OWNER, Meet DESIGN & BUILD, The New Power Couple

Randy Gorton, P.E., Project Manager

Design-build (D-B), like a lot of industry terms, can mean different things to different people. To understand how local public works agencies use it, let’s start by highlighting the key advantages that design-build CAN (but is not guaranteed to) provide to a public owner:

  • Schedule – design-build can shorten the overall time from conceptualization of a project to completion.
  • Risk Management – design-build consolidates the risks typically split between the designer and contractor back into a single entity. The agency still has some risks, but agencies can often reduce their exposure on projects.
  • Value – by having the designer and contractor on the same team and collaborating from the beginning, potential solutions are value-engineered up front. The agency is able to leverage this integrated approach by getting the lowest overall cost for the needed improvements and/or getting something “extra” due to the team’s efficiency.

Words from a D-B Veteran

“The Principle benefits from using the design-build process result from the early collaboration between owner, consultant and contractor. In Liberty’s expertise this has resulted in quick project completion, cost savings, better constructability and a defined maximum project cost.” – Steve Hanson, Public Works Director, City of Liberty, MO

Design-Build Image

If a public agency is already thinking about using design-build on a future project, there are a few key items to think about before taking that first step:

“Must Have” Factors for Success on Design-Build Projects

1.  Check applicable statutes, funding requirements, and local procurement policies to make sure design-build is allowed for your agency. There are some limitations that vary by state.

2.  Make sure design-build makes sense for the project. If there is adequate lead time, if it is very simple in nature, or the owner is not sure exactly what they hope to do, then stay away from design-build.

3.  Develop a reasonably detailed scope of what improvements must be made or goals to be achieved by the project. For design-build, think first of the end result; design-build is just a way to let the market evaluate the many different ways it can happen. The more flexibility an owner allows the team, the more creative they can be with pricing and level of improvements included. By the way, it is OK to give some minimum specifications or criteria to make sure the project meets common standards.

Words from a D-B Veteran

“Owner involvement is critical and they may have to commit more time to the project in the early design process, their input design and constructability meetings is important, their wants and expectations must be known early.” -Kim Wilson, J.M. Fahey Construction

4.  Don’t get confused about what a stipend is for during the final part of the selection competition. It is common to provide a small stipend to the 1 or 2 finalists that are not selected for the project. This stipend is not intended to compensate the teams for the effort spent in putting together a cost proposal – it is intended to compensate the teams for any ideas put forth in their unsuccessful proposal that the owner may wish to implement during construction.

5.  Depending on what agency is asking for (the lowest price for required improvements vs. greatest amount of improvements for a given budget), each team will be working hard to figure out how to give the owner what they want. The owner should plan to have individual meetings with each team to discuss specific options and ideas. The owner must be very careful in not inadvertently sharing ideas between teams unless the owner feels it is necessary to make clarifications that are applicable to all teams (think addendum after pre-bid meeting).

6.  A commitment to cooperation by all parties involved. It is common for the owner and design-build team to start off with a meeting to reaffirm everyone’s shared interests and agree that everyone wins by building a successful project. Sometimes special agreements are made at this point regarding procedures to foster this collaboration. This is also a great way to decide how to share cost savings from decisions made along the way among all parties in a fair manner.

Words from a D-B Veteran

“In [this] case, we will have many more amenities, including items such as street lighting, benches, and tire repair stations then we would have been able to afford if we had used the DBB process for project delivery.”
-Dennis Randolph, Public Works Director, City of Grandview, MO

7.  Utility relocation and right-of-way acquisition still have to be done. The owner often keeps these items on their plate. An agency can use a separate consultant to assist with these, but make sure to include time and budget in your project programming.

8.  Owners should expect to have regular discussions and decisions throughout the process. A big advantage of design-build is that it is an integrated delivery method (the contractor is involved from the beginning and contributes his perspective on practicality and cost as the design develops). Public agencies should leverage this dialog to get the best project possible. Think of design-build as a moonshiner’s still, these regular conversations about details are the way to turn the steaming raw ingredients (think initial D-B team selection process) into the refreshing spirits that are the desired improvements. (I bet you didn’t see that analogy coming!)

Like just about everything else, design-build is not a one-size-fits-all solution for public infrastructure improvements. However, it is a tool that cities and counties can use to tackle certain projects more quickly and more cost-effectively.

Words from a D-B Veteran

“Design-Build is a pursuit model that needs to be focused on relationships. For a company to be successful with this pursuit model, it needs to be collaborative, trusting through transparency, and willing to listen to other ideas without the pride of having the only or best approach to a design or construction approach.” – Tim Paulson, Emery Sapp & Sons Construction

To get even more information about design-build, you can contact the D-B veterans we’ve shared here, visit the Design-Build Institute of America’s website (www.dbia.org), or get in touch with our in-house experts at BHC RHODES.

A few of the many D-B projects that BHC RHODES has been a part of:



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