On January 31, the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) Executive Committee approved a recommendation by its CSI MasterFormat Expansion Task Team to create separate sections on communications technology in the next edition of the MasterFormat document. However, they didn't stop there. Early reports indicate the committee also agreed to move, regroup, and renumber many existing sections of the document, too. Now a panel of experts will spend the next 12 months deciding how to fill in the blanks in the new communications sections, which have been sorely missed in recent years. No wonder this document is only updated once every seven years.

For those who don't know, MasterFormat is a paper- and software-based system that architects and consulting engineers use to organize information about construction requirements, products, and activities for a construction project into a standard sequence, or master list, of numbers and titles. The first edition of this document was produced in 1963.

Only two of the 317 pages in Division 16 of the 1995 MasterFormat are dedicated to telecommunications and technology, and as more power, communications, and control technologies were introduced into new buildings, these two pages didn't cut it anymore. While most everyone in the industry agreed the document needed to be expanded to incorporate these new technologies, it was the only issue they agreed upon. The most contentious — and potentially most confusing — issue has been how best to revise the document to meet the needs of the interested parties.

What I, and probably many of you, assumed would simply be a new Division 17, now appears to be a full-blown, five-part section on communications. And to top it off, it won't even be called Division 17. In addition, life/safety, home automation, and burglar alarm systems have been brought together under a separate section, and the electrical section will move from Division 16 to Division 24.

One organization that won't be too happy with this decision is NECA, Bethesda, Md. In August 2001, NECA submitted a proposal to CSI to update Division 16 to reflect current technology, equipment, and systems; expand Division 16 by adding electrical/electronic systems presently located in other divisions; and change the name of Division 16 to “Integrated Building Systems” to reflect its expanded content and purpose. NECA's motto had been “Integrate, don't separate.” It looks like NECA will have to regroup.

On the other hand, groups like BICSI, Tampa, Fla., the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), Washington, D.C., and the National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA), Cedar Rapids, Iowa, should be pleased with this outcome. These groups had supported a rival proposal to split off telecommunications, local area networks, sound-video, and other types of low-voltage wiring into a new, separate division to keep pace with today's demanding technology requirements. However, it will be interesting to see if they got more than they bargained for.

Depending on what side you align yourself with, you may see this as a setback or a sign of progress; I'm just glad CSI finally made a decision, but c'mon, did they have to make the changes this hard to understand? Revise the document already and move on!

In the end, as long as the revisions appropriately address telecommunications- and technology-related systems and give the building owner power to decide who's qualified to install them, the standard's format doesn't matter. Ideally, communications systems will now be strategically designed into any new building rather than retrofitted during construction, as is typically the case today. Don't we owe this to the building owner anyway?