Looking for something different to do this holiday season? Reach out to 100 of your favorite friends and family members, play a single-round game of Family Feud, and ask them to name a U.S. Supreme Court decision. Even if they have had more than their share of spiked eggnog, they will likely have the presence of mind to think about the Kavanaugh hearings and big constitutional and social issues. I suspect that the overwhelming number one answer will be Roe v. Wade. Maybe Bush v. Gore will show up on the list. But will anyone mention U.S. v. Spearin? Be honest. Did that decision ever cross your mind? Did you even know that the Spearin Doctrine – our country’s most important construction law doctrine – was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court?
When a global manufacturer of carbon fiber products announced plans to invest $1 billion in building a manufacturing plant on a 400-acre greenfield site in Moore, South Carolina, it quickly became apparent that PDB was the best model to achieve the “must haves” for project delivery.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from projects that go smoothly and according to plan and budget. But what about those projects that don’t go so well? The lessons gleaned from budget mishaps, contract issues, and first-time design-build experiences can be just as valuable. While not easily covered in 700 words or less, let’s look at a few of the reasons we have seen DB projects go wrong.
San Jose Water Company (SJW) recently completed their first progressive design-build project and largest capital improvement project ever: a $50 million upgrade to the Montevina Water Treatment Plant in Los Gatos, California. The project was recently recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineers San Francisco Section as the 2018 Environmental Engineering Project of the Year. During his acceptance speech at the awards banquet, Andrew Gere, President and Chief Operating Officer of SJW, said, “The success of the project was founded upon partnering developed by the owner and the design-builder.”
“Can we fix it? Yes, we can!”
If you raised a child in the early 2000s you may be hearing the enthusiastic proclamation from the popular animated children’s series Bob the Builder echoing in your ears at this very moment. The series featured Bob, the resident builder, his partners, and a fleet of talking yellow iron. Bob the Builder was my daughter’s favorite show – her favorite character was Scoop, a backhoe loader, or an “I-Dig-Dirt,” as she called it. As a descendant of a proud line of craft laborers including legacy carpenters, crane operators, and yes, even a large backhoe operator, I entertained the thought that maybe, just maybe, my daughter might land in the construction industry, spurred by her admiration of the determined and optimistic Bob and his talking fleet of yellow iron.
Rice Lake Construction Group, in conjunction with AE2S Engineering and the City of Watford City, successfully completed the first construction management at-risk delivery of a municipal wastewater treatment facility project in North Dakota. Below are a few items that made the project a success and a few that could have made the process better.
To solve a chronic grit-removal issue plaguing the 240 MGD RM Clayton Water Reclamation Center (WRC), Georgia’s largest wastewater treatment plant, the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management (City) required urgent upgrades to the headworks facility involving complete replacement of coarse screening and grit removal systems and installation of new influent flow-monitoring equipment.
Being on a CMAR project is like being part of an Olympic 4 x 100 relay team. Similar to the way the countries select the fastest runners for their Olympic relay teams; as an owner you select the best design and construction teams in the industry for your project. But having the fastest runners or the best CMAR and design teams isn’t enough. All the relay runners must come together as a cohesive team and the most critical aspect of any relay race is the transition between runners. Runners must be in lock step; they must be able to adapt to each other’s speed, excitement, and timing to move the relay baton through each leg of the relay and win the race. The same holds true for a CMAR project team. As a project moves from conceptual design, detail design, construction, and finally start-up and commissioning, each handoff of the project baton must be seamless. What would happen if you waited to find your third and fourth runners until after the race had started? Undoubtedly, that would put your relay team at a major disadvantage.
For owners considering collaborative delivery approaches for water and wastewater projects, such as progressive design-build (PDB) or construction management at-risk (CMAR), one of the biggest impediments to acceptance is the perception that the final cost of the project would be larger than a traditional design-bid-build and cannot be controlled. Based on our research, there are two primary reasons this stumbling block exists. One relates to the owner’s belief that their initial cost estimates are correct and that the project can be designed and constructed within their budget. A second, and perhaps more important issue, is that many owners still do not understand how the collaborative process evolves and how to reach a final acceptable price on the project, primarily because they are only familiar with the design-bid-build pricing process that uses the low-bid approach.
The questions most often raised by utilities or agencies who want to pursue design-build delivery for their pending project range from “What are the decisions I need to make in the procurement process?” to “How do I prepare my organization to make the right decisions about the best collaborative delivery approach for my project?” Answers to these questions, which were addressed recently in an education session with a large metropolitan utility, also provide the opportunity for us to share the results of WDBC’s 2017 research on what public officials say they have learned from pursuing a design-build project.