Carroll considers construction manager

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Hiring a construction manager for the Carroll schools' phase III renovation work could save time, money and headaches through more intense oversight through the planning and building effort, according to a presentation from Skanska to the school board Tuesday.

The presentation from the construction and development company continues the Carroll County School Board's planning process as educators investigate the possibilities of significantly renovating the high and intermediate schools and building a new facility in two different options.

Many construction project clients have been moving away from "lump sum bidding," or awarding the contracts to the lowest bidder to arrange all the construction work, said Allan Jones of Skanska.

Under the lump sum model, a bidder's goal is to put in the lowest estimate to land the work and then maximize the profits, he said.

That can cause problems for the entity needing the construction work done.

When the contractor hires subcontractors to do the work, the subcontractor might not provide the quality results that the owner wants, Jones said. Again, the goal for these companies is to do the work as cheaply as possible and get the most money out of it for themselves that they can.

The lowest bidder in the lump sum model arrives at its estimates by making the most mistakes in the cost of completing the work, he said.

As a result, they "cut corners" to make up for the mistakes and try and squeeze the most savings out of the project work in order to recover.

Low-bid contractors provide little supervision to subcontractors and try to find ways to jack up the cost for the owner by asking for change orders and other tricky practices, Jones said.

To get the best outcome, Jones said projects like renovating schools or building a new facility would benefit from the extra attention a construction management firm could provide.

A construction management team would serve as an agent of the county and participate in everything from planning to completion.

Construction management would allow Carroll schools to select companies to carry out the work based on qualifications, not price, Jones said. The management team would then continually monitor the subcontractors and exact the level of quality the school system would want to see.

The construction manager would also negotiate fixed fees for both design and construction services, according to Skanska's presentation.

A construction manager would serve as an advocate of the schools, said Mike Konieczka of Skanska.

Such a manager would seek bids from as many qualified subcontractors as possible in order to get competitive prices, Konieczka said. The manager's oversight would also insulate the school system from the possibility of a subcontractor attempting to use tricks to drive up their fees.

Making sure the construction project sticks to budget and a schedule would fall to the construction manager, he explained. With the manager serving as a direct representative of the school system, that would improve the controls on the building program and the results for the owner.

Management could be provided by teams at different construction sites to check on the quality of the work, compared to a single person keeping an eye on everything, Konieczka said. "If you're holding the contracts, you really ask yourself: which one do you want protecting you when your interests are on the line there?"

Jones noted that project owners want a well-planned project, at the lowest price, in the shortest possible time, with exceptional quality and a good relationship with the contractors.

"The fact of the matter is the traditional approach, the lump sum bidding, you don't have any control over these kinds of things," Jones said. "In our minds, that traditional approach, the lump sum, just really does not work."

The construction manager becoming involved in the process earlier allows that person to have a better handle on cost control, he said.

As time goes on during a construction project, Jones said there are fewer opportunities to hold down costs.

If the construction manager could select all the subcontractors individually from the pool of pre-qualified bidders, instead of going through one contractor for them all, then the manager would have the ability to select the low bidder on everything — framing, masonry, painting, mechanical systems, electrical and concrete, Jones said.

That would add to the project savings, he said.

Does construction management really work? Jones cited an academic study of construction management from Penn State University, comparing the results of 351 construction projects.

The study found that projects that used construction management came in 1.6 percent lower than those that used lump sum bidding, got finished 5.8 percent faster, returned control of buildings to the owner 13.3 percent faster and saw 9.2 percent less dragging out of the project schedule.

"As far as I'm concerned, the number one advantage to your using a construction manager is because Carroll County Public Schools can control your own destiny," Jones said.

It's like teaching in a classroom — education just doesn't happen without lesson planning, he said. It doesn't happen just by accident.

"When you go into construction, you ought to be thinking the same thing. It needs to be planned. It doesn't need to happen by happenstance and luck of the draw with the lump sum bidder there."