Using Design-Build in Education

It’s August, so school buses are starting to hit the road and educational facilities across the country are gearing up for the arrival of students. In the summer when buildings are empty, school districts and universities typically perform as much construction as possible. But the type and complexity of construction often varies depending on budget and land allocations.

The traditional Design-Bid-Build method, which has been the heartbeat of public works projects for decades, may not be the best choice for the education sector. Case studies show that the education sector can drastically benefit from utilizing the Design-Build method. Let’s take a look at why.  

Construction Needs within Education

According to the Design-Build Institute of America, this method requires the “Owner of the construction project to manage only one contract with a single point of responsibility. The designer and contractor work together from the beginning, as a team, providing unified project recommendations to fit the Owner’s schedule and budget. Any changes are addressed by the entire team, leading to collaborative problem-solving and innovation, not excuses or blame-shifting.”

Prior to Design-Build, the owner of a project would work with a designer and / or architect (one team of people) and then a contractor (a second team of people). Each of those entities would hire their own additional subcontractors. That leads to a triangle of people all trying to work together to produce one project. It also leads to multiple people “in charge” of various parts of the process.

When it comes to education where budgets are incredibly tight due to state funding and local tax dollars and time is not unlimited…buildings must be completed for students to walk through the doors…constraints are tight. There is little room for mistakes or the time involved to obtain clearance for design/construction changes from multiple parties.

Why Design-Build is the Answer

Prior to 1996, design-build historically was not a strategy for educational institutions. This is because state statutes didn’t allow this method due to federal acquisition restrictions and state and federal policies regarding construction in the public sector.

“The design-build strategy, which has been used frequently in the private sector, experienced a dramatic increase in public sector use after Congress passed the Clinger-Cohen Act in 1996,” according to a July-September 2012 white paper from Planning for Higher Education, which explains the successful use of Design-Build in the K-State Olathe project, a project right in the back yard of Rose Design + Build in Kansas City. This act established guidelines for identifying when design-build is an appropriate strategy for public projects.

Kansas State University successfully used the Design-Build method when it built its Olathe, Kan.-based International Animal Health and Food Safety Institute, a $28 million, 108,000 square foot facility in 2008. The successful of that project, as well as other education projects, points to 5 main benefits when using the Design-Build method.

1. Risk Mitigation

No one wants to assume risk, especially state and government funded institutions. When stakes are high, the lower the risk of a project falling behind schedule or running into problems is essential. With the collaborative effort used in the Design-Build method and the way contracts are typically written, risk is substantially lower. With fewer subcontractors and outside companies working on the job, there are fewer hands in the pot, so risk can be reduced. Most project managers can expect to have fewer or virtually no “change orders” due to errors or omissions.

2. Speed

As one would expect, the more people involved in the build, the longer the project could take. When you rely on various subcontractors to be on time and complete their part of the job before others can move in and continue the project, the odds are that material delays or poor management may take a toll on the speed of the project.

The cooperation in Design-Build, however, can reduce unknowns and speed up the decision-making process. Members of the design team are usually on site, so construction crews don’t have to wait for answers, both factors lead to quicker completion time for a project.

3. Cost Savings

Naturally, reduced risk and timeliness associated with Design-Build lead to lower costs. The collaboration between the designer and the builder means increased efficiency. Owners can be confident that they will be able to stay within budget.

4. Quality Control

In the traditional Design-Bid-Build model, there are two owners of the project: the architect/designer and the contractor. This can introduce discrepancies with quality control. Both overseeing parties may have differing opinions or expectations of quality, thus not all aspects of the build could be uniform.

With Design-Build, collaboration not only on how to build the project but the ultimate vision of what the project will amount to is part of the process. The owner can be certain that the quality and expected outcome of the finished product was part of the process from the start.

5. Satisfying the Stakeholders

Ultimately, as a project owner, you want to ensure that stakeholders and donors will look back on the project and feel pride as well as satisfaction regarding cost, quality, and timeliness. Using the Design-Build method is the best way to achieve these results.

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