August 20, 2002

State takes a cue from the private sector

  • GC/CM contracting could be the future of school construction
    Heery International

    Roosevelt High School
    Courtesy of Heery International
    The renovation of Roosevelt High School in Seattle will require complex preservation techniques. Seattle Public Schools is turning to a general contractor/construction manager to build more flexibility into the design process. Roosevelt is one of 10 public-school pilot projects in Washington that will use GC/CM delivery.

    Seattle Public Schools is one of the first districts in the state to try a new approach to managing major construction. Cleveland, Nathan Hale and Roosevelt high schools are among 10 pilot projects that will use general contractor/construction manager (GC/CM) delivery.

    This change from traditional design-bid-build is the result of new state legislation that has become part of a national phenomenon.

    “This is the only time we’ve seen such changes in law in history,” said David Hendrick, a past president of the American College of Construction Lawyers.

    “Public agencies are trying to capture the more flexible methodologies that have been adapted in the private sector,” said Hendrick. “This sweeping rash of regulations and legislation has opened up the spectrum of delivery methods.”

    Signed into law during the 2002 Legislature, Substitute Senate Bill 6597 authorizes the state’s school district project review board to designate GC/CM contracting for up to 10 school projects costing $5 million or more.

    GC/CM has been used extensively in the private sector for decades with tremendous success. Since 1991 the state Legislature has authorized General Administration and the Department of Corrections to use GC/CM to expedite prison construction to ease overcrowding.

    GC/CM authority was extended to the University of Washington and Washington State University, cities with populations over 150,000, counties with populations greater than 450,000 and ports with a population greater than 500,000. Only recently has this opportunity been offered to school districts on a limited basis.

    Early selection

    In the traditional design-bid-build delivery method, which the school district has used exclusively until now, the district first hires the architect/engineer (A/E). The A/E completes the facility design, which is then put out to bid to interested contractors to build.

    Alternative delivery methods, such as GC/CM, work well for large-scale, complicated projects. By bringing the general contractor to the table early, it becomes a member of the building team.

    "A sweeping rash of legislation has opened up the spectrum of delivery methods."

    -- David Hendrick,

    American College of Construction Lawyers

    “(GC/CM) allows for contractor input during design phases, which improves quality of plans, decreases contractor learning curve, and reduces later constructability problems,” said John Vacchiery, Seattle Public Schools’ executive director of facilities development, construction planning and enrollment. “It also reduces the uncertainty in both pricing and schedule, is helpful for renovations of older buildings and reduces uncertainty, but not necessarily the overall cost.”

    Roosevelt High, for example, was selected because of its historic renovation on a restricted urban site in a residential community. These types of projects are the most complex to renovate. Changes during construction, resulting from unforeseen conditions, can have major impacts on budget and schedule. By using GC/CM, field explorations to determine “what is behind the wall” can significantly mitigate unforeseen conditions.

    During the design phase, the architect can identify areas that need intrusive investigation to determine structural integrity, mechanical and electrical system routing, and as-built condition validation. The GC/CM can accomplish this investigation while keeping the school in operation. When investigations take place, the GC/CM can restore the areas quickly to usable condition.

    Early involvement of the GC/CM also helps with building materials, specialty services and long-lead order items. In the case with Roosevelt High School, the 1920s landmark is constructed of brick, terra cotta, wood and concrete. There are a number of complex preservation techniques needed to restore the facility. Involvement of a GC/CM during the design process enables the actual builder to develop these techniques and determine the necessary materials in a cost-effective way.

    Selecting a GC/CM

    The theory behind traditional design-bid-build is that it better serves the public. When using alternative delivery in the public sector, there is much more transparency and scrutiny.

    Under the current regulation, once the school district project-review board approves the project, the district is under the microscope and must identify its intent to use the GC/CM contracting method. The district holds a public hearing and publishes its findings. Once the intent is published, the district issues a request for proposals to solicit contractors’ interest in the project, with the intent of selecting one of the GC/CM candidates based on its qualifications and price.

    The selection is completed by a committee representing the district, including the architect and construction program manager. In Washington, contractors bid pre-construction services, construction fee and general conditions. Finalists submit this information in their final proposal and the selection is made.

    Once the design has progressed to the end of the design-development phase and construction documents are 50 percent complete, the GC/CM provides a guaranteed maximum price for the project scope — giving the GC/CM a financial stake in keeping the project within budget and on schedule.

    Early success

    Roosevelt’s design process is already demonstrating the potential for GC/CM in public-school construction. Proposals have been submitted, and the district has received bids from many large, reputable companies that have never worked with the district in the past — increasing the pool of qualified contractors, which in the end improves the quality of the schools.

    Ralph Rohwer is an executive associate at Heery International and the firm’s leading schools program-management authority. Charlie Demming is the project manager for the Roosevelt High School historic renovation and modernization project. Heery has provided construction program management services to the Seattle Public Schools building excellence program since 1995.

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