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Is Design-Build Good for Metal Contractors?

   Author: MetalMag

The last two decades have seen a dramatic shift in how the construction industry approaches project delivery. Design-bid-build was once the norm, now owners in both public and private sectors are evaluating alternative project delivery systems like design-build.

Proponents of design-build argue that it saves time and money, increases the focus on quality, and reduces administrative burdens and costly miscommunications. In the design-build method the owner contracts with a single entity to provide architecture/engineering design services and construction of a project. In the traditional method of design-bid-build, an owner contracts with a design firm to provide plans and hires a contractor to construct the project.

Industry Grabs on to Trend

According to the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), in the last 20 years the percentage of non-residential projects delivered through design-build has climbed from single digits to more than 30%. Richard Belle, editor of the association’s newsletter Design-Build Dateline, says DBIA predicts that figure will reach between 40% and 50% of all projects in the next decade.

For design-build to really explode Belle feels some hurdles in both public and private sectors must be overcome. In the public arena, some state governments don’t recognize design-build as an acceptable approach, or they govern it restrictively. On the private side, a lack of familiarity keeps some owners from considering it.

Ron McKenzie of the McKenzie Marketing Group, Inc., agrees. As a licensed architect and a consultant to contractors McKenzie recognizes the significance of design-build. “All facets of the construction industry have either adopted design-build in part or have looked at it closely. For owners it means a better building team. They want to talk with the people who are actually going to build the building, so project superintendents and project managers are now part of the interview process. The result is the project gets built faster and on budget. More importantly, there is better control, higher quality, increased safety, and a softening of the historically adversarial relationship between architects and contractors.” Metal Contractor Prefers


Dale Reiser, president of Professional Building Services (PBS), in Crete, Ill., says design-build is a great fit for his work on small- to medium-sized commercial, industrial and institutional projects. PBS is a design-build contractor focused on modular and pre-engineered metal building construction. It employs pre-engineered systems on nearly 90% of its design-build projects, including sports complexes, churches and multi-story office buildings.

“By using the design-build method we’re bringing pre-engineered construction into areas where conventional construction is usually expected. For owners, this creates greater economy and flexibility, even great aesthetics,” says Reiser. “If we can get in at the beginning of a project and show how pre-engineered is cost effective, the owner usually goes with it. If we come into a project later that was already specified for traditional systems, it never changes to pre-engineered because the design is too far along.”

Reiser says design-build is not for all contractors. “It is a tough transition for companies to go design-build. It means getting really involved in business relationcircle ships and taking on the design segments of a business. Contractors who build pre-engineered structures need to recognize the value of design-build. Many of them are still just asking for plans. They need to start building relationships before that.”

When design-build works, says Reiser, it offers more than simply building a good project. “It’s important that the owners see the value of a company that builds a relationship from the beginning. We give the owner true costs upfront and set a realistic timeline. And because design-build allows fast tracking on more projects, the owner can save on interest and bring in revenue sooner.”

Some Architects Encourage the Process

Carey McLeod, principal of the architectural/engineering studio of AC Martin Partners, Inc., Los Angeles, identifies other benefits of the process. “Design-build means reduced risk and collaboration from an earlier point with the builder. When the contractor takes the reins as the financial responsibility of the project, they bear the burden of that risk. Everybody is more focused on what you can do, than looking for loopholes and seeking change orders.”

AC Martin works on a variety of commercial and institutional projects, both private and public, including university campuses, state and local government facilities and office buildings. McLeod says the firm is using design-build on a lot of projects, and would use it more if market demand for the delivery system were higher.

The general response from architects about design-build is mixed, says McLeod. “Some still resist the method believing they can only serve an owner, can only do that if an owner holds their contract, and work separately from the contractor. Others see the merit in design-build and are developing relationships with contractors, and are seeking out those contracts.”

For metal contractors, the owner’s initial decision can have a bearing on their role. McLeod says the owner can go one of two ways in deciding how much latitude to give the team in specifying materials for a project. “The first team can simply develop guidelines and performance criteria specifications, keeping the front end very loose. Or, the first team can get more into the design process and create design development and bridging documents.”

The owner decides where to stop the design team and bring in the builder, says McLeod, pointing out that metal contractors stand to gain when an owner keeps the design phase loose. “When they have an opportunity to participate in a project of that type, they can be creative and aggressive when working with design-build teams to accomplish different things with roofing systems, architectural features and framing systems,” he says. “They (metal contractors) have more opportunity when challenged to be creative.”

Relationships Make the Difference

As more members of the construction industry recognize the benefits of design-build, the delivery method will gain more prominence. For owners, architects, engineers and contractors this means deciding how much energy to invest in building the relationships needed to develop successful designbuild projects. The majority of the construction industry, including metal building contractors, seems to believe those relationships are worth the effort.

Comments: Is Design-Build Good for Metal Contractors?

What is the industry norms of design-build? Do companies embarking in this journey make money? Can you provide some industry norms as regards sales forecast and expenses?
By Anderson
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