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A small district had experienced slow but steady enrollment growth and overcrowding became a considerable
parent concern at the single high school. The school board decided to construct a high school but, based upon community input, deemed it needed to be completed within a fairly short timeline. District officials were concerned about what to do and how to do it because the district had not built a school for a long time and was too small to employ staff with the needed expertise. As a result, we were contacted to assist them with determining the best approach for their circumstances.
As the district’s consultant, we suggested establishing a committee comprised of key staff such as the superintendent, CFO, Maintenance & Grounds Director, a couple of board members, etc. We also recommended adding community members who were familiar with design or construction programs and were respected in the community. Once assembled, we led this group through the different options available and specifically guided them through developing the advantages and disadvantages of each. Explanations and examples of each pro and con were important to gain consensus regarding the method to be selected. We also provided examples of successes and difficulties experienced in other school districts to demonstrate how each
might relate to their anticipated high school program and the issues of which to be aware.
During the deliberation, the design-bid-build process was ruled out because it was deemed too cumbersome for the fast track construction process believed necessary in their situation. In addition, it would not give constructability, scheduling and accurate cost information in advance of a bond election, elements the committee agreed were essential to gaining public support. As for “pure” construction management (CM), it appeared that the district didn’t have the in-house expertise to manage the volume of contracts likely to occur, nor the staff needed to coordinate and manage architect, CM and sub-contractor relationships. Given the
two remaining options, the construction manager/general contractor (CM/GC) process was selected as the preferred method because it offered the district an opportunity to acquire the best architect and best contractor in advance of the bond election. This would enable them to develop preliminary designs and costs upon which to finalize the bond question and inform the community. Further, this relationship provided a “checks and balances” approach for the owner (district) which was believed would ensure a good design at a fair price.
The design-build process was considered interesting in its potential. However, to offer a fair and equitable
process to both the construction and design industry, the district would be “forcing” relationships between architects and contractors to present three or four qualified design-build teams for consideration. At that juncture, only one firm that specialized in design-build projects for schools was identified. Thus, it was viewed as unreasonable to accept one firm because the option didn’t give the district any choices, creating a situation where the advantages of competitive bidding (and thus, cost control) were lost.
This situation differed from an ideal process where ample time is available to determine the best approach.
In addition, the few number, and perceived quality, of firms available for one approach, even if preferred, was not viewed as acceptable. As one means of avoiding such a dilemma, the district might have reviewed the favored approach with several architectural/engineering firms well in advance to determine their interest in satisfying the criteria for that approach. This may have involved a prequalification process, which could potentially expedite the design and construction phase if completed prior to funding acquisition. As with other elements of the planning process, getting organized and prepared well in advance provides the best options for your district.