Cost Control

Preventing change orders is key for reducing school construction costs during tough economic times.

Education administrators involved in construction initiatives unanimously agree that when it comes to change orders, less is more. Change orders have a negative rippling effect of driving up building costs and producing expensive project delays that often interfere with school operations and schedules.

Some change orders are initiated by schools or universities, but the vast majority result from construction document errors and inconsistencies that go undetected until construction already is underway. Any blueprint or specification error resulting in a change order during construction is a loss for the school budget and a win for those who charge a premium for corrections.

As countless administrators have witnessed, the harsh reality about error-driven change orders is that they occur too often. Contractors and building professionals who stand to gain financially from change orders also may not reveal that they have noticed errors or missing details prior to issuing their lowest bids.

One question often asked: “If design and engineering professionals are doing their jobs right, why should construction document errors exist at all?” There is a long-held understanding in the construction industry that an A/E professional can look at the same document 10 times and miss a detail that will be discovered in one pass by another set of eyes. When a project involves hundreds of specifications and blueprints across multiple disciplines, human error rates tend to increase. This is a primary reason why the third-party construction document review process has emerged as a best practice for avoiding unanticipated building costs.

When a review is performed well, it has multiple, far-reaching benefits, including:

  • What to expect

    Significant reductions in requests for information and change orders.

  • Reduction in the likelihood of claims.

  • Improved construction documents that are more likely to produce high-quality construction outcomes.

  • Maximizing effectiveness

    A streamlined bidding process that helps to generate lower, more competitive contractor bids.

  • Improved adherence to construction schedules resulting from a lower number of change orders.

An independent, third-party review of construction documents occurs at the end of the construction document phase when all bidding documents are 100 percent complete.

What's the difference?

When a review is completed, administrators responsible for the project receive a detailed report with line items and recommendations to be addressed before construction documents are released for bid. Often, the final report will be categorized into sections by design and engineering discipline.

The primary goal of a third-party review of construction documents is to identify inconsistencies in the specifications and drawings developed by the various disciplines responsible for project design. Although each project is unique, examples of commonly identified inconsistencies include issues related to HVAC systems, building system incompatibilities, and plumbing, electrical and safety issues, among others.

Not all independent, third-party construction document review processes are alike. To protect a school's investment and enhance review effectiveness, education administrators should:

  • Ensure that the review occurs when bidding documents are finalized, just prior to advertising them for bids.

  • Choose “actively practicing” architects, engineers and specification writers to review construction documents.

  • Select professionals who are skilled and experienced in education facility design because they can apply specialized school construction expertise to the document review process.

  • Track progress to verify that all review recommendations and identified construction document errors, inconsistencies and ambiguities are addressed prior to bidding.

  • Gain the support of architects and engineers (who initially may be reluctant to participate) by educating them that a third-party review of construction documents is an industry-recommended best practice that leads to a win-win for all concerned.

Foreman, NCARB, AIA, EOYI, LEED AP, CDT, is president and CEO of Foreman Architects Engineers, Foreman Program & Construction Managers, and the Foreman Group of Companies. He can be reached at (724)452-9690. For a free paper on the processes, phasing and benefits of constructability reviews, value engineering and third-party construction document reviews, e-mail [email protected].

An independent, third-party review of construction documents often is confused with a “constructability review,” yet they are two different processes with unique goals.

Constructability reviews occur early on during the “schematic through design development” phase for the purposes of:

  • Establishing the best possible construction phasing.

  • Determining site logistics.

  • Evaluating design progress with respect to milestone scheduling.

  • Identifying buildability issues such as long lead times for specific building materials.

  • Conducting a basic cost analysis, which often is dovetailed into value-engineering estimating.

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