August 20, 2002

Third-party code reviews save schools time, money

  • Why your local planning department would rather see someone else do its job
    Berryman & Henigar

    School and college construction projects are facing new challenges that not only call for fresh ideas and perspectives, but also must take into consideration the materials to be used and the processes that will be implemented.

    Today, school-building design encompasses far more than classroom education; it may also include other related facilities such as community centers and performing arts halls.

    Advanced construction techniques and practices are becoming prevalent in the design and construction of school and college buildings. The regulatory process is also adapting to this modern era. Local jurisdictional building and planning departments are continually juggling tight budgets and a limited work force in their charge of permitting these facilities.

    The local jurisdiction permitting process can affect the overall time frame of new construction. Any application for a new school building must go through a rather lengthy and arduous process to obtain the required land use and building permits.

    Local permitting authorities often don’t have the time or staff to tackle these projects. Bonds are approved, conceptual designs are started, construction windows are established and mobilization plans are crafted. The permitting process0, for the most part, is not administered with tight design/development schedules and construction in mind.

    The solution is what’s known as ‘third party’ plan review, a process in which the permitting agency permits an applicant to solicit the service of an independent plan-review firm. The plan-review firm enters into an agreement with the applicant (school district) to provide the building-code review. The permitting agency agrees to accept the review of the third-party reviewer as an approved review as though it was performed by the jurisdiction.

    There are several benefits to both the local jurisdiction and applicant in using third-party plan review services. Turnaround time is quicker because the third-party firm can give full attention to the review as opposed to the jurisdiction staff being pulled in other directions during the process. The third-party reviewer also works closely with the design team, which allows for immediate action whenever serious code deficiencies are detected.

    Many local building departments do not want to perform a “design review” for large projects. When a design review is conducted, serious code deficiencies are noted early in the design process, as opposed to uncovering these later when plans are submitted at 100 percent design, which could cause lengthy design delays and costly change orders.

    Since the applicant pays the plan-review fee directly to the third-party firm, the jurisdiction does not have to show an expenditure out of the operation budget. Some departments will approve a third-party review and will also charge a plan-review fee to cover their administrative costs. The fees are negotiated between the jurisdiction and the applicant. However, some jurisdictions will have an established fee.

    In addition, some building departments also allow a third-party review because they’re cognizant of the school districts’ deadlines and will give the applicant the option of using a third-party firm if the jurisdiction can’t meet the applicant’s time frame.

    Using expedited plan review and permitting processes facilitates cost savings and time management for school and college construction projects. It’s a proverbial “win-win” situation for all parties!

    William C. Hill is director, building safety division of Berryman and Henigar, which has been involved in numerous new school reviews for local permitting agencies and third-party plan reviews in the Puget Sound area. The municipal professional services firm serves Pacific Northwest communities from its Seattle office. Contact him at (206) 505-3400,

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