Facility Planning: Document Dilemmas

Take the time, get it right, avoid problems!

In recent years, the pressure to get a project's contract documents — the construction drawings and specifications — out for bids has shortened the time for preparation and checking. New technologies, including CADD (Computer-Aided Design and Drafting) and BIM (Building Information Modeling), have improved the process, but to avoid problems, schools still need adequate time to get it right.

The construction drawings (sometimes referred to as the blueprints or the working drawings) quantify materials, and illustrate location and relationship for construction requirements. The specifications, or project manual, include the bidding requirements, contract conditions and define the qualitative requirements for products, materials and workmanship.

Concise contract documents are essential. The National Council of Schoolhouse Construction (NCSC) Guide for Planning School Plants, published in 1965, discussed the principles of economy in planning and construction. Principle 7 still applies:

“Experience has shown that the use of complete plans and specifications usually results in lower bids than plans judged incomplete for other work of comparable construction. Contractors are able to figure their costs more accurately, eliminating the need to pad their bids to assure themselves of adequate contingencies.”

Publishing concise, complete, coordinated, understandable and biddable contract documents reaps benefits for the project stakeholders by:

  • Organizing and locating information within the documents. This facilitates the finding of information needed by the contractor during bidding and during construction. The increased speed and accuracy during the bidding process generates lower and more accurate bids. A well-documented, accurate and complete set of drawings and specifications can result in competitive bids with lower costs, sometimes by as much as 10 percent.

  • Letting the bidders know where to look, not wasting time to search for things. This means the bidders are satisfied that they've found everything — additional monies will not be added for uncertainties and items they think they might have missed.

  • Improving the accuracy of the bids. Because everything is coordinated, covered and well-defined, bidders can better estimate the actual in-place cost. This minimizes the need for contingency funds.

  • Facilitating corrections during bidding. This enables items to be addressed and directed to the proper locations within the documents without causing confusion or complications.

  • Allowing for better enforcement of the contract documents. Because of a clearer definition of responsibilities, all the parties to the contract know what is expected and the consequences of failing to deliver.

  • Minimizing change orders during construction with accurate drawings and specifications. Reducing mistakes and omissions means fewer change orders, less paperwork and improved profitability for the contractor, and minimized costs for the district.

  • Reducing the opportunities for litigation. Using standardized documents from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) establishes intent that is recognized and enforceable, and less prone to dispute.

  • Minimizing confusion and conflict, thus creating a better project with fewer conflicts among the education institution, architect and contractors.

I frequently have informed education institutions that contract documents are not ready to publish for bidding. Taking the needed time during preparation is less costly than correcting problems during construction. An institution must provide architects and engineers time to prepare contract documents that are as accurate as possible.

Mistakes still may occur, but they will be minimized. Change orders during construction create major problems, but they can be avoided or minimized.

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

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