February 1, 1998

Design-build idea streamlining time, cost of new facility

It’s an age-old building precept dating back to medieval times — use a “master builder,” a one-man commanding general of an army of craftsmen and workers, to create massive construction projects.

In today’s information age, the name has changed, but the concept’s the same — “design-build” construction starts halfway through the planning phase, and plans can go directly from an architect’s drawing board to a work site. One person or one firm guides a team of workers.

The results, proponents say, are increased efficiency and reductions in job time and cost. Proponents also say the design-build concept streamlines the traditional system of bidding, design, financing and construction.

“It creates a cooperative team, instead of an adversarial team,´ said Denis Miller, owner of Arvada-based Denis Miller Consulting Engineers, and a proponent of design-build work. “It reduces change orders probably 80 percent. The only thing that creates a change order is a change in the scope of the project.”

Rapid growth of some high-tech companies has pushed the popularity of “design-build” nationwide. Companies like Quantum Corp., which constructed a computer disk drive plant in Louisville using the design-build concept, and is working on another such facility in Colorado Springs, need buildings quickly.

Using the design-build concept saved Quantum Corp. 5 to 10 percent on its Louisville project, said Wayne Timura, Quantum Corp.’s senior manager for corporate real estate and development.

Timura estimates that each year of construction time using design-build shaves two months off the building process.

Design-build construction will continue to grow as Boulder County grows, said Eduardo Illanes, an architect and principal at OZ Architecture. OZ worked on the 400,000-square-foot, $50 million Quantum building in Louisville and other design-build projects, including some at Interlocken business park. It also works on traditional-bid projects.

“Construction schedules are growing tighter. There can be a tremendous amount of pressure created over just six months on that type of project,” Illanes said.

About 10 to 15 percent of private-sector projects are being constructed using design-build methods, but by the turn of the century that figure will jump to 50 percent, according to estimates from the Design-Build Institute of America, a non-profit organization in Washington.

One of the most vocal proponents of design-build in Colorado is the Neenan Corp. in Fort Collins. The company uses the trademarked term “archistruction” to describe its design-build work.

Neenan Corp. contributions to Boulder County include the Quantum building in Louisville, a Celestial Seasonings project, and a research and development facility at Ball Aerospace and Technology in Broomfield. The company currently is building the new $70 million Quantum structure in Colorado Springs.

Company founder David Neenan revived his version of “design-build” after business expansion and $800,000 of overruns nearly demolished his company 20 years ago. It was a period he calls “entering the valley of death.”

When Neenen looked at his business, he decided to put the needs of his clients ahead of his own. He began listening to them and taking responsibility for all phases of construction projects.

High-tech companies are not the only ones needing new buildings quickly. When Neenan built a new $20 million headquarters for Oppenheimer Funds Services in Denver, “down time” also could have spelled disaster.

“We were under incredible time restraints,´ said Janet O’Halloran, senior vice president for Oppenheimer Fund Services. “We had to move 1,200 people from our old location during January to March. It’s our busiest season.”

Worse yet, the employees were at four distant locations, and the move had to be accomplished on weekends.

“It was a very complicated move. It was not like we could just pack everybody up and move them,´ said O’Halloran. Fiber-optic monitors were set up between employee locations to keep business running smoothly during the move.

O’Hollaran was in on design-build team meetings from the start and credits the flexibility of the concept in keeping business flowing.

“If the contractor didn’t have space completed by certain deadlines we could not have made that complicated move,” she said.

Logistical flexibility wasn’t the only dividend for Oppenheimer. O’Halloran estimated that design-build approach saved the company approximately $2 million over the traditional approach to planning and construction.

“Looking at what could happen as opposed to what did happen, that’s an estimate, and like any estimate, that’s all it is. It’s very common in the industry to have a 10 percent overrun,” she said.

O’Halloran also took into consideration the “high” rent penalties Oppenheimer would have paid to two past landlords if Oppenheimer had not gotten out of its old locations on time.

But not everyone considers the design-build process to be a panacea, said Todd Phillips, a spokesman for the American Institute of Architects. The concept also has its opponents, he said.

“Many architects believe there is never any one answer to solve a problem,´ said Phillips “There are a variety of buildings. There are some architects who believe that a higher degree of collaboration and higher efficiency can work against the thoughtful solution of a complicated problem.”

Phillips said some use the example of the problems associated with creating a “permanent” building designed to last several lifetimes as compared to a high-tech building that might outlive its usefulness in a short span of years.

“Take for example a building that must house a (scientific) clean room or toxic waste,´ said Phillips. Some architects feel the speedy efficiency and the build-as-you-plan environment inherent in design-build work is not conducive to that type of project, he said.

Design-build projects can be perceived as placing architects in a secondary position, creating opposition, said Ray Studer, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s College of Architecture.

“It’s an ethical issue,” Studer said. “Traditionally, architects were to have some independence from the construction process, meaning they were supposed to represent the client in their contracts.” Under that time-honored system, “the contractor, by contrast, was supposed to construct the project under the architect’s supervision.

“More recently, architects have become both the designer and the builder, and that’s what’s at issue,” he said.

It’s an age-old building precept dating back to medieval times — use a “master builder,” a one-man commanding general of an army of craftsmen and workers, to create massive construction projects.

In today’s information age, the name has changed, but the concept’s the same — “design-build” construction starts halfway through the planning phase, and plans can go directly from an architect’s drawing board to a work site. One person or one firm guides a team of workers.

The results, proponents say, are increased efficiency and reductions in job time and cost.…

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