Meeting the Ultimate Deadline

Summer 2012

While experienced design-build teams can satisfy the objectives of military construction projects, the work is not without its challenges.

By Mike Duffey, P.E.

The Sept. 15, 2011, deadline mandated by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission left no room for delays in project planning, design, scheduling and implementation. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) and Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) had to delineate and manage aggressive, synchronized, fully resourced projects to ensure their success.

Design-build teams won contracts for many of these projects. Functioning as a single entity, the teams are comprised of a prime builder contractor, architects, engineers, subcontractors and suppliers, with the prime builder partnering with the USACE or NAVFAC execution agent.

Project teams have faced their fair share of challenges on recent BRAC-funded military construction (MILCON) initiatives. Significant budget constraints often hamper the selection of building systems and materials, changing regulatory environments can affect implementation costs and delayed funding appropriations can shake up time-sensitive schedules.

An experienced design-build team can meet these challenges best by approaching project delivery after careful consideration of the project’s scope, schedule, budget and quality. For example, the integrated method can help eliminate acquisition- and performance-related timelines attributed to traditional design services in the project, reducing the overall timeline by approximately 12 to 18 months.

With more challenges sure to come with the next BRAC program, now is the time to examine how experienced design-build teams excel at overcoming problems related to the time-sensitive and complex attributes of MILCON projects. By delivering the best value, design-build teams can ensure future contracts.

Approaching Constraints with Clarity

Budgets for federal construction projects have long been a challenge for project teams. Future projects will likely be restricted by further cuts. A design-build team can embrace the creative challenge presented by capital and life-cycle costs, schedule variations, and systems and materials standards to arrive at a true best-value proposition for the project. It enables the assignment of an expected maximum construction cost early during the request-for-proposal (RFP) phase.

With input from a design-build team, the selection of systems and materials as well as implementation approaches is considered simultaneously with the completion of the design. The planning and design process can address these factors, allowing the end user and execution agent to make fully informed decisions.

For example, design-build teams can evaluate manufacturers of main system components more closely in terms of specific interfaces, installation and operations-maintenance requirements to arrive at the best solutions, while considering factors beyond the initial capital cost of components.

Collaboration Required

Evolving federal standards, initiatives, requirements and regulations will affect the selection of building systems and materials throughout the project. Many of these directives are the result of sustainable design and development regulations, which followed an executive order signed in 2007 to strengthen federal environmental, transportation-management and energy standards.

Whether it is water recycling, energy efficiency or materials finishes, the comprehensive composition of a design-build team incorporates sustainability and technology solutions into construction methods. This trait is crucial when facing the uncharted territory of the evolving federal and project-specific directives that can challenge project budgets.

This is where the experience and collective creativity characteristic of a design-build team really shines. For example, a design-build team can compare and evaluate “daylighting” alternatives to determine the best lighting strategies and fixtures for the project, taking into account functional, design, construction and operational-maintenance considerations.

Be Prepared with Contingency Plans

Whenever Congress operates under a continuing resolution to fund the federal government, it constrains agencies to operate at or below previous program disbursement levels and usually halts the release of funds for new designs and construction starts. When the funds for these projects are eventually released, it instantly compromises each project’s scheduling.

When faced with procurement glitches, contingency plans that include information on additional resources, scheduling options and/or alternative delivery methods are invaluable to execution agents looking to drive down costs and compress schedules. Faster construction helps overcome the scheduling problems that funding delays can create. Prefabricated modules — precast concrete, pre-engineered steel support structures or premanufactured wall assemblies — are one approach.

A design-build team can help institute modular solutions because all members of the team are on the field at the same time, under one contract, and can collaborate in real time to provide best-value solutions. The team should evaluate modular options during the design phase of the project, with input from each team member.

Prefabricated modules not only help speed construction, but bypass the costs associated with onsite installation. Modular components are usually assembled in a controlled manufacturing environment, avoiding adverse weather conditions and preventing congestion on the construction site. And by producing less construction disturbance at the site, they help minimize airborne pollutants, allowing more delicate construction tasks to be performed unabated.

When a MILCON execution agent partners with the right design-build team, the result is a shorter journey to the best value. The more journeys they take together, the better their synergy. When team partners can check progress, consider alternatives, speed the work, solve problems and cut costs with a single phone call, they can exceed expectations. The partnership helps meet project objectives every time, with a better chance of staying within budget and better flexibility to beat deadlines.

 Analyze Total Ownership Cost with BIM Technology

Harnessing the degree of quality among a variety of choices affects many of the considerations associated with total ownership cost (TOC) — the consolidated expense of designing, constructing, commissioning and operating a structure over its lifetime. And determining where to cut costs in a project can conflict with TOC objectives.

Collaboration among the members of the design-build team can help analyze all of the components of the cost equation, including procurement, materials, installation and construction; operation with ongoing energy use; and life cycles of systems and their maintenance and replacement.

The specifications that result will steer a project toward more cost-effective solutions without compromising TOC directives severely. To achieve this quickly, design-build teams may use building information modeling (BIM), a 3D, intelligent modeling software that produces lifelike imagery of all building components, spatial relationships, systems and material quantities. With BIM, design-build teams can analyze a number of options, as well as identify the pros and cons of any particular preference; reduce spatial conflicts between building systems; deal with value-engineering problems; provide accurate estimations of take-off information; and use the platform for more detailed energy and system analysis.

Mike Duffey, PE, is a Principal and Director of Federal Programs with SSOE Group (, an international engineering, procurement and construction management firm. He is a civil engineer with 30 years of experience, specializing in multiple project delivery methods. A retired Lieutenant Colonel and Commander in the Ohio Air National Guard, Duffey formerly served as a Base Civil Engineer for milcon projects. He can be contacted via email at