Divide and Conquer

What Comes First:

The Architect or the Contractor?

By Rick Bacon

Most pet boarding and daycare business owners have never built anything from the ground up. Some may have built or remodeled their homes, but building or renovating a commercial property is much different. Business and commercial design and construction projects have more rules and conditions placed on them than residential projects. It will be necessary to use the services of licensed architects, engineers, and commercial contractors.

How you assemble your design team and construction team may depend on how you choose to “deliver” the project. Different project delivery methods are determined by the legal contracting arrangements between the owner entity, the design entity, and the construction entity. Each entity has a specific role. Understanding some of the differences in these delivery methods will assist you in the process of finding and qualifying your design and construction team.

Roles of the Primary Team Members
Each of the primary team members – owner, architect/engineer, and contractor – has a role. There are going to be more team members, such as the prime contractor’s sub-contractors or the architect’s engineers, but each of these companies or individuals usually falls under one of the three major players. The following are brief descriptions of the primary team members’ roles and some responsibilities:

  • The owner determines the initial project budget parameters and has the financial resources to accomplish the project.
  • The owner is responsible for communicating what his or her goals are for the project and holds the contracts for services.
  • The design team creates the design documents used for permitting and construction.
  • The contractor builds and warranties the project.
  • The architect monitors that the construction meets the design intent and continues to meet code requirements.
  • The design team provides construction “observation” rather than “supervision.” There is a legal difference. The general contractor supervises the work.
  • The contractor is legally responsible for “means and methods” of construction.
  • Safety on the site is ultimately the contractor’s responsibility. If eminent danger is observed, bring the situation to the attention of the contractor immediately.

Most Common Project Delivery Methods
The following are the three most commonly used construction project delivery methods:

  • Design-Bid-Build (D-B-B)
  • Design-Build (D-B)
  • Construction Manager or CM at Risk

There are others, but these are the ones used most often for boarding kennel-sized projects.

The D-B-B or “low bid” method of selecting the contractor is the most recognizable method and still the prevailing one used by governments. D-B-B is the stricter of the methods, because, as a formalized process, it is mandatory that all bidders price the same information and submit bids upon a designated time and place.

It is important to note that the Design-Bid-Build method requires that the construction documents (the plans created by the architect and the engineers) are completed prior to bidding. It is upon these documents that each general contractor bases the bid. Sub-contractors, such as the mason or the plumber, or suppliers, such as the kennel or cage manufacturers, may provide their bids to multiple general contractors who are bidding on the project.

The following are key components of the D-B-B method:

  • The owner obtains bids from multiple contractors based on a set of bid documents prepared by the architect and engineers.
  • The contract for construction is between the owner and the contractor. The contact is usually based on a low bid price; however, that is not a requirement. The contractor may be selected based on what is considered the “most responsive” bid based on the documents.
  • D-B-B works off cost estimates during design until the actual bids are obtained through the competitive bidding process.
  • Low bids may tend to create an incentive for change orders to be used as a pathway to increase the construction cost after the bid has been awarded.
  • The design team has a totally separate contract for design and construction phase services with the owner.
  • The separateness of these procedures and contracts may lead to finger pointing between the architect and the contractor when a conflict arises. The owner may feel caught in the middle.

Checks and balances are in place in the D-B-B method if the owner has also contracted for bidding and construction observation services from the design team. Some owners will decide to forgo these services in an attempt to save money. Only an owner who is very familiar with the design and construction business should assume this level of risk and responsibility. If you have a bank loan, your lender may require that construction observation services be included. Some state regulations require that architects provide construction observation to monitor code compliance.

The Design-Build method is when the owner selects a team comprised of the contractor, architect, and engineers as one entity. Interviews with the various proposer teams are often done. As with the Design-Bid-Build method, the selection is usually price-based. You will need to communicate your construction budget and discuss if the D-B team can deliver what you want for that price.

The following are key components of the Design-Build method:

  • The D-B team, which includes the contractor and design team, is under one contract. Because the D-B team is one entity, conflicts may be more easily resolved.
  • Most D-B teams are contractor-led, and the contractor may drive the design process. Cost estimating and value engineering efforts start early during the design phases.
  • After the design phase, a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) can be established. The GMP is what you would expect to pay for the actual construction of the building.
  • The benefit of cost savings through bidding is still possible if the general contractor obtains bids from sub-contractors.
  • Because the contractor and design team are tied together, there may be less oversight that the design intent is being met by the contractor. Substitutions for materials and equipment may occur without the owner’s knowledge.
  • Change orders over something that was either missed by the architect or the contractor tend to be minimized, because the contractor and design team developed the construction documents together.
  • Many owners like that there is only one entity to deal with. However, that means the owner will have to be more vigilant in overseeing the project, especially during construction.

Construction Manager (CM) at Risk
The CM method is my personal preference. The contractor is selected early in the project design phase and becomes a key member of the team as an equal partner with the owner and the architect/engineers. In a successful CM delivery project, there is a balance of power and responsibility among the three primary entities: the owner, the architect/engineer, and the contractor.

Choosing a CM delivery method may cost you slightly more, because you are getting valuable pre-construction services from the contractor. The benefits include getting more accurate cost estimates and value engineering occurring early in the design process. Making big design changes in an effort to lower costs after the design is complete or if your bids come in too high may incur re-design fees from the architect and engineers.

The following are key components of the CM method:

  • The design team and the construction manager have separate contracts with the owner.
  • The CM is involved in the design process and value engineering.
  • The CM is involved during the development of the design documents and can recognize inconsistencies, misses, or discrepancies.
  • The benefit of cost savings through bidding is still possible. The contractor may obtain bids from sub-contractors for final costs.
  • A GMP can be determined before construction starts.
  • Change orders should be minimized.

Selecting and Qualifying the Design Team and Contractor
If your goal is to find the most qualified architect and contractor for your project, then use a selection process that tries to minimize the subjectivity and maximize the objectivity of selection. It is advantageous to strive for an apples-to-apples comparison and to consider what value-added services each entity may offer. Evaluate, rank, and select based on qualifications first and negotiate a fee later. If you rank your choices and negotiation with the first team is unsuccessful, you can proceed to the next best firm.

If you are already working with an architect or engineer, he or she can help you find and qualify a contractor. You want a contractor with project experience similar in size and complexity to your project. Likewise, most contractors have established relationships with architects and can assist you to assemble a design team.

Using a formal Request for Qualifications (RFQ) selection process is an option. The RFQ is a method to collect and compare similar information about several design teams or contractors. Referrals from others in your industry, friends, your lender, or professional associations are other ways to locate design and construction industry professionals to interview. Previous, related project experience coupled with qualities such as compatibility and likeability are what you should be looking for.

Paramount to structuring your design and construction team is having a basic understanding of the different project delivery methods and selecting one that best fits your personality and individual needs. If you have a preference for one of the project delivery methods, that preference may help steer you first to an architect or to a contractor.

Richard S. Bacon, AIA, is owner and principal architect at Bacon Group, Inc., an architecture firm that specializes in the design of animal care facilities. With over 30 years’ experience, Rick is a registered architect, member of the American Institute of Architects, credentialed by the National Council of Architectural Registrations Boards, a LEED Accredited Professional in sustainable design, and a licensed General Contractor. He is a frequent workshop presenter on a variety of design topics for the boarding, veterinary, and animal humane care communities. He may be contacted by phone at 800-961-1967 or via email at [email protected].

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