Facility Planning: Managing Costs

Minimize cost overruns by maximizing accuracy and communication.

Cost overruns create problems, disappointment and frustration for education institutions. Generally, the culprit is mismanagement caused by lack of knowledge, planning, experience, follow-through or communication. Contributing factors:

  • Overlooked budget items.

  • Items added without adjusting the budget.

  • Poor “wish-list” management.

  • Inadequate educational specifications and space estimates.

  • Incomplete contract documents.

  • Unpredictable bidding climate.

  • Unforeseen site conditions.

  • Incompetent management selecting fixtures, furnishings and equipment.

  • Unrealistic budgets and schedules.

  • Inaccurate cost estimating.

  • Unreasonable expectations of the institution.

Successful cost containment is not difficult, but it is essential to work with professionals who have a successful record in education facilities. They should be knowledgeable in education planning and design, contract documents, construction administration, and the selection of construction materials and systems that minimize long-term maintenance and operations costs.

Architects specializing in schools should have an extensive in-house historical database that provides comparisons among compatible school designs. The database should have categories such as early childhood or preschool, special education, elementary, middle, junior high and senior high. It should be subdivided into site, general, mechanical (plumbing, heating, ventilating and air conditioning), electrical and technology.

Cost estimates initially are based upon an architect's records comparing student capacity and space estimates. The estimates evolve to a final number based upon site and building designs.

Cost estimates are monitored during the design-development phase as materials, equipment and systems are selected. Finally, contract documents are prepared for bidding.

Construction costs are affected by design; building area and volume; materials and systems; accuracy and completeness of construction drawings and specifications; and bidding climate and economy. The architect and the school control all except the bidding climate and economy.

Construction change orders occur because of errors or omissions by architects and engineers, changes sought by the school, code interpretations, building inspector requirements, or unforeseen site and project conditions. To prepare construction drawings and specifications accurately, planners need sufficient time for a final check and coordination of the general, mechanical and electrical systems. This results in more competitive bids and fewer change orders.

Estimating total costs for a construction project that will take two to four years to complete is an art that involves knowing the subtleties contained in a project; construction method; furnishings, fixtures and equipment; costs for site purchase, street and utilities development, and assessments; fees; startup and first-year maintenance and operations; and inflation and contingencies.

Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis.

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