Lessons Learned from a Design-Build Project of the Year Team

DBIA’s 2022 Project of the Year Team

As the May deadline for DBIA’s 2023 National Design-Build Project/Teams Awards competition approaches, we thought it might be helpful for design-build teams to get an inside look at what makes a DBIA Project of the Year.

New Natural Resources Headquarters (NNRH), Sacramento, California

The challenges and risks design-build teams face on any large project can sometimes seem insurmountable. Managing cost escalation, tight schedules, worker shortages and supply chain issues are the norm. For the design-build team tasked to deliver the State of California’s new $540 million Department of Natural Resources headquarters, their challenges also included the COVID pandemic, deadly wildfires and civil unrest at the nearby state capitol. Despite it all, this year’s Project of the Year team delivered the largest California State Project Infrastructure Fund (SPIF) project the California Department of General Services (DGS) has ever completed. The team provided early occupancy on budget while returning several million dollars of surplus funds. The NRH is a shining example of how Design-Build Done Right® collaboration can generate innovation, delivering triple-bottom-line impacts despite the risks and challenges of building in today’s environment. It also sets an impressive standard for all current and future SPIF projects in California.

The Project

The new home to California’s Natural Resources Agency is an 850,000 sf., 22-story high-rise office tower that includes several other state departments, a health and fitness center, an auditorium, a multivendor food court and a pedestrian plaza. Adjacent to the tower are two separate one-story buildings totaling 10,000 sf. were designed and built to allow up to three retail spaces. The project also included the renovation of the historic Heilbron House, built in 1881 and in need of extensive improvements. A new 130-child daycare facility was also constructed on top of an existing DGS-owned office building across the street. From offices to a historic renovation and just about everything in between, the new agency complex was a unique project from the beginning.

Team leaders from Turner Construction Company and AC Martin, and the Owner, California’s Department of General Services, believe the team itself is what set this project apart. Said Richard Standiford, DGS’s NNRH Project Director, “The project itself felt special from the first day. There was really a great culture of trust and a great culture of collaboration.” The team’s “big room” approach allowed the entire team to be proactive and open to full collaboration, according to Turner’s Project Director, Jim Hull. “I think what made the project successful was the ‘big room.’” You could be our newest engineer and go up and talk to the client about any issue and vice versa. It was open communication throughout. That’s unique.”

Putting Design-Build Done Right® to Work

From project conception, the California DGS used Design-Build Done Right® best practices in how the project was staffed, procured, contracted and executed. Stipends, a formal partnering process, impressive teaming and collocation set the stage for success. Mike Meredith is SPIF’s capital program manager and a DBIA national board member. “We follow DBIA best practices. That’s how we set up the selection process. We went out of our way to engage the industry through informational meetings, openly shared our critical success factors, and the industry responded overwhelmingly positively to the process,” he explained.

DGS was committed to talking through the risk from the beginning. According to Standiford, “We were never siloed about our risks. And we were never afraid to share what we thought the risks were. We had a lot of transparent meetings where we talked about concerns.” “There were no egos, you know?” explained AC Martin designer Tammy Jow. “A lot of times on large-scale projects, factions get created. But here, whenever there were tough moments or head-butting with someone, it didn’t last because we were in a big room. We always came back together and talked it out, and together we came up with a better solution.”

The NNRH project also included an impressive 17 DBIA-certified members in the team leadership. Meredith said the goal is to be viewed by the design-build industry as an “Owner of choice.” “All the state’s project directors and people associated with the project are DBIA certified. If you’re going to be in the SPIF program, you need to be DBIA certified. That’s why we have a deeper understanding of the overall objectives and what design-build is about.”

Beauty, Community, Resiliency and So Much More

The NNRH and its surroundings were designed to bring awareness to our vital relationship with our natural environment. Inspired by the California Delta and other significant natural icons, the building incorporates natural forms and materials throughout. For example, the striking auditorium ceiling design was modeled after the rings of a tree. It’s light-filled with expansive windows, communicating government transparency and providing natural light and views into and out of the space. It’s no surprise that this room has become one of the Governor’s favorite public venues.

Sourcing California materials was an important project goal. The public lobby features an impressive feature wood wall composed of reclaimed wood from the Paradise Fire that raged north of Sacramento in 2018. The retail buildings, auditorium and first-floor level are clad with rammed earth panels. Fabricated in California using raw materials sourced locally, rammed earth panels had never been used on a project of this magnitude or in a commercial application, providing a unique opportunity for a small local contractor.

“These panels are actually handmade, each one with a mold, and the gravel is selected from different parts of California,” described Jow. “They are hand-pounded and poured in layers. A very small business fulfilled this vision. It’s something this company is very proud of, and as a team, we’re very proud too.”

The state’s hiring goals were aggressive. “We set a goal for 25% small business and diversity and inclusion, but they weren’t really goals. They were requirements,” explained Standiford. The team responded to the challenge by exceeding all supplier and workforce diversity goals at 27% small business, 7.9% disabled veteran business enterprises, and 24% apprentice hours, with 31% of those hours completed by targeted workers. The Turner/ACM team’s approach was methodical and purposeful. According to Hull, “If we were short on or didn’t have any small businesses identified, we’d go out and look for them, get them certified so they could bid. Or we’d decrease the size of the bid package so a small business could take it on.” Ultimately, Hull said that planning paid off. “You can’t just hope and pray that in the end, it’s going to work out. You must have a plan from day one.”

In every way, DBIA’s 2022 Project of the Year is impressive. It continues to raise the bar for design-build teams that are pushing the collaboration and innovation envelope. For many on the NNRH team, it’s a project of a lifetime. “Our goal was not to win awards. It really wasn’t,” said Yow. “We went through disasters together and all kinds of things to realize an amazing outcome. It’s incredibly humbling that something that we do day-to-day together can be recognized on the national stage.”

Start Your 2023 DBIA Project/Team Awards Entry

Teams are now building their awards applications and we hope you will too. The 2023 Award submission deadline is Wednesday, May 24, 2023. We have a number of DBIA resources on our website including:

2023 Submission Guidelines

Awards Submission Checklist

Design-Build Delivers Podcast w/Awards Chair, Barbara Jackson

Free Awards Webinar

DBIA will also host a free webinar offering a “How To” session on DBIA’s Awards Competition. Register to join us on April 19th at 2:00 pm eastern.