By Jerry M. Clement, NCARB, AIA
In today’s world of increased schedule demands, escalating prices and sophisticated owners’ expectations of quality, the Design-Build delivery (single source) method is often used to provide a timely solution.
It’s not a new process, a centuries-old tradition where the architect originally was the ‘master builder’ responsible for design and construction methods. A colonial era American statesman, then President Thomas Jefferson, a devoted student of architecture, became a self-taught architect/master builder and produced many of his own building products in his continuous redesign and construction of his beloved Monticello.
The Design-Build delivery method is a wonderfully flexible process capable of providing the owner many benefits, ranging from an early guaranteed maximum price (GMP) to an earlier completion schedule without sacrifice to either quality or owner input.
Some firms that are vertically integrated, provide design services with in-house staff members for a simpler, ‘one stop’ approach, while others prefer to retain the design staff from outside the organization. This allows them to match the design expertise to the project needs and select the best-qualified design team as their choice to serve the owner.
Design-Build requires a leap of faith by the owner in some cases as they perceive the lack of checks and balances ordinarily present in a traditional Design-Bid-Build process.
In either case, the owner’s life during the design and construction period can be made simpler and less stressful in that they have a single point of contact, the design-builder, and a single contract for the total effort. The element of trust is vital as the team embarks on the sometimes perilous journey toward the successful completion of a major new facility. The experience can be daunting, especially for an owner who neither builds often, nor has a staff devoted to their facility needs or operations. The design-builder provides an ideal solution as the owner’s agent during this critical period providing the expertise required for the overall completion at which time he/she simply turns the facility over to the owner for his intended purpose.
I have selected two current projects utilizing the contractor-led Design-Build delivery method, each with similar results, but with distinctly different project profiles and corporate cultures. Both projects have benefited from an early on GMP and the use of competitively bid major work packages, fast-track schedules, heavy owner participation/interaction and innovative use of design-build subcontractors.
The first project is a 100,00-square-foot aircraft assembly facility with an office component of 10,000 square feet. It was originally designed for manufacturing, and amended during design development. A high profile project, it is the inaugural facility in a new technology park and is situated on a 40-acre parcel, which was site developed to accommodated the future second phase. The owner utilizes a corporate-wide color scheme for the exterior and office standards for the interior so the company image is the same nationwide.
This owner has the fortunate business problem of product orders some 30 to 36 months in backlog and is faced with the continuous challenge of expediting product delivery. This facility embodies that forward thinking and as such is the new prototype moving forward.
The owner’s manufacturing criteria is precise, with details on lighting levels, utilities, dock equipment and material handling, requiring intense coordination of design elements as well as expediting the equipment ordering and final installation.
The entire project was master planned, scheduled and executed utilizing a fast-track schedule, beginning with the initial permitting. Land disturbance was allowed as the design continued on the remaining civil, architectural and structural elements. Design criteria for HVAC, plumbing, fire protection and electrical were prepared as part of the initial design with detailed design provided by design-build subcontractors, selected by competitive bid. Once the site was mobilized work continued as the additional major bid packages were awarded. Initial schedule milestones were preserved by casting on-site, load-bearing tilt wall concrete panels and the early award of a steel mill order to assure the light steel frame followed in a timely manner to assure a dried-in structure. The earlier completion of the envelope, with temporary roof on both the office and assembly area facilitated the other trades’ ability to work efficiently in a protected environment.
Every shorthand technique available was employed with the single goal of an early completion without sacrifice to quality. Rooftop air conditioners were set as the steel was erected to eliminate duplication of crane activity. The entire exterior tilt wall installation was a carefully orchestrated 3-day effort as the steel erectors were mobilizing.
Short-term interval schedules with recovery procedures are an essential piece of weekly
job site progress meetings. Safety is an essential part of every activity and with increased hours worked, especially on the large concrete slab pours, risk is increased and when the cranes are present and workers are overhead a full-time coordinator is on duty.
This project is accident free with 7 months’ continuous activity.
The second project is a local electric cooperative that chose a contractor-led design-build delivery with a different emphasis. Their previous experience with major construction some 13 years ago was less than satisfactory, so they were receptive to a highly flexible approach. Unlike the aircraft industry, their program developed through a series of interactive sessions with their staff, the designer and the contractor, with careful attention to cost modeling at each interval. The initial plan was to accomplish their growth in two phases, the first for the utilitarian functions for the right-of way crews, the garage and maintenance facility, with the capability for repairs and custom building their line trucks, a Truck wash and fuelling facility and additional storage and parking for their line construction crews. Phase two was for a new operations facility.
This owner’s sense of responsibility to the customer and attention to community image posed a unique challenge for the Design-Build team: to provide value for the monies allocated, flexibility for future growth and an architectural image that reflects the conservative, fiscally responsible culture of this board directed EMC.
All major decisions are board approved, and require clear communication, reporting and an ‘open book’ budgeting and accountability for all costs, including unforeseen site conditions and interface with local municipality’s utilities and their easements on the expanded property.
Phase one, as delineated previously, incorporates the new facilities into a seven acre concrete paved equipment yard where power poles, transformers and all construction elements required for power transmission are stored. Construction phasing is critical to avoid interruption of everyday consumer electric activities and it is further complicated by the owner providing some of their own construction services.
Early in the initial planning it was realized a single mobilization was more cost effective, so the phased approach became a single effort with staged construction. Currently, the owner is modifying the operations center, change being the operative word of this entire effort. One building committee member when questioned about the choice of delivery methods replied “We’ve never had a meeting where we didn’t improve the pro