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Design-Build: What Are Its Advantages Over Traditional Approaches

Jennifer V. Hughes in Building Operations on May 11, 2015

Long Beach, Nassau County, Long Island

Neptune Towers. Photo by Danielle Finkelstein.
Neptune Towers 
May 11, 2015

"We weren't sure what loads the generator was serving," explains Louis. "We had a pretty good idea, but we wanted to see if we should add additional loads to the unit, based on our experience with Sandy. We also wanted to 'flood-proof' it [because] it's at the street level in our electrical distribution room. We wanted to raise it up about 30 inches off the floor, just in case the area [got] flooded."

The board interviewed five engineering firms for design proposals. Four of them were "traditional," Louis says, and one, Brandon Controls — suggested by two board members who had used the company before — was a "design-build" shop.

Design-build? What's that?

Typically in such situations, a board will hire an engineer to prepare the job specifications and then send out requests for proposals to a number of contractors, who in turn, submit sealed bids for the job. With design-build, the engineer is, in effect, the contractor on the job.

Here's the question of the day, then: is there anything wrong with going the design-build route? Furthermore, is there any advantage to taking this path over the traditional, request-for-proposals/sealed bids approach that most buildings employ?

Saving Money and Time

For starters, it can certainly save you money. For the $100,000 generator project, the Neptune Towers board decided to go with Brandon Controls, the design-build operation. "We went that route because it was more streamlined, in terms of getting the work under way," Louis notes. "We dealt with only one entity, the engineer/contractor. They did the designing for us and they also hired the contractors."

The project called for a new generator that would run one elevator, all the lights in the common areas, the garage door — it is a bigger generator than its predecessor (80 kw, up from 60 kw) — and will be able to take on more loads in a crisis, including the emergency lighting, the fire alarm, security systems, the boiler, water pump, and emergency stairwell lights. The project cost about $100,000, and Louis estimates they saved between $10,000 and $15,000 by choosing the design-build option.

"On a traditional job, the engineer would be charging not only for the specs, but also for supervising and reviewing the job after completion," says Wolf, who adds that it also worked as a design-build project because there were several board members who had the time and inclination to research equipment prices to make sure those costs were in line with reality.

Going the design-build route, say its proponents, can also save you time. By avoiding the initial requests for proposals and sealed-bid procedures, Neptune Towers, according to Louis, shaved off about a month in its schedule. Going a traditional route may bring in more bids, but Louis says a good engineering firm also has its advantages. "If you get an engineer who has a bunch of contractors he works with, he'll get competitive prices," he notes.


Photo by Danielle Finkelstein 

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