State University. Construction was recently completed on the new chancellor’s residence at the school.

Known as “The Point,” the Chancellor’s new home is an 8,500 square feet behemoth. Though it sounds hulking, 5,500 of those square feet will serve as public use space, accommodating receptions as well as events for alumni and students. The downstairs area will also serve as a place for the chancellor to host events, as often as once a week, and to build relationships. It can hold up to 200 people inside or on the back patio. The remaining 3,000 square feet, all of the second floor, will be used as living quarters for the chancellor and his family.  [Still a pretty roomy living quarters, in my opinion!]

No expense was spared during the 18 month construction. Green features like geothermal heating and cooling, sustainable materials, and LED lighting were installed throughout The Point.  The house is located on North Carolina State’s Centennial Campus, near Lake Raleigh and the Park Alumni Center and is fittingly made of Wolfpack-red brick.

The Point came with a  $3.5 million price tag, which was funded entirely by private donations. When asked how the university justifies spending that much money on a house when the school is cutting jobs and eliminating courses, Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Kevin MacNaughton said the house will be a hub for the university’s efforts to build relationships with private donors.

Chancellor Randy Woodson and his wife moved in Oct. 28. The first fundraiser they hosted in the new home was Nov. 16. Since, they have hosted about a half-dozen fundraising events, officials said.

The original chancellor’s residence for NC State was constructed in 1928. Back then the school had a grand total of 1,500 students in attendance. Today that number has risen to more than 34,000. With such a huge change in the student body it was about time for the chancellor himself to be movin’ on up to appropriately grand digs. Thankfully, the original residence won’t be torn down. Instead, plans have been drawn to convert it into the future home of the university’s Gregg Museum.

If you’d like to drool over photos of Woodson’s new home click here.  Be warned, however, that doing so could cause you to turn green with envy.

Source:Construction complete on NCSU chancellor’s residence,” by Jason deBruynPhoto:  NCSUnewsdept via Creative Commons license.

What do you think of the new residence?  Thoughts, comments, or questions?  Post in the comment section, below.

5 Great iPad Apps All Architects Should Have (Tue Tip; guest post)

Today’s Tip is a guest post from Vanessa Lang.  Vanessa is an author who writes guest posts on the topics of business, marketing, credit cards, and personal finance. Additionally, she works for a website that focuses on educating readers about online payday loans.

holding an ipad

As an architect (or engineer), it is very important to stay organized and well informed. What better way to do that then with your iPad? The following are just a few of the best iPad apps I’ve found to help an architect stay sane while on the job.

DaVinci

This app will let you draw accurate floor plans with the touch of a finger. You can draw walls, place labels and symbols, and define specific areas as long as you can use the iPad. DaVinci also lets you add photos so you can remember ideas and anything else you need to document when you get the iPad camera connection kit. There is also a voice feature that will allow you to record your own notes to the iPad for future reference.

AutoCAD WS

With AutoCAD WS, you can view, edit, and share DWGTM files with anyone who needs to see them. You can also work on your AutoCAD drawings from your iPad. This convenient app will allow you to revise drawings while you are on the go or on location. This really is a great app for architects that are constantly out of the office and need to work from other locations.

Architect Magazine

One of the best ways for architects to keep up with what is going on in the industry is to read AIA’s Architect magazine. This app will show you the pages of the actual print magazine without having to waste the paper used to print it. You can look through the pages of each magazine while you are connected to the internet or you have the option of downloading an issue to look through it later.

Not only can you read the magazine whenever it is convenient for you, but you can also access other pages through hyperlinks on each magazine page. This makes it much easier for you to access new information about architecture, and go beyond what you can get from the print version.

Expensify

This application is free from the iTunes store and can be a great tool for architectural business owners. With this accounting application, you will be able to import purchase transactions and track your receipts for credit card purchases. Even if you use cash, you will be able to scan your receipt to import and keep track of the information for your taxes. Expensify is really great because it allows you to keep your business and personal expenses separate.

Fruit Ninja

After working so hard all day, it is important that we all take some time to relax and have fun. This game will do just that. The concept of the game is so simple, but that does not make it any less interesting. There are three different ways to play the game, but the objective is always the same: slice as much fruit as possible without hitting the bombs. That’s it! I’ve spent hours playing this game trying to unlock the different backgrounds and blades you can get. Even if you just need a little break during a long day, it really is a great way to let out your frustrations and simply have a little fun.

Thanks Vanessa!  Full disclosure from the editor here: I myself do not have an ipad, so while these apps look inviting, I cannot speak to them personally.  Even though I am a bit of a Luddite, these ones look promising.  Well, except for the Fruit Ninja, but we all have to have fun sometime, right?

Do you use any of these apps?  Have others that you’d recommend?  Share in the comments section below.

Photo: (c) John Karakatsanis via Creative Commons license. 

Merry Christmas! Here are some books to give yourself if Santa left you empty-handed

xmas_decorations_and_tinselMerry Christmas everyone! 

I hope that you get everything that you wanted this year.  But remember: You don’t always get what you want…. but if you try sometimes, you might just find… you get what you need!

If there was only coal in your stocking this year, give yourself the gift of a good book on design.  Designers & Books has released its Notable Books of 2011, which is a list of over 90 books related to design that have been recommended by their designers, commentators, and guest bloggers.  I’m sure you’ll find something there that sparks your interest.

Do you have a favorite design-related book?  Share in the comments below, but remember: no commenting after 3 or more glasses of spiked egg nog!

Photo (c) Christmas Stock Images via CC.

An Engineer interviews Santa Clause — and the red-suited man is NOT happy!

This post has nothing to do with the law.  After all, how cheery and festive can one make litigation issues?  Yeah, I thought so.  Anyhow, as you get ready for Christmas this year, remember the poor fat man in the red suit!  Below is part of an interview between Engineer (and EDN Blogger ) Jit Lim and Mr. Clause, and he is not happy.

santa and his posse

JL – Hi, Mr. Clause. My name is Jit Lim, I’m a senior technologist for a company called Tektronix.

SC – Mr. Clause? Don’t be so formal. Call me Santa. Can I call you Jit?

JL – Sure, Santa.

SC – Senior technologist, does that mean you’re an engineer?

JL – Close. As a senior technologist, I look at not only current technology but future technology, as well.

SC – So you’re responsible for creating new products? I’ve got to say that I’m a little perturbed about the speed at which you engineering types are launching new toys that people want for Christmas.

JL – Yes, I help make new products, but my company doesn’t actually make consumer goods. We make test equipment that makes it easier for companies to make those new toys. We like to say we “enable innovation.”

SC – Oh, so it’s your company and companies like yours that make it easier for all that new-fangled stuff to come out so fast?

JL – Well, yes. Is there a problem with that?

SC – Is there a problem?! You bet there’s a problem! What do you think goes on those lists I have to make every year? Toy soldiers? Dolls? Train sets! No. No. No. They want PlayStations, iPads, laptops. When kids started asking me for Wii’s I thought they needed to go to the bathroom, but it turns out it’s one of those new-fangled games.

JL – I don’t understand, Santa. What’s the problem?

SC – Do you know how fast those things change, “Mr. Enabling Innovation?” I can’t keep up. A perfect example is the iPad. It comes out in March of 2010, and by some miracle I was able to get my production up and running just in time for Christmas that year. I figured I get a jump-start on 2011 and start production early, and then in March they announce the iPad2. Do you know what it takes to re-train an elf?

JL – Well, no. But …

SC – I’ve got an excess inventory of iPads because I started producing too early and then I had to stop production and gear up for iPad2’s. Do you think Steve Jobs, may he rest in peace, gave me a call to give me a heads-up? Nope. He’s too busy innovating. No consideration for one of his most important supply chains.

To read the rest of this highly amusing interview, head over to EDN.

And to those of you who haven’t already done so, sign up for regular email updates of all blog posts here at Construction Law in NC so you’ll never miss a post.  It’s what all the good boys and girls are doing this year!

Photo (c) Whispering Crane blog 12/24/2006 via Creative Commons license.

Top 3 Things You Should Know about Cell Phone and Texting Laws (Tue Tip)

cell phone drivingPlanning on driving out of your home state for the holidays?  Perhaps you’re flying somewhere, and have a rental car with your name on it? 

Before you go, be sure you know the following:

1.  Does the state you are in ban handheld cell phones while driving?

2. Does the state you are in ban texting while driving?

3. Is a violation of cell phone/texting laws a primary enforcement?  [That is, can an officer pull you over and cite you for using a handheld cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place?]

This handy chart of cell phone laws in all 50 states will give you the scoop.  Of course, it’s always best to play it safe, but this chart will at least keep you on the right side of the law. 

Happy Trails!

[hat tip to my partner John Nunnally for the link]

Do you know of an awesome website?  A great tool to use?  Share your tips with the community!  Drop me a note or comment, below. 

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Photo:  (c) Will Merydith via Creative Commons. 

Construction Law in NC is two years old today!

Construction Law in North Carolina is two years old today!  Hard to believe that another year has gone by.  When I first started this blog, I worried that I might run out of things to say.  Not only has that not proven true, but it seems the more I write, the more topics present themselves.  Part of this has to do with my loyal readers, many of whom have taken time to drop me a note with a question or comment, suggest a topic, or participate in my surveys & contests. 

If I haven’t gotten to your suggestions yet, rest assured they are in my “blog pile” and I’ll be broaching them in the next few months.  In the meantime, thanks for reading!

Photo: (c) Leo Reynolds via Creative Commons license.

How Twitter Can Benefit Your A/E/C Business (guest post)

Today’s guest post is by Katie Frasier, a social media specialist and writer for Work Boot News, a niche site specializing in work boots and dedicated to providing relevant, entertaining content for tradesmen. She can be found tweeting the latest construction news and interacting with industry members at @workbootscom.

Many A/E/C professionals understand the importance of using social media and have been advised to join Twitter—but putting yourself in the Twitterverse can seem intimidating at first. If you find yourself wondering what the heck Tweets are and how you’re supposed to implement them into your marketing plan, here are a few tips to help you get started and make the best return on time spent tweeting.

 Getting started

  • When signing up for your twitter account, choose a username that best reflects your business name to make your brand easy to find. Encourage followers by linking to your Twitter feed on your website, blog, Facebook, LinkedIn and any other platform you use.
  • Decide on your desired audience and Twitter goals. Are you reaching out to other industry professionals? Do you want to share and discuss industry news or gain leads for new business? These decisions will impact how you tweet, how formal or informal you want to come across, and the kind of content you will share with followers. To be successful, make sure you clearly define your method and stick with it consistently.winking twitter bird

 Create a core group to interact with

  • Find competitors or users who tweet to your desired audience, and spend time observing their approach. Search who they are following—chances are you’ll find users there who you’ll want to follow, too.
  • Utilize some of the many Twitter directories such as Twellow.com to search for people by keyword, such as construction” or “contractor” to follow, and add yourself to the directory while you’re at it.
  • Depending on your goals, you may want to investigate if any of your vendors use Twitter. Create a list and add them to it; this allows you to easily follow their tweets and stay informed.

 Listen and engage

  • Spend time listening to the conversations going on before adding to it. You should strive for a balance between conversing with others, asking questions and promoting yourself. If you’re constantly trying to drive traffic to your website or begging for business, no one will listen. But if you actively participate in your specialized Twitter community, people may be more apt to follow links you tweet or offer you their business.
  • Ask questions to get people talking. Answer questions to build relationships and assert yourself as an authority in your field.
  • Retweet content from others that may be relevant to your audience. They’ll appreciate the information, and the original tweeter will appreciate the gesture. Social media is all about building relationships. Making these connections, whether you’re portraying yourself as the expert in a subject or finding camaraderie among other A/E/C professionals, opens new opportunities for your business.

Questions for Katie about the benefits of using Twitter to promote your architectural or engineering practice?  Leave a comment, below.  And, remember to “follow” me on Twitter as well, at @melissabrumback.  I look forward to “talking” to you!

Photo ©Morpurgo.nl via Creative Commons license.

Drop the Dead Weight: Fire your Worst Clients! (Tue Tip)

Today’s Tip:  Listen to your gut.  Ever get that feeling that a potential client may be high maintenance or want everything done yesterday?   Listen to your instincts and turn them away as fast as you can.  Send them to a directory.  Send them to a rival.  Send them away from you.  Bonus if you can refer them to your worst enemy (kidding!).

The Pareto Principal is true in more ways than one:  not only do 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers, but 80% of your complaints come from 20% of your customers.  If you can weed out that complaining/crazy/high-maintenance 20% up front, think of the aggravation you will save.

Architects (and engineers) sometimes tell me that they knew they might have issues with a particular client based on how the initial meetings & negotiations proceeded; needing the work, they took the job anyhow, only to find themselves facing the prospect of a long-drawn out lawsuit.  Don’t let this be you.

What to do if you already have the crazy client on board?  Document everything, including verbal agreements.  And cut them loose when you can safely do so.  This can be tricky-if not impossible-to do during an active project.  So in the interim, prepare as if you will be sued, because there is a good chance of it.  Remember that in a lawsuit, everything will be evidence, so your documentation during the project will be vital.

And next time- listen to your gut!

Do you have an experience working with a “crazy” client?  Did you ever not listen to your gut, only to rue the day you didn’t later on?  Share below, or send me an email.  Remember to remove identifying details, to avoid being stalked by your crazy ex-client!

 Photo: (c) jimwhimpey via Creative Commons.

Developers Rejoice Over Impact Fees Decision (news note)

Today I’m unveiling a new column here at Construction Law in North Carolina called “News Notes”.  News notes will be postings of current news items relating to the design (and construction) community.  [This means that sometimes I must be a tad drier than my usual festive self.  Consider yourself warned.]  If you have an idea for a News Note, drop me a line.

Much to the delight of developers and realtors across the state, the North Carolina Supreme Court recently affirmed a decision which struck down local school impact fees. The fees had been assessed to fund construction of new schools in the Cary portion of the Wake County schools to help with the Town ofCary’s  rapid growth.

Impact fees are usually enacted by local boards and town councils as Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances (APFO).  In 1999, the Town of Cary began assessing school impact fees on developers in certain portions of the town which faced overcrowding.  The revenue brought in by the fees was earmarked to pay for expansion of existing school facilities.  Notably, the Town of Cary has no separate school system from the rest of Wake County, and did not have the legal authority to control the provision of school facilities within the district. 

Last month, the state Supreme Court, in a tight 3-3 tie decision (with one abstention) left the Court of Appeals decision in place, rejecting the Town’s attempt to collect school facilities fees and declaring the fees illegal.  [As an aside, my firm represented another developer who intervened in the lawsuit; however, the facts were somewhat different and we were not involved in this appeal.]

The Cary case is not the first time the issue has arisen in the state.  Currituck County once proposed a similar APFO to fund school construction during the real estate boom as out-of-state residents from Virginia crossed into North Carolina in an attempt to flee the taxes and dismal school system in Chesapeake,Virginia.

The Currituck proposal was widely criticized by both local and state homebuilder’s associations. Across North Carolina, homebuilders and realtor groups worked together to stop attempts at passing such impact fees. These organizations have run into problems as cash-strapped local governments see impact fees as one method of paying for increasingly expensive public school construction.

The theory is that developers of new homes pass the impact fees along to new home buyers by raising the price of homes or lots. Existing residents are spared the tax increases caused by a rapid influx of new residents with school-aged children. Thus, the people responsible for the increased strain on the school system – the new residents – bear the burden of the tax increase.

school

Over the past decade, Durham, Union County, and Cabarrus County have instituted similar impact fees. All three such attempts were disallowed by various courts. Thus far, virtually all attempts at imposing such fees have been struck down, although there appears to be wiggle room in the case law. For example, impact fees collected for improvements that directly run to the property (such as water or sewer lines) are typically allowed. Additionally, other municipal governments impose fees related to schools that have not (yet) been decided in the state court system, and those may be broad enough to pass judicial scrutiny.

In this case, Cary’s ordinance assessed residential developments a mitigation fee if they did not first obtain a certificate from Wake County certifying classroom availability. Over $4 million was ultimately collected since the ordinance was first passed in 1999. Cary is now faced with the prospect of returning these fees, plus over $300,000 in attorney fees awarded to the developers who filed suit.  Ouch!!!

Comments or questions?  Post in the comment section, below.

Photo (c) Ivy Dawned via Creative Commons license.

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