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Pressing People for Peer Review

When a doctor gives you a significant medical diagnosis, you probably want a second opinion. If that second opinion is different, you’ve got options. If it’s the same, you’ve been reassured that the first opinion’s probably correct. So if a co-op or condo board has a significant capital project that requires an engineer/architect, wouldn’t it stand to reason that they would want a second opinion, too, to make sure the proposed job is the correct one at the correct price?

It’s not quite so black-and-white, says project architect Anita Konfederak, a vice president at Merritt Engineering. “It’s more like, ‘This part of the job is fine, but here you could substitute a material that would perform better and not blister,’” she says. “Or, ‘You could utilize a different type of scaffolding to save you money.’” Alternatively, “there might be hidden structural conditions. An engineer could do due diligence on a job involving concrete, but after work started found issues with reinforcement of the steel.” Other times, a late-breaking city regulation may come into play.

In such cases, change orders on your project can balloon the budget. You want to find out whether the costs are legitimate and if the project is on track. At that point, the board might want to call for a second opinion, also called a “peer review.”

“Every project has issues,” Konfederak says, “and project managers (and the engineers and architects of record working for them) usually resolve them.” Peer review should be reserved for bigger problems, such as the time Konfederak got called in to a project that had gone from a $2 million to a $10 million budget because of change orders. “At some point, a board says, ‘We can’t keep issuing these change orders – something’s wrong here and we need a second opinion,’” Konfederak says.

Depending on the size and nature of the project, having a second set of eyes may save money down the road. And the cost of a second opinion can be nominal since, Konfederak says, it’s typical for an architect or engineer to provide one at an hourly rate, so you can limit it to very specific questions or areas.

“Sometimes,” Konfederak says, “boards go to bid, they get a price, and in the middle of the project the engineer says, ‘The Department of Buildings is now requiring pull tests on the anchors that secure my scaffolding.’ Some boards may not believe that and want a second opinion. That’s a very quick answer. I had a client call the other day who said, ‘My engineer says I have to have a white roof. I see black roofs all over the city.’ I said, ‘Yes, it’s a new code as of 2014.’” In cases like this, Konfederak says, the billing unit is “probably a half-hour.”

Boards seeking a second opinion can save money by seeking a senior engineer or architect. “Ask specifically who would be doing the review and if they’ve ever done anything like that,” Konfederak advises. “Even in my office, if we put one of our junior guys on it, it might take too long and be too expensive. People with over 20 years of experience might be able to do it more quickly and so at lesser expense.”

Ultimately, she says, “if the cost is exceeding your budget and contingency, and if the explanations you’re getting for it are not making you comfortable, get a second opinion.”

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