Design-Build Project Delivery in the Water/Wastewater Market

Up until nearly 20 years ago, project delivery methods in construction, such as design-bid-build and construction management were among the most used. Under these methods, design and construction aspects were each separate entities, separate contracts and separate work. Since that time, the ?design-build? method has gained traction, allowing one unit – the design-build team ? to work under a single contract with the project owner to provide design and construction services. This helps to save time, money and expand relationships between designers and builders to develop collaboration. The Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) has been at the forefront of the design-build method since 1993. UIM thought it would be a good time to sit down with DBIA Executive Director Lisa Washington to discuss design-build and how it is affecting water and wastewater systems specifically. Washington first came to DBIA in 2004 from the Independent Electrical Contractors Association, where she was a vice president. As DBIA?s vice president of education and conferences, Washington devised and implemented the National Education Tour, increasing demand for education of design-build ten-fold in three-years. In 2006, she was promoted to chief operating officer, a position she held until taking the helm of the Institute in June 2009.

Briefly, what is design-build?

Design-build is an integrated approach that delivers design and construction services under one contract with a single point of responsibility. It is a fully collaborative alternative to design-bid-build.? Under the design-bid-build approach, design and construction are split – separate entities hold separate contracts with the owner for design and construction work. Under the design-build delivery method, the design-builder carries the responsibility and much of the risk for both design and construction, and the full team engages early in the process to determine project goals, constraints and challenges.

What are some of the goals of DBIA?

DBIA is the only organization that defines, teaches and promotes the best practices in design-build; what DBIA calls, ?design-build done right.? The continued growth of DBIA?s education and certification program is key because these programs ensure everyone engaged in design-build understands that the best projects are the result of the best practices. For owners, this means drafting an effective RFP using performance based requirements, implementing a source selection process to ensure the right team is hired, and utilizing incentives. For design-build teams this means accepting communication and trust as central to project success and creating an environment and processes that foster high performance.

Tell us about DBIA?s Water/Wastewater Markets committee.

The Water/Wastewater Markets committee advocates for design-build project delivery and procurement in the water sector. The committee pursues its goal by establishing a sub-committee, including an owner/co-chair, to work with staff to develop a program for the annual water/wastewater conference. The committee serves as a liaison between DBIA and organizations such as the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and Water Environment Federation.? They work with the DBIA Legislative Committee to assess and address design-build legislation at the state and local levels and collaborate with DBIA staff to ensure the design-build project database reflects a full range of water/wastewater projects.

Explain the major advantages of the design-build method.

Recent research shows that using design-build on water/wastewater projects results in cost savings of up to 43 percent. Design-build also reduces project schedules by as much as 33 percent when compared to the conventional design-bid-build approach. Overall project quality is also improved, as confirmed by a survey and analysis of more than 300 design-bid-build and design-build projects. This study found that project owners feel design-build provides significantly higher quality in the finished projects.

How common is design-build in the water/wastewater sector? Is its use increasing or decreasing??

The use of design-build across all sectors has increased to such an extent that ?alternative delivery method? is almost a misnomer. Currently, 40 percent of all non-residential construction is carried out via the design-build method. A 2009 survey of 85 randomly selected municipalities showed that 49 percent had used design-build. The recent AWWA publication, Design-Build for Water Wastewater notes that the feeling among industry leaders is that design-build is in the ascendancy with future trends toward design-build operate and design-build-operate-maintain and new tools that promote integration like, BIM, continuing to drive popularity of design-build in this sector. ?

What are some typical projects in the water/wastewater sector that use the design-build method?

A survey by the Water Design-Build council showed that design-build is used for all project types and is used as often for water as for wastewater treatment facilities. Furthermore, that same study showed that the owners surveyed used design-build on projects ranging in cost from $500,000 to $1 million (20%), $1 million to $5 million (25%), $5 to $10 million (14%) and $10 million to $50 million (17%).

What conditions still exist that may limit the use of design-build for water/wastewater?

A primary roadblock to the use of design-build for water/wastewater is state laws that limit the use of design-build for public projects. However since 2005, states have been consistently expanding design-build procurement for public projects in general and water-wastewater projects in particular. In California, for example, counties, municipalities and special districts are authorized to use design-build on water/wastewater projects that exceed a $2.5 million contract price. In Florida, design-build authority is extremely broad and is extensively used for water/wastewater treatment facilities and desalinization. Of course, lack of knowledge and experience with the delivery method also causes some owners to forgo design-build.

What are some common misconceptions you hear regarding design-build?

Myths about design-build persist. One of the most common is that design-build causes the owner to lose control. In reality design-build simplifies the design and construction process by making project team members accountable to the owner and to each other. Another myth is that design-build is merely a? tweaking? of the design-bid-build process. In fact it requires a complete mental shift as well as completely a different contractual format that lays out not only the single source responsibility but also restructures the roles and responsibilities of team members and execution processes.

How can a utility determine what the best contract delivery method may be best for its project?

I can only speak to the questions an owner should ask and be able to answer before considering design-build. First, a utility must consider any legal impediments that exist to using design-build in their area. Next, they should assess what benefits they hope to derive from using design-build?shorter delivery time, cost-savings, reduced litigation? Then they need evaluate their internal resources and potential challenges pertaining to the use of design-build by their agency.? Will they be able to develop a clearly defined scope and clearly defined performance requirements? DBIA?s mission is to help them ask and answer questions like these.

How do you envision design-build and its variations will be used in the water/wastewater sector in the future?

Our industry is moving toward integrated delivery of design and construction for a variety of economic reasons and because technological innovations are pushing us in that direction. The rise of public-private partnerships is a trend that is also making design-build a default delivery mechanism for many project types, especially in the infrastructure sector where many needs remain largely unmet. Design-build will play an ever increasing role the delivery of water/wastewater in the immediate future and will became the delivery method of choice for all critical infrastructure projects, especially those that impact public health, safety and welfare.

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