Getting Organized

A clear plan for designing and building facilities can help schools avoid unforeseen costs and complications.

Guessing can be fun when it comes to games, but not with school construction. Deciding to renovate or replace a building is complicated enough for a school or university. You don't want to be unsure about what comes next.

Do you call an architect or a contractor?

Do you make the plans first, or do you wait for the architect? Don't get caught up in the confusion. The outline that follows leads you through the three main steps of the project: planning, design and construction. Knowing the process will prevent construction crises and make your project a winner.

Planning First, decide if your district needs a change. Has there been a change in student population? Has there been a change in programs, services provided or methods used to teach? Has there been a change in building conditions?

If you say yes to any one of these questions, proceed with your building project.

Select an architect with educational planning and design experience. A firm that is knowledgeable about and involved in recent developments, technology and prototype classrooms will have the knowledge necessary for the project. Avoid a firm that is not open to involving the community. The community is the ultimate owner of the facility; their input and involvement is crucial.

Once you have selected an architect, negotiate contracts for the highest level of service, not for the lowest price. Paying less in the beginning might result in paying more during or after construction. A reasonable fee for a school project is 6.9 percent to 7.2 percent of construction costs. This includes all fees such as travel, supplies and expenses. While the fee generally is based on a percent, the amount typically is converted to a fixed fee. This decreases the architect's incentive to increase the fee by increasing the project cost and protects the fee if it can reduce project costs.

The next step is to decide whether to build a new facility or renovate. Collect data on population, building conditions and costs. Develop options - one might be to keep and renovate all existing buildings, while another could add a new high school, use the existing high school for a new middle school and renovate all remaining schools. Develop four to five complete and viable options.

Use an architectural firm to gather data and facilitate groups. If school officials gather the information, the process may appear to be manipulated, as though decisions have already been made. Also, choose a firm that charges a service fee. A firm willing to gather data free of charge, provided that it is later chosen to design the project, will be suspected of promoting larger projects.

Present the data and options at a community meeting. Community members should discuss options and decide upon the best option for your district. Campaigns are more successful when they occur after community-based planning. Inform community members that after the campaign succeeds, they will have opportunity for additional direct involvement through a community-based design process.

Prepare a building program - a detailed summary of what rooms are needed, what they will be used for, how large they will be, and other relevant data. Outline the program before the campaign begins so that you can inform the community of the district's needs.

The campaign should begin about five months before the election. Choose committee chairpersons at least three months before the campaign.

Design Once a bond issue or levy has passed, let everyone be part of the design team. Hold a meeting that welcomes the entire community. Segregated meetings where staff meets separately from the community produce a skewed interpretation of the design direction. To design a community-based school, the architect must know the community's concerns and ideas.

In the first meeting, the architect should come with an open mind and listen to community concerns and ideas. Community issues, such as building history, and specific program issues, such as the desire for a first-rate auditorium, guide the architect's design.

Based on the community's ideas, the architect creates two to three designs for the second meeting. Each design meets the district's needs in different ways. Use the designs as discussion tools, not options.

At the third meeting, present a single plan and preliminary illustration. The architect should produce a detailed cost estimate during design development. Major changes should occur at this time and not after construction documents have been prepared.

Construction documents are precise descriptions of all of a building's systems. These documents will be checked against the building program, created during the campaign, to ensure compliance with the community's requests. The architect then presents these documents to the community to show them that their concerns have been heard. This will help settle any fears or apprehension they might have before proceeding into the next phase.

Final cost estimates for the project are prepared and reviewed, along with structural, mechanical and electrical systems, final code research, and utility integration. Careful preparation, review and inspection are essential in this phase and, if done properly, will greatly reduce change orders. Once documents are completed, bidding begins.

Bidding Methods Before bidding, decide whether traditional bidding or a construction manager method will work best for your project.

Traditional bidding usually involves bidding the following five contracts: general contractor, plumbing, HVAC, electrical and fire suppression. The contractors are selected through public bidding and awarded to the lowest "responsible" bidder. Each competing contractor submits a total bid based on quotes each has received from his or her subcontractors, plus additional overhead and profit.

Award the contract to the lowest "responsible" bidder in each category. Although choosing the lowest bidder seems obvious, the lowest is not always the most responsible. Evaluate each contractor to determine the most responsible bidder. The evaluation should include checking references, financial stability and the contractors' previous experience. Work with your architect and legal counsel to reject unqualified contractors.

In traditional bidding, the owner contracts directly with the five prime contractors. These five prime contractors contract with the subcontractors. In addition to constructing its portion of the project, the general contractor coordinates the work of all prime contractors and assumes administrative responsibilities to make sure the job proceeds as scheduled. Districts that use the traditional bidding method do not have full control concerning the choice of the general contractor because the job is awarded to the lowest responsible bidder.

In the construction manager method, the school district hires a construction manager (CM) as the project's administrator instead of a general contractor. When hiring a CM, the ability to work with the district and the architect is a significant consideration. The CM is paid a fixed fee. Because the CM is handpicked, the school is more likely to find a project administrator that is more motivated to serve the school district's needs.

The construction manager usually is hired near the beginning of the project and therefore can assist in the development of construction documents and budgets. A better understanding of how the project went together during design is invaluable during the administration of construction. Under the traditional bidding method, the administrator (general contractor) is not hired until the project design and construction documents are completed. Valuable time can be lost at the beginning of construction as the administrator (general contractor) becomes familiar with the project.

The owner contracts with all contractors and subcontractors directly under the consultation of the construction manager, who seeks out the best value for each contract. The CM also assists with budgeting, contracts and cost issues. A CM is typically used for larger, more complex projects where the budget exceeds $4 million.

Construction The architect visits the site to review ongoing construction two to four times per month. The general contractor or construction manager remain at the jobsite full-time to oversee daily operations.

Use the checklist below to make sure that your project includes what you paid for.

- The architect should use a punch list or inspection form to inspect the work.

- A representative of the administration may wish to accompany the architect during the final inspection.

- Identify any areas that are not complete, do not meet specified standards, or do not appear to be able to provide services as specified.

- Be sure all responsible parties sign finalized agreements. Emphasize expectations for the completion of punch list items and receipt of the Certificate of Occupancy.

- Work closely with the architect to ensure satisfaction after occupancy.

- Make sure to ask your architect for a closeout checklist. Ask any wrap-up questions at this time.

When the building is completed, there are endless possibilities for a celebration. To plan an event, form a committee that includes all generations and segments of the community. Your celebration can include activities such as: ribbon cutting, children's events, local celebrities, and tree planting.

Building or renovating your district should be exciting. With the help of the construction outline above, your district can reduce the uncertainty associated with building projects and create the schools your district wants and needs.

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