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Contractors promote design-build

After years of indecision, New York state transportation officials last month awarded a $3.1 billion contract for the construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge to a development consortium that includes Fluor Enterprises Inc., American Bridge Co., Granite Construction Northeast Inc. and Traylor Bros. Inc.

The team was chosen a little more than a year after the state released new design parameters for the project – following a decade of stalled plans to replace the current bridge – with officials crediting the speedy decision to a 2011 state law allowing certain projects to be delivered using the design-build method.

With design-build, government entities choose one contracting team to both design and construct a project, rather than separately contracting out the design and construction components, a process known as design-bid-build.

Connecticut has allowed for design-build projects since the early 1990s, but Kenneth Russo, director of preconstruction for KBE Building Corp. in Farmington, said the procedure is underutilized.

“The growth (of design-build) has been more in other parts of the country,” Russo said. “For some reason in the Northeast, we’ve been behind the curve, although in the past couple years there’s been more recognition of design-build by municipalities.”

Bruce Bockstael, chief architect for Connecticut’s Department of Construction Services, estimated that three-quarters of all state projects are awarded through the design-bid-build process.

Bockstael said design-build often lends itself to projects like parking garages or college dormitories, where the design is often standard regardless of the development or project owner.

However, he said that with projects requiring significant input from the end-user, design-build is not the optimal method of delivery.

“The process works extremely well when you know that the client knows exactly what they want and will not change their mind,” Bockstael said. “You really want to take care when you go to design-build because it’s not a process that lends itself very easily to changes.” 

Russo was scheduled to moderate a panel discussion, “Design Build is Here to Stay,” hosted by the Connecticut Building Congress Jan. 15 at Central Connecticut Community College in New Britain.

Russo said design-build is beneficial to both the owner of a project – which might be a state agency or municipal entity – and to contractors.

With design-bid-build, an owner solicits proposals for the construction of a project based on a predetermined design, with the owner then responsible for any cost overruns as the project gets underway.

Design-build shifts the responsibility for any time or cost overruns to the contractors, while allowing the contractors and designers to work hand in hand throughout the entire course of a project.

The owner for a design-build project gets to select a contracting team “that suits his needs the best,” Russo said.

“The beauty of it is he gets a number that is a guaranteed number of what the project costs are going to be and what the delivery time is going to be.”

When time is of the essence, design-build is often the best choice, Russo said. By combining the design and contracting phases, foundation work for a project could conceivably get underway before the entire design is completed, he said.

“The Tappan Zee Bridge is a perfect example,” Russo said. “Now, if they’re designing this bridge and they come across issues, they’ll be able to address those issues without interrupting what their overall design is.”

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