An important milestone has been reached for the Tina E. Whidby Elementary School Renovation project in the Houston Independent School District. The reverse halo-lit signage has been installed and the screen wall tile for the new entry plaza and bus drop-off has been completed. We look forward to the finalized photos of the entire project!
POSTED BY: LARRY WATKINS, AIA
BRW Architects embraces a structured process for planning, design and documentation that supports a collaborative atmosphere and leads to well-integrated documents aligned with the project scope and budget.
Our 6-step process leads to a completed campus designed for long-term value that enhances the community and stays within budget.
Step 1 – Visioning and Programming
A vital first step for all project stakeholders is reaching consensus on 3 to 5 prioritized key goals for the project. For example, an important factor to be confirmed early is whether the building will be LEED certified or a TX CHPS-designed school incorporating “green” building features.
This crucial first step is often overlooked when a project starts, as it often does, with “Ed Specs” (Educational Specifications) and Technical Design Guidelines already adopted by the district. Even with such established guidelines, every project has some unique aspects that should be fully considered early in the process.
Stakeholders must understand that when project priorities shift during design, these revised goals often conflict with fundamental early design decisions and have a significant impact on the budget. This is especially true with building renovation and additions, as it is always difficult to know where to stop with renovation.
To properly evaluate existing buildings, an Existing Condition Assessment should separate the project scope into three categories: 1) deferred maintenance, physical condition, and code improvements, 2) operational improvements, and 3) aesthetic improvements.
Next we prioritize these scope categories and align them with the budget accordingly. The overall goal should be to find the best value. For example, a priority might be exterior design, where aesthetic improvements for the benefit of the community may be a required priority. The final step in defining project scope is going through a detailed review of the program ‘Ed Specs,’ translating operational needs into the appropriate building spaces and site requirements.
Step 2 – Scope to Budget
While confirming the Scope to Budget the project budget and project requirements must be analyzed to assure the scope and budget are aligned from the start. Two important budget items – not discussed often enough – are contingencies and cost escalation. Most owners agree that a small contingency fund built into the construction contract helps accommodate small unforeseen conditions. But another contingency fund should also be held outside the construction contract to cover larger unforeseen issues, if any, as well as to fund added scope desired during construction.
The best time to establish the most appropriate construction contracting method is before the project design phase. But whether the contract is a lump sum or cost plus a negotiated fee contract attained through a Competitive Sealed Proposal, Construction Manager at Risk, or Design Build method, it is important to identify the responsibility for cost estimating and a process to re-align project scope as necessary. This is especially true when the contractor is under contract during building design phases, such as when the CMAR approach is used, when all team players should participate in the scope-to-budget alignment process.
During the scope-to-budget phase, BRW uses our in-house Historic Construction Costs database to prepare the first cost estimate. This is the time to consider site development and foundation design costs. If the geotechnical report is complete, the estimate can be more accurately tailored to the foundation design recommended for the specific site.
Among site development issues to consider is cost created by distance to utilities such as water, sewer, electrical power, and natural gas. Another substantial cost factor depends entirely on the project’s location: in hurricane-prone areas or where tornado-resistant rooms are desired, structural design to resist these wind loads will add cost.
Step 3 – Concept Design: SF Cost Estimate
During concept design, the site plan, floor plan and building massing options are reviewed and consensus for a preferred scheme is established. More detailed cost-related discussions of this stage in design may include: landscaping ordinance requirements; building code requirements, exterior image and building material, and roofing assemblies.
This is also a good time to discuss the benefit of creating bid alternates to allow flexibility on bid day. The goal is to achieve an awardable base bid, with the flexibility to fully utilize the available budget by selecting separately bid alternates. The best type of scope for bid alternates is when they involve one or just a few trades, such as an alternative roofing system. As the concept design forms, the next cost estimate will still be based on square foot cost, but it will now be anchored on a concept floor plan and preliminary site layout. This is a critical time to make any major realignment of the project scope and budget, if necessary, before Schematic Design begins.
Step 4 – Schematic Design: First Quantity Take-off Cost Estimate
The Schematic Design (SD) phase usually builds on the concept design with more engineering decisions, including civil grading and site utilities, structural foundations and framing, and mechanical/electrical systems. At this time many building products and materials assemblies are considered for life span, performance, energy and water efficiency, appearance, code compliance, and cost. The cost estimate created during SD will typically be the first quantity take-off estimate, where all major components are measured in linear feet, square feet, or cubic yards and multiplied by a unit cost. Once again, the cost estimate is reviewed and the project scope is evaluated against the construction budget.
Step 5 – Design Development: Cost Estimate with Engineering Systems
The Design Development (DD) phase typically involves final selection and approval of all materials and building systems. The DD cost estimate is a refinement of the SD estimate, with more detail. It is the final validation of the project scope before construction documents (CDs) begin.
Step 6 – Construction Document: Final Cost Estimate
The challenge with preparing CDs, as related to construction cost, is to not allow “scope creep” into the construction documents. At this stage, owners and designers will inevitably think of small project enhancements, which may be incorporated, as long as the overall construction cost is carefully monitored. A 95% cost estimate is the final check before bidding or pricing and this is the time to finalize bid alternates.
With the structured collaborative process outlined here the project will be one that the community takes pride in and the district can proudly say stayed within the budget.
POSTED BY: Lisa Lamkin, AIA