At Rochester Institute of Technology, a new residence hall is rising from the ground, and it’s taking shape using a team approach now seen more often in this part of the country.
The design-build method differs from the more traditional design-bid-build approach, in which a project owner such as RIT would hire multiple companies to do their individual parts of the project. Using the design-build method, design and construction services are provided by one entity under a single contract. Giving that one entity, known as the design-builder, primary responsibility allows key players involved with the project to become part of the same team.
Those who have used this method say it can result in less risk, fewer misunderstandings, earlier project completion and lower costs. Results of a Construction Institute of America study indicate construction is completed 12 percent faster using the design-build method as opposed to design-bid-build. At the same time, delivery speed is at least 33 percent faster and unit cost is 6 percent lower using the newer method.
The design-build project delivery system is used on a limited basis in our region, but it has been seen nationwide—on a large scale—for many years.
“It frankly is not a new concept,” says David Beinetti, chairman of SWBR Architects, “but there is no question there is increased popularity here.”
Pursuing a more efficient project
Traditional construction involves choosing one firm to design a project and selecting another firm to construct it. Too often that process can become needlessly adversarial, especially when the partners are not on the same page.
Local experts say this dysfunction is the antithesis of a well-done design-build project. In a worst-case scenario, “the contractor is trying to protect his profit,” Beinetti says. “The owner is trying to save money and get the most building possible. The architect may serve the client’s best interests and end up with a building that is too large or expensive.”
The design-build process depends on eliminating adversarial relationships. As part of the project at RIT, Rob Fornataro, project architect at SWBR Architects, works with John Moore, assistant vice president for facilities management services, and Patrick Rogers, a project executive with The Pike Company.
With these components working as one team, as opposed to individual groups, “a lot of finger-pointing is eliminated, and a lot of communication is enhanced,” Beinetti says.
However, using this method is not for everyone.
“You can’t go into a design-build project with people who don’t know how to work with one another,” Beinetti explains. “Not everybody in the construction arena, architect arena, or the ownership arena, is a candidate for design-build. This is really critical to understand.
“For the right people in the right situation, it can be phenomenal,” he continues. “It can end up with faster project delivery, lower cost, less hassles, and higher quality—all of the things you would want to be the best aspects of construction. However, this process is not for everyone.”
Steven Ruether, president and chief executive officer of the Bell Company in Rochester, has led design-build projects across the nation. His company was involved in construction of federal prisons in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and West Virginia and participated in a design-build project that involved the construction of a 2 million-square-foot military base in Texas.
He agrees that using the design-build approach requires a certain mindset, as well as appropriate training.
“I enjoy the design-build feature because, after you start, you can bring out new ideas, still enhance the project, and give something better to the owner,” Ruether says. “The whole mentality is different. Working with the right design-build group is fantastic.
“If people want to get into design-build, though, which I think is great, please look into getting the training. This requires a totally different mindset. If you go in there like it’s the old-fashioned way, you’re in for a world of trouble,” he adds.
Ruether recommends training programs offered through the Design Build Institute of America.
Celebrating design-build success
Clark Patterson Lee, an architectural and engineering firm in Rochester, recently took part in a design-build project with LeChase Construction that resulted in a three-story, 90,000-square-foot Neuromedicine and Behavioral Health Center for the University of Rochester Medical Center. The building, which opened this spring on East River Road, houses the Levine Autism Clinic on the third level and a state-of-the-art outpatient imaging center on the first and second floors.
“There are a number of benefits to the design-build process if managed properly, with speed to market being the most recognizable, as the design and construction processes overlap instead of being independent phases,” says Todd Liebert, chief executive officer of Clark Patterson Lee. “This in turn leads to cost savings in several areas, including the ability to quickly identify problems and make changes on the fly.”
In addition, the planning and budgeting phase occurs earlier in this type of project, which can provide financial advantages when making crucial decisions about scope and design.
Clark Patterson Lee is also involved in an exciting design-build project in Atlanta. With their construction partner, Georgia Bridge and Concrete, the work involves designing and building a pedestrian bridge for visitors to the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which will be home to the Atlanta Falcons football team.
Closer to home, the firm has another design-build project underway in Hornell, Steuben County. Their goal there is to improve Alstom USA’s rail-transport test-track facility in which the company tests, manufactures and assembles trains, equipment, signaling and lighting. The scope of the project, which also involves a partnership with LeChase Construction, includes bridge and building design.
At the same time, SWBR Architects is engaged in a new design-build project for the University of Rochester that involves the creation of Genesee Hall, the latest building on River Campus. It features four stories for residential living as well as three stories of space for athletics department use.
Although Clark Patterson Lee and SWBR Architects are competitors, Beinetti, a member of the board of directors for the Design Build Institute of America, Liberty Northeast Chapter, has kind words for the Neuromedicine and Behavioral Health Center project. “It went really, really well,” he says. “That is because everybody at the table had the right mindset. On the board, we celebrate other people’s success, even though we might be competitors. … They did a good job.”
A bright design-build future
Although the design-build concept is used frequently elsewhere in the country, it is still not permissible for use on public-bid projects in New York, much to the frustration of people who work in the industry.
“Design-build is being done all over the country, but New York state has made it legal only on a limited basis through specific state entities,” Beinetti says. “Whereas, in other parts of the country, it is legal for public projects. It has been on the docket in the Legislature for several years. … We are late adopters here in New York. We are trying to emulate the successes that have been going on around the United States. I think we’re doing a good job.”
Beinetti expects that design-build will become more popular in our region, if only because of the changing demographics among employees.
“If there’s anybody who gets design-build, it is the (younger) generation,” he says. “I’m 65. The people who are working for me are 35, 30, and 25 years old. They understand what we’re after here and they come with an openness to share information and a willingness to be a partner. They are looking for meaningful relationships and meaningful outcomes.”
Travis Anderson is a Rochester-area freelance writer.