Merion – The New Ravello – Receives Amended Conditional Use Approval

Merion – The New Ravello – Receives Amended Conditional Use Approval

Bobbing and weaving to keep up with the constantly changing apartment market in Chester County is not an easy task. Sometimes, in an effort to meet what the market demands, architectural changes are necessary. With that, an Amended Conditional Use Plan approval was just granted for a plan proposing three individual high-end apartment buildings as opposed to the previously approved single structure. The parcel of ground sits just to the West of the Excellon Headquarters in Kennett Square, PA. The site plan still proposes 175 apartments, just in three buildings as opposed to one.


DLHowell assisted the Developer in situating the newly created three building layout so that the anticipated cuts and fills would balance. Due to the sloping nature of the site and Developer’s desire to have a consistently finished floor elevation around the entire perimeter of each building, grading was a challenge. However, a grading solution was achieved and at the end of the day, the separation of one building into three allowed the structures to “step down” the slope and more effectively merge with the lay of the land.

Next step: Amended Final Land Development Plans will be prepared and submitted to the Township for review. Those plans depict revised grades, erosion controls and stormwater facilities to accommodate the new layout. Additionally, lighting and landscape designs will be modified to meet code requirements associated with the revised improvements. DLHowell will assist the Developer in securing a Major Modification approval associated with the current NPDES Approval after which, construction can begin!


Construction is nearly completed on the Villa Maria Academy Circulation Improvements

D.L. Howell was contracted by the Villa Maria Academy to provide civil engineering services to their main campus located on Central Avenue in Malvern.  The project entails the design of an internal circulation driveway to facilitate student drop-off and pick-up. This will allow vehicles to stage within the campus property and eliminate them from blocking Central Avenue. The new driveway will also improve access to Central Avenue by removing an existing driveway and realigning another driveway from across the street.

Villa Maria School Entrance

Another design element was designed for handicapped parking in front of the cafeteria. The design created a new appearance that enhances the street view by relocating the trash enclosure and adding landscaping. The last component of the design was an expansive underground stormwater management pipe storage and infiltration system between the new driveway and existing tennis courts. The design of this system required a network of new stormwater piping and relocation of some existing utilities.

D.L. Howell worked closely with the Director of Campus Operations, Zeke Spillane, to refine the site layout and renderings after review and approval from Willistown Township Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners. The project received approval in May and construction commenced at the end of June. Benchmark Site Development was awarded the contract, with an aggressive schedule, and did a spectacular job completing their work before the opening of school.


Bed Installation Photos showing Before and After

Villa Maria

Villa Maria Bed Before Instillation


Villa Maria

Villa Maria Bed After Installation



Villa Maria

Villa Maria Bed Before Installation

Villa Maria Bed After Installation

Villa Maria Bed After Installation

 The challenges associated with the project was; integrating new design elements into a historic campus to achieve a unified appearance; incorporate an internal driveway that provided a safe and convenient drop-off and pickup area while maintaining the character of the campus and provide stormwater management meeting all the current design standards. D. L. Howell is honored to be considered as part of the design team for Villa Maria Academy and looks forward to other projects as the campus continues to expand.



Being the recipient of an engineering review letter can bring on all kinds of emotions. Working on a large project and receiving a short, clean, minor plan changes required review letter can bring on a feeling of absolute jubilation. Kind of like hitting a hole in one, hitting the lottery or reeling in a 1,000 lb blue marlin or doing all 3 in the same day. Everything is good!

Your client likes you, your boss likes you, heck YOU like you. You start feeling like “wow” I am a pretty damn good engineer and my career is doing great. So you head out for a celebratory lunch with your fellow colleagues and savor the moment. The food tastes good, and you feel great!! AHHHH. Unfortunately, when you get back, you discover that the mailman has visited the office and delivered to you a three-ring bound extended novel review letter on that two-lot subdivision you just gave a great price on to do because it seemed “so easy.”

As you struggle to remove the letter that has been stuffed into a standard envelope like an overstuffed Thanksgiving Day turkey you feel your blood pressure rise. Your absolute jubilation just an hour ago is being eclipsed by anger, frustration and a burning desire to start smashing things to bits. You begin to second guess if you even have one shred of engineering knowledge left inside your pounding skull. Now your brain is trying to quickly determine if you should pick up the phone and call the person that signed the letter ( I wouldn’t do that just yet) or if you have enough money in your budget to address the monumental amount of comments.

Puzzled and frustrated EngineerRINGGGG RINGGG!!! Ah, a phone call, “this will take my mind off this for a second.

WRONG!!! It is your client, and they are VERY angry at how stupid you are, and they are ready to tell you what a crappy engineer you are and how they are not paying for any of these changes because “ you should have known this, that’s why I hired you.” ARGH!!!!!!! Ok, calm down now, relax. This is the typical day in the life of a civil engineer, and the review process is one I have long pondered and internally debated on whether it serves our profession well or serves to drive me personally nuts. Everyone who knows me knows that I know that the world is out to get me. Now, all the Township engineers that are reading this can relax as I do believe the peer review process “generally” serves our profession well. Certainly having a second set of eyes review engineered plans is a good idea. Even a third set of eyes can help.

Now, when there is a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth set of eyes reviewing plans and the comments of the third set of eyes conflict with the sixth set of eyes comments which are in direct conflict with the second set of eyes as well as my eyes, then you can see ( pun intended) how it can become frustrating. And, my personal pet peeve, when any of those sets of eyes do not have a license to practice engineering in the state of Pennsylvania (sorry, your engineer in training certificate doesn’t count) then it really sets me off. No offense new grads and EIT’s but get your PE license and you can review. If you were having open heart surgery would you mind if the licensed surgical cardiologist went to grab a Starbucks while the recent medical school graduate with little to no experience finished sewing up your last few arteries? Yeh, I thought not.

This is where I think our review process needs to change. The only person who should be reviewing licensed engineers work is another licensed engineer. Period, end of story. Sure, graduate engineers and engineers in training can assist in the plan review as it is an excellent way to learn, but at the end of the day, a LICENSED Professional engineer should be doing the review and preparing the letter. Receiving a review letter with comments that make no sense and being forced to go meet with the graduate engineer to debate and argue them is ridiculous. I am not saying this goes on everywhere, but it goes on enough. We should work as a profession to eliminate these situations. Now, drilling down a little deeper. If the road by ordinance is required to be 24 feet wide and I draw it 22 feet wide then a comment should be made that the road is required to be 24 feet wide. Plan gets changed, and we move on. That is a good and helpful comment and helps our profession and helps create good, sound engineered plans. Now, if stormwater management is required (ha, I say “if” but it always is) and our design is done but the engineer would prefer to see the stormwater facility drain to another side of the property to help Mr. Smith have less water in his yard because he calls the Township and complains a lot…well….now we may have a snag.

Puzzled and frustrated Engineer

Not only do we not want to alter our design to reduce one complaint and create another, we further do not want to change ANY design that goes against OUR sound engineering judgment. I say OUR simply because it is OUR design on OUR plan and most importantly OUR liability insurance. These situations come up more often than many realize. There may be 20-30 instances of this per year. We find that the best way to handle this is by giving full credit where credit is due. If we are forced into making a revision we disagree with we prefer to list on our plans the professional engineer requiring such change along with all pertinent contact information. This is simply done to protect ourselves from additional unwanted liability. I will say, that more often than not, we can work through these situations using nothing but sound engineering judgment and common sense. The last area of the review process I think we need to improve upon is the notion of “observing” everything. No, I don’t mean construction observation, that is fully understandable. I am speaking to the relatively new concept of requiring stormwater infiltration tests to be “observed”. Again, we are running into this more often and typically the individual “observing” our tests is not a soils scientist, geologist, professional engineer, graduate engineer or even an engineer at all.

This is a slap in our professional face. It suggests that for some reason there is a need to make sure the professional running the test does not lie or fabricate the results. We need to find a way to improve this review process as it is creating friction in engineering relationships as well as wasting money and driving the cost up unnecessarily. At the very least, if infiltration tests must be “observed” then the observing individual needs to share in the responsibility if the facility does not infiltrate as intended.

NEWSFLASH….NONE of the facilities infiltrate as intended!!!! We test per the guidelines, design per the guidelines, construct per the guidelines, be inspected per the guidelines and yet we find very often that these facilities do not operate as intended and then all focus goes to the design engineer. This is a broken process and it is wasting tremendous amounts of money and needs to be fixed. I mean, what is next, will surveyors need to follow around our surveyors to make sure we don’t fudge boundary calculations and topographic results? Don’t laugh, I have already been asked to have this done. In the end, the peer “review” process is a good idea, and as I previously stated, it often leads to a much better-engineered plan, but the process is not perfect, just ask my doctor!

Continuing CAD Education

Continuing CAD Education

The two most important aspects of Civil Engineering are accuracy and clarity.  Here at D.L. Howell, we pride ourselves in excelling at both.  So as our firm continues to expand, it has become even more imperative for our drawings to reflect this.  Which is why we have taken the proactive approach and have started conducting weekly meetings to ensure that everyone is working together for the common goal of making D.L. Howell a top Civil Engineering firm.

The primary objective of the meetings is to review and implement our AutoCAD standards into every single drawing that goes out the door.  Even though we have several different project managers, engineers, and designers that work on plans, it is crucial that every one of our plans show the same level of quality and care.  Something as miniscule as the text height on a drawing can make all the difference between a plan being clear or illegible.  Along with discussing all the intricacies of AutoCAD, we also discuss improving our efficiency when producing plans.  With AutoCAD, as in life, there are many ways to complete the same task.  Since AutoCAD has a seemingly endless parade of updates and improvements, it’s important that we adjust and adapt to use CAD to its fullest potential.  With the wealth of experience at D.L. Howell, it is important to have an open forum and discuss the most effective way to go about our jobs.  This saves us time and, more importantly, the client’s money.

So as the industry continues to evolve, so will we.  It is our commitment at D.L. Howell to bring our clients the best product possible, even if it means sacrificing our Wednesday lunch period every week.

Red Hill, The largest fuel depot in Hawaii.

Red Hill, The largest fuel depot in Hawaii.

This year my wife and I had the privilege of vacationing in Hawaii. There are many things to do in such a beautiful state, and one of our first adventures was to visit Pearl Harbor and experience the naval base and the memorials. During our trip to Pearl Harbor, we boarded a tour bus that took us from one site to another. Our tour guide gave us information about the base, the barracks, and the airfield. During the ride, she had mentioned one topic that peaked my interest.

She was describing the Red Hill fuel depot complex. This is an underground fuel depot that was built approximately three miles away from Pearl Harbor. Our tour guide had mentioned that this fuel depot won the award for civil engineering excellence in 1995. When I heard that, my ears perked up and inspired me to do more research on this facility that won this civil engineering award.

What is the Redhill Fuel storage facility?

In 1940 it was decided to build an underground fuel storage facility to protect America’s fuel from attack. At that time, all of the fuel for the Navy was stored in aboveground tanks, making them very vulnerable to air attacks. The construction of a subsurface fuel depot would protect the nation’s fuel during an attack. The development of this project was quite a massive and incredible undertaking.

Red Hill Construction.tif
By Leslie.nelsonOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

I recommend watching this 15-minute video of the Redhill Fuel storage facility if you would like to learn more about it.

Some of the engineering ideas they came up with to construct this facility were amazing. One such idea was to construct the tanks vertically with a center shaft so debris could be removed easily. This fuel storage facility is made up of 20 pill shaped steel lined underground storage tanks that are capable of holding up to 250 million gallons of fuel. That’s equivalent to about 379 Olympic size swimming pools! Each tank can hold approximately 12.5 Million gallons of fuel, and they are connected to the fueling piers at Pearl Harbor by three gravity fed lines that are 2 1/2 miles long.

The Redhill Fuel storage facility was constructed near Honolulu, Hawaii and in 1995 the American Society of Civil Engineers established it as a civil engineering landmark.

It’s incredible what civil engineers can accomplish when they put their minds to it. The Red Hill fuel storage facility is one of those fantastic accomplishments and worthy of this civil engineering landmark award.