by Marjorie “MK” Kaplan
Delays in construction projects can be costly—but perhaps the most expensive delays are the ones that occur before construction even begins. Materials and labor costs continue to rise in the economic expansion, and the cost of projects can increase from 10-20% from the time they are approved to the time construction begins.
“The political environment can be very cumbersome, and months or even years can pass between the time a project is originally conceived and budgeted until it actually breaks ground,” says Lloyd Rosenberg, AIA, President and CEO of DMR Architects. “We’ve worked with some townships on building plans as recently as two years ago that are now not in the budget anymore because they waited.”
DMR, which is currently working on more than 12 municipal building projects across New Jersey, recommends that municipalities calendar a re-budgeting process every three months so that delays can be priced into the final budget; and that bidding for jobs should take place as soon as after approval. “Typically a consultant has been retained to assist in the bidding for the project during its design phase who can be tasked with regular estimate updates. All the costs associated with the project need to be affirmed at regular intervals if there are hang-ups in getting started.”
Another important discipline is foresight into what happens with the project in the next generation. For example, if the municipality needs to house 50 office employees now, what happens if the number is 70 in 10 years? Or 30? With growth in government balanced by automation of some functions, requirements of today surely will evolve with time, and a conscious approach to how property assets can be repurposed will save challenges for the next generation.
And finally, the project managers on the municipal side need to be satisfied that they understand all the elements of the project and their ramifications before it commences and specifically articulate all of their expectations. “Too often, both sides take it for granted that everything is understood by a review of the drawings. But the business issues are much deeper than the plans, and without a detailed examination of the architect’s buildings plans against the client’s plan for the building, disaster can strike in the form of surprises when the building is complete and it’s too late for alterations.
Challenge your architect to explain how the plans relate to regulatory and other requirements conditions, which will help reveal potential complications in timing, and budget impacts.”
With so many elements going into the making of a new building, recognizing that there will be surprises during the construction phase that even your architect or contractor didn’t imagine, and accounting for that ahead of time can save municipalities both time and money. DMR, acting as the project manager for projects including the currently-in-construction Hudson County High Tech High School in Secaucus, is using technologies that allow all contractors on the project to talk daily in real time about potential issues and practical solutions, keeping them on a tight budget and aggressive timeline.
“There are risk-management processes that can deliver highly predictable and desirable project outcomes, but often timeframes and budget issues push even the most disciplined professionals off best practices,” says Mr. Rosenberg. “At every turn, people need to remind themselves to measure twice and cut once. Mistakes mean doing things over, and that is far more expensive than doing them right the first time.”
This article originally appeared on New Jersey Association of Counties Newsletter.