A Decade of Progress in Water Design-Build Delivery

A Decade of Progress in Water Design-Build Delivery

As 2015 came to close, the City of Houston, Texas awarded a $900 million Progressive Design-Build project to a joint venture with CDM Smith and CH2M for the design and construction of a 320 million gallon per day (MGD) water purification project ? expanding its Northeast Plant from 80 MGD capacity in order to meet the demands for water by residents and businesses. Immediately signing the contract, the project teams began work in early 2016.

Ten years ago neither a project of this magnitude nor the expediency in which the contract was signed would have ever been within the realm of thought of municipal governments. A decade ago, the water design-build industry was fraught with impediments and challenges to using any of the various design-build delivery methods such as progressive, fixed-price or construction manager at risk (CMAR).

State regulations and local procurement policies championed the use of design-bid-build ? carry-over baggage from the old construction grant era of the 1970s and 80s. Policy officials were skeptical that design-build contractors could actually achieve the predicted results of a project being completed on or before the scheduled date ? let alone within or below budget. Municipal owners and managers also believed that they would lose control over their involvement in the design and construction process and particularly in critical decision-making steps for their projects technology and innovation considerations. And the mere contemplation of an owner embarking upon a risk sharing arrangement with a design-builder, only reinforced the resolve of a ?we vs them? attitude ? that design-build contractors were not to be trusted.

So what dramatic change occurred that reversed the dynamics of an industry to where cities and utilities such as Houston, DC Water, Spartanburg, Phoenix ? just to name a few ? are now embracing the use of design-build delivery as a collaborative process, with many more having successfully completed water and wastewater projects in the past decade? That answer rests with an important action stimulating a process to change an industry with unprecedented results.

Ten years ago, a meeting with a group of leading water and wastewater engineering/design company representatives ? led by Don Evans, Mark Alpert (CH2M Hill), Joe Adams (MWH), and Pete Tunnicliffe (CDM Smith) and others occurred. These individuals had long realized that some of type of action was needed in the water industry to provide cost-effective delivery services to municipal owners for their capital improvement projects, and that some form of action needed to occur and had embarked upon this task. However, it was with this meeting and the follow-up activities in February 2006, that a group known as the Water Design-Build Council (WDBC) launched an important mission directed to creating best practices and resolving the myriad of industry challenges through research and education. ?

The core of this change process evolved around research and education. Research as to the issues being faced by water utilities and municipalities ? and the development of education tools and resources to support them ? and proving with specific examples, that these delivery methods were successful.

Evolution of Owner AcceptanceEvolution of Owner Acceptance

What has changed or evolved in how utilities view the use of design-build delivery? The decade of progress with industry changes, documented by WDBC, speaks for itself ? and most noteworthy are these statistics:
In addition, the sharing of risk between owners and design-builders, once a foreboded topic, has increased considerably, as there is now a greater understanding among parties towards a balanced approach that yields success. The focus on a collaborative approach between owners and design-builders, such as in using Progressive Design-Build Delivery, is now viewed as a valued benefit and results in gaining increased use, as demonstrated in the recent Houston procurement. Of all the delivery models, Progressive Design-Build is the fastest growing, with model procurement guide materials provided by the WDBC.

Another notable change has been in the evolution of how design-build has now come into its own. Recently, WDBC President Leofwin Clark, described the evolution of design-build as now being a commonly accepted delivery approach.

?For over the past decade, we?ve been calling this ?new way? of doing things alternative delivery,? Clark says. ?Except, we all recognize that design-build isn?t the ?alternative? any longer. In fact, design-build and construction management-at-risk and even design-build-operate and public private partnerships are all now commonly accepted means to getting projects done right. In reality, the traditional design-bid-build approach has now become the alternative ? the exception ? in the project delivery tool box.?

Preparing for the FuturePreparing for the Future

So, what do utilities need to know and prepare for in the future? The WDBC?s 2015 research study on the ?Lessons Learned of Executives and Managers in using Design-Build Delivery? provides the best response to this question, citing a core emphasis on education and sharing of experiences.

The research study states that the majority of managers and executives agree that impediments to using design-build delivery occur when decision-makers and staff have limited knowledge and the experience required to achieve a successful project. It also cites making a commitment early on to an education and training program as an essential action to effectively prepare for, procure and manage a successful project from inception to transition. In addition, peer-to-peer education is also viewed as a beneficial support to the education process as well as sharing the lessons.

Moving forward into 2016, the water design-build industry, particularly WDBC, is gearing up for an increased demand in education and training to support municipalities in using these delivery models.

Linda Hanifin Bonner, Ph.D., CAE, is executive operations manager of the Water Design-Build Council.?

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