The controversy over proposed changes to model specifications took a dramatic turn at a January 24 symposium in San Francisco, sponsored by the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). In a stunning turnaround, ARCOM Master Systems, a leading vendor of spec-writing software, proposed a modified package of revisions for the next generation of CSI’s MasterFormat that largely preserves the status quo.

Among other important changes, ARCOM’s proposal (known as Alternate Scheme D) keeps intact the present mechanical and electrical divisions. The Division 16 portion of ARCOM’s scheme incorporates most features of the Integrated Building Systems division (IBS-16) first proposed by NECA a year ago. IBS-16 expanded and updated the traditional electrical spec division to reflect new technologies (such as fiber optics) and incorporate all power, control, and communications subsystems.

ARCOM’s Alternate Scheme D was also supported by other major publishers of commercial spec-writing software who attended the January 24 meeting, including McGraw-Hill and Prentice Hall.

Revisions previously announced by CSI for the planned 2003 edition of its MasterFormat system would have expanded the present 16 divisions (which have existed since 1964) to over 70. CSI also planned to break up Division 15 "Mechanical" and Division 16 "Electrical" into several new divisions apiece.

The construction industry had protested these plans for more than a year, predicting that major changes to the long-established MasterFormat structure would cause confusion, delays, and cost increases in building projects. Construction interests also complained that they had been excluded from the revision process. ARCOM’s Alternate Scheme D, which differs significantly from the revision package developed by a CSI task force, attempts to respond to construction industry concerns. Stated aims of ARCOM’s plan include:

* Impose as little change as possible to divisions for architectural building subjects. * Make MasterFormat more acceptable to engineering disciplines. * Keep Divisions 15 and 16 intact. * Provide room for future expansion within each division.

A representative of a company that sells paper- and software-based specification writing systems explained the change of heart by saying that vendors were concerned their users wouldn’t accept wholesale changes in the familiar MasterFormat structure that provides the basis for many construction industry systems, including estimating software and project bid repositories.

Professor Thomas E. Glavinich of the construction engineering department at the University of Kansas is a noted expert on construction project specifications. He applauded ARCOM’s Alternate Scheme D, observing that: "Most importantly, it keeps Divisions 15 and 16 intact, and recognizes the trend toward building power, communication, and control systems integration." EC