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Facilities Planning

Capital Construction: Pittfalls To Avoid

Capital Construction: School Districts Can Learn From the Private Sector

In New York State virtually every public school district and Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) is currently under construction or planning capital improvements for the near future. Since 1997 our Office of Facilities Planning has approved some 5,000 capital projects for these school districts and BOCES. Ensuring that the monies invested in these projects will be wisely spent and that the work will be completed in a timely, safe, and healthy manner will benefit all residents of the State for many years to come. The following potential pitfalls that districts and BOCES should actively plan to avoid during the complex construction process have been adapted from an article in Today's Facility Manager (Feb. 2001) entitled "Six Steps to Construction Savings" by Aarno Nurminen:

  1. Realistic Schedules:
    The author suggests adding 20% more time to the schedule than anticipated. He contends that doing this will save you grief and hard feelings as well as money. He lists the following elements that are commonly underestimated in terms of the time they will take to complete the construction project, such as deliveries, weather, owner-supplied equipment, and establishing normal communication channels. He also mentions that contractors sometimes submit or agree to unrealistic schedules in their rush to be awarded a contract, please a client or close a job.

    Public School Districts/BOCES:
    District or BOCES officials must consider all factors that will affect the timely review and approval of their projects. Shortage of appropriate staff in the Office of Facilities Planning and backlogged reviews due to the substantial increase in the number of projects resulting from Building Aid incentives offered by the Legislature for construction projects will affect the district's or the architect's estimated schedules.

  2. Top Management Pre-Design Meetings:
    The author suggests that senior management should be involved in all phases of a project from the very beginning (conception and design) to the very end (punch list phases). This requires that senior managers are afforded the time to study the project thoroughly. They must also make their preferences, tastes, and other details of interest known prior to the design development phase. Pre-Design meetings should be used for this purpose and can save lots of money for all concerned parties. A lack of this type of communication could result in unwanted change orders during the construction phase.

    Public School Districts/BOCES:
    A school district or BOCES officials must remain actively involved throughout the construction project and cannot simply depend on the architect or engineer of record to "do it all" or to "do it all correctly." The ultimate responsibility for doing things properly always remains with the Board of Education.

  3. Thorough Document Coordination: The best way to avoid costly change orders is to get everyone "on the same page" before construction begins. All essential parties to the construction should thoroughly review the construction documents before the actual construction begins to be sure all coordination issues have been taken care of or problems resolved insofar as possible. Today's CADD systems assist in this effort since this can be done in a conference room rather than at the actual job site.

    Public School Districts/BOCES:
    There should be a "meeting of the minds" between the school district and BOCES officials, their architect or engineer of record, and the contractors before the construction work commences.

  4. Realistic Comparisons:
    Low bids where the difference is really significant between the lowest and second lowest bidders (such as 17% or greater) should be taken as a warning sign that the bid documents may not be interpreted the same by all bidders. Before the contracts are awarded, the building team should meet with a few of the low bidders to verify that all bids are comparable.

    Public School Districts/BOCES:
    District or BOCES officials should not just accept the lowest bids without considering how much the lowest bid differs from the second lowest bid, and when the difference is considerable, they should also be sure they understand why or how this has come about before awarding contracts. A significant difference could lead to the conclusion that the lowest bidder may not be "responsible" under the law.

  5. Confirm Exclusions:
    There should be mandatory itemization of exclusions to eliminate future arguments or "surprises." It must be understood by all parties that items not excluded or clarified in bids will done as written in the contract documents.

    Public School Districts/BOCES:
    District or BOCES officials must be sure that the bids are not based on excluding some of the work or details in the plans and specifications.

  6. The Pre-Construction Meeting: A pre-construction meeting should be held with prospective contractors to be sure those contractors understand the goals and needs of the end users of the facility. A construction site is like a family living together--there must be mutual respect for each other's goals and needs in order to have harmony. Willingness on the part of all involved parties to consider trying something new or different is also important.

    Public School Districts/BOCES:
    When all parties understand and respect each other's goals and needs, the project will proceed more smoothly. In the case of schools, it is extremely important for the BOCES’ or district officials, the architect or engineer of record, and the contractors to understand the goals and needs of those who use the schools--namely, the teachers and students. The pre-construction meeting is also the place for the owner to re-emphasize that all aspects of the contract are critical and must be adhered to—including Commissioner’s Regulations 155.5, safety during construction and maintenance activities.

A project has been well-planned when at the end of the project all involved parties look forward to working together again.