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October 29, 2015

Group polishes guidelines for design-build projects

  • Public owners, contractors and designers are working together to improve alternative project delivery.
    Schacht Aslani Architects


    Design-build project delivery is a subject of considerable debate among Washington state’s public owners, contractors, architects and engineers.

    A year ago, architect Steve McNutt published an article in the DJC’s annual A&E Perspectives calling for reform. At the same time, I was organizing an effort as the architects’ representative to the Capital Projects Advisory Review Board (CPARB) to reach out to our state’s design professionals to understand the impact of alternative project delivery on practice. Design-build proved to be the focal point of their concerns.

    The good news is that those apprehensions have been heard and a response is in the works. CPARB established a design-build best practices committee last February. The committee’s work should result in a manual of best practices that will be available next year to public owners, contractors, architects and engineers.

    The Architects & Engineers Legislative Council helped conduct the initial outreach by forming a committee that was co-chaired by Van Collins, CEO of the Associated Council of Engineering Companies Washington, and Jeffrey Hamlett, executive director of AIA Washington Council. Sixteen architects and engineers from across the state participated.

    I delivered the committee’s report to CPARB in April. The report identified some of the impacts of design-build on the role of architects and engineers, such as how the design professional’s primary contractual relationship shifts from the owner to the design-builder, and how the scope of professional services is modified from the level of engagement with the end user to the administration of the contract for construction.

    The report identified some of the challenges with design-build delivery, with the cost of competing for a project as a significant concern for architects and engineers.

    Other issues included:

    • In the case of a best value selection, the risk is high relative to the potential reward.

    • Stipends do not typically cover the cost of the design services.

    • The program, scope and budget are not always adequately defined to allow teams to compete effectively during the RFP phase.

    • Previous experience is a typical selection criterion, but a limited number of architects, engineers and contractors have experience as individuals or as teams in this emerging procurement type.

    • Small businesses that are otherwise qualified to provide design services may not be able to compete due to the risks and costs.

    The report concluded by recommending that CPARB establish a committee to consider ways to improve outcomes for design-build project delivery.

    In April CPARB’s design-build best practices committee started to meet monthly with the goal of drafting guidelines that coordinate with the state’s existing regulations and improve outcomes for owners, contractors and consultants. Olivia Yang, associate vice president for facilities services at WSU, and I serve as co-chairs for a group that includes representatives from all sectors.

    CPARB appointed 14 official committee members, but the meetings are open to the public and many others are participating in the discussion. Information about the committee is available at: http://tinyurl.com/CPARB-DBC

    The conversations have been spirited and fruitful. It was immediately apparent that we lacked a set of commonly understood definitions for the many forms of design-build procurement: design competition, best-value, progressive and bridging.

    Once we worked our way through those issues, our focus turned to the pre-contract award phases of the process, which include team selection and present some of the greatest challenges.

    Our discussions, which consumed most of our attention for four consecutive meetings, led us to potential solutions that should improve the fairness and inclusivity of the process. In our next meetings, we will turn our attention to the post-contract award phases of design-build. The goal is to improve the outcomes of an integrated design and construction team through effective design management guidelines.

    Public owners have been collaborative and responsive in exploring the issues. In July, WSU held an all-day workshop in Pullman on design-build to focus specifically on the university’s process and projects. Over 100 people attended, representing all sectors of the industry from across the state, producing a healthy exchange of ideas. Contractors and consultants spoke up about the pros and cons of their experiences, although perhaps not to the full extent that I had hoped.

    Clearly, there is lingering concern about the potential for negative impacts in addressing difficult issues. We, as design professionals and contractors, need to get over that hump. The opportunity for improvement depends on our ability to speak frankly and propose effective solutions.

    Walter Schacht, FAIA, is the architects’ representative to the Capital Projects Advisory Review Board, chair of the Architects and Engineers Legislative Council, and a board member of AIA Washington Council.

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