Choosing the Right Path

Before deciding how to design and build their facilities, schools should determine which method fits their unique needs.

Schools districts across the nation want to choose the best way to design and construct new facilities. But with a growing number of project delivery methods, choosing the right method can become cumbersome. Each school district has its own unique characteristics and circumstances; officials need to carefully analyze their situation before selecting the right project delivery method.

Historically, the three principal parties in all project-delivery methods are the owner, designer and the constructor. The impact of selecting a particular method varies not only among the parties, but also for individuals within each group. Schools have a wide array of departments that may be involved in a project, from teaching and curriculum, to maintenance and operations, to transportation. With that breadth of user groups, it may not be possible to select a delivery method that all departments embrace. By carefully analyzing available delivery methods, schools can choose wisely and contribute to the primary task of educating students.

The three general categories of project delivery methods are design-bid-build, construction management and design-build. In response to increasingly compressed schedules and the need for systems to correspond with the public-sector business philosophy and regulatory requirements, the construction industry has developed variations within each of the categories.

Traditional delivery The design-bid-build or traditional delivery method has been the prevailing delivery system through the 20th century. Because of its long history, most owners are comfortable with it - the regulations and procedures regarding all aspects of the contracting typically are fully developed. This method is linear in sequencing, which can make it difficult to respond to a desire for shortened schedules.

With this method, the goals of the constructor are often diametrically opposed to those of a school district, often leading to adversarial relationships and a high volume of change orders. In saturated construction markets, this can lead to diluted resources that are not responsive to the time constraints of a project, which can mean protracted closeout periods and adversely affected school operations.

Construction management The delivery method that perhaps has the widest variety of services within its category is construction management delivery. As a result of active construction markets and factors derived from that, construction management was developed in the 1960s. Construction management is a delivery method in which a qualified constructor provides project leadership and administration services for an owner during the various phases of a project; such as planning, design and construction. Construction management in its early stages also was referred to as agency construction management - the construction manager acted as an owner's representative.

Construction management at-risk evolved due to demands of public owners to decrease the financial risks of a project. The amount of risk a construction manager assumes during design and construction is the key variable in determining the type of construction management.

One common benefit of construction management delivery is increased service due to the dual agency of designer and construction manager. This in turn yields better coordinated drawings and projects, fewer claims and earlier delivery.

Having a construction manager can also adversely affect a project if the roles and responsibilities are not clearly defined for the four primary parties to the process: owner, designer, construction manager and constructor. By increasing the number of parties involved, the risk of having overlap of services or a gap in services increases. For a construction management delivery method to be successful, a responsibility matrix must be developed and communicated to all individuals involved in the project.

Design-build Although the design-build delivery method has existed since medieval times, when the master builder was part architect, part engineer and part constructor supervising the building of palaces and cathedrals, this method is thought of as the newest delivery method. Public-sector owners are attempting to incorporate design-build as a means to complete projects more quickly. With the responsibility of design and construction being under one contract, owners enjoy a sense of one-stop shopping.

With the final cost of a project determined early in the stages of a project, this method also can reduce a school district's financial risk. However, on the flip side of risk is the potential loss of control. School officials are used to having the entire design period to collect design standards and requirements. This is not the case with design-build contracts.

This loss of control often leads to misconceptions and misunderstandings because of the limited detail that is included in a design-build contract. In addition, if the expectations for community involvement are not defined clearly, the design-build process may not address community participation. The first step to successfully using the design-build method is a district-generated statement of project scope and requirements.

Many resources are available to assist school districts in compiling unbiased information on each of the delivery methods. Administrators need to become creative in researching project delivery methods, such as asking private firms to provide comparative analysis of each of the methods. By educating themselves in the delivery methods available and defining both the positive and adverse effects of each of those methods, districts can select the best delivery method for each of their projects.

The first step in evaluating a project delivery method should include the evaluation of the four prime criteria of every project: time, quality, cost and safety. Beyond that, every school project has its own unique circumstances. Here are additional key criteria that should be considered when selecting a project delivery method.

- Available market resources - design professionals, suppliers, contractors and labor.

- Complexity of the project or unique program.

- Schedule of the project.

- Design expectations - are design and construction standards in place?

- Legal requirements and school district's contracting policies.

- School district's fiscal and risk management policies.

- Level of user involvement in process - community input, central vs. site-based management.

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