Advancing Design-Build in Cincinnati and Beyond

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Advancing Design-Build in Cincinnati and Beyond

Issue 2 of 2014

In 2006, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSDGC) finalized their Consent Decree negotiations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding mandated upgrades to the Cincinnati sewer infrastructure system. Ali Bahar, Principal Engineer for Planning and Design-Build for MSDGC, knew they needed to act efficiently and cost-effectively to successfully meet the Consent Decree requirements. He recognized they needed design-build to get the job done.

While design-build project delivery was not then authorized in the state of Ohio, Cincinnati is a charter city and was able to employ the delivery method without approval from the state legislature. As a first step, MSDGC began to re-design business processes to support design-build. New procedures were developed for procurement, contracting, project management and quality assurance oversight.

A cross-function team was also established, including staff representation from the legal, procurement, project management, planning and quality control departments. MSGDC knew great collaboration and teamwork were needed throughout the organization in order to facilitate the successful completion of design-build projects well into the future. In addition, MSDGC made changes to the organizational structure to name specific staff as champions of its new design-build project delivery process.

“We concluded that it is vitally important to assign the right resources to help the design-build process along. Leadership and a passion for the delivery method are important ingredients to design-build project success,” said Bahar.

Then, in June 2011, the Governor of Ohio signed HB 153 allowing design-build procurement in Ohio. This was the first systemic change in the state’s public construction contracting in 134 years. This change allowed MSDGC to pursue design-build project delivery either through the state of Ohio rule change or through the City of Cincinnati.

The Oakley Station Sewer Separation Project, MSDGC’s first design-build project under the new legislation, provided a new opportunity to successfully collaborate to meet public-private infrastructure needs while meeting the federal upgrade mandate. MSDGC provided a stipend for qualified submitters to prepare proposals with a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) of $9.9 million for the project. The scope of work included 2,300 feet of 60-inch storm sewer with tunnel depths up to 35 feet and eliminated two Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). This project supported 100 acres of urban redevelopment.

“Collaborating with consultants and contractors as a team both internally and externally made our first design-build project a huge success,” said Bahar. “We were able to reduce costs of the original $8.7 million budget on the Oakley project by 20 percent,” he continued. “Design-build also enabled us to expedite the schedule by 13 months. In contrast, this same project would have taken 28 months to complete if we had used a traditional design-bidbuild process.”

The Oakley project team held calls once a week and in-person meetings once a month to keep lines of communication open and progress moving forward. The project was completed without claims or change orders and the combined sewer overflows were eliminated ahead of the Consent Decree schedule.

The second of two successful design-build projects completed by MSDGC was the Wastewater Engineering and Education Center. This 58,400square-foot, three-story building houses MSDGC’s engineering divisions and doubles as a sustainable education center. The project achieved LEED® Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council and features a green roof and surrounding rain gardens.

Education is Key

“We believe the key to advancing design-build in Ohio is education,” stated Bahar. “Encouraging all parties involved, including the public, project stakeholders and lawmakers, to educate themselves on the process and benefits of design-build is critical.”

To address this critical need, MSGDC hosted two training sessions led by the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) in 2012 and 2013. The design-build training sessions served to educate and answer questions related to implementation and lessons learned for more than 280 engineers and contractors in Southern Ohio. Four Hamilton County attorneys at the training sessions also attended DBIA’s Design-Build for Water/Wastewater Conference to learn about benefits of the delivery methods, procurement and contracting, management and legal processes required.

“Through these discussions and joint education sessions, we are actively working with Hamilton County Commissioners to move design-build forward,” explained Bahar. “We are now looking at more than 20 percent of future wastewater plant projects using the design-build project delivery method.”

Addressing Remaining Challenges

While the state of Ohio passed legislation authorizing design-build in 2011, the procurement rules and regulations require prequalification and bidding of all sub­contracts after the design-build contract is awarded. MSDGC was able to minimize the impact of these requirements by providing timely responses to requests from the design-builder for approval of prequalification criteria and approval for subcontractors.

In addition, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) still does not permit the delivery method on the municipal level. Along with MSGDC, the State of Ohio and the University of Cincinnati are currently working to change this.

“In the 1800s, design-bid-build was a way of progress in construction as were horse and buggy in transportation innovation. Today, as cars and airplanes have replaced horses, we need to embrace design-build delivery to move our industry forward,” said Bahar. “We are currently in positive discussions with OEPA and are hopeful to make further progress in bringing the benefits of design-build to communities across Ohio.”