Eighteen months. That’s how long it took to design and build the 1.2 million-square-foot California Health Care Facility near Stockton. Sound impossible? It was an aggressive effort involving numerous parties. The facility, completed in 2013 to house chronically ill inmates, was lauded for its sustainable design. But the speed of the process was the big deal.
“A half-a-billion dollar project constructed in 18 months? It was unheard of,” says Alan Korth, a justice practice segment leader at Dewberry Architects Inc. “It took a hell of a collaborative process. Big-room meetings. Designers created solutions right then and there. It was a thing of beauty.”
The project, overseen by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, used a design/build model. This is different from the design-bid-build model, which has been the long-time standard for construction projects.
What’s the difference? With the design-bid-build model, an agency or owner hires an architect to make the designs. Those designs then go out to bid, where contractors compete for the job. A winner is chosen, then construction can begin. For most of the last century, state and local governments used this approach to build correctional institutions, hospitals and other public projects. But the division between a project’s design and construction phases can cause schedule delays and cost overruns.
The design/build model streamlines the process by cutting the bidding phase out. The owner or agency contracts with a general contractor, and the two work as a unit to design and build the project. Advocates say this more collaborative approach saves time and money.
The design/build model is not new. In California, various cities and counties have had the option to go this route since 1995. Sacramento used this method for its $2.5-million branch library. Solano used it for a $2.3-million juvenile hall expansion and an $18.4-million health and social services building. Davis, Woodland and West Sacramento also used this for police stations, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, a nonpartisan office that provides fiscal and policy information and advice to the Legislature. UC Davis has also used this approach for several projects. Still, in the Capital Region, the model isn’t used often.
Last year, the state enacted Senate Bill 785, a statute that allows even more local agencies to use design/build. The fast-track delivery model will likely increase in coming years, especially for larger projects over $10 million, says Ronald E. Migliori, vice president of the Western-Pacific region and chair of the Sacramento chapter for the Design Build Institute of America.
“For bigger projects around the region, it looks like more of those are taking the safety net of design/build to mitigate cost overruns and schedule impacts,” he says.
With so many projects on the horizon and fewer qualified professionals to take them on, the faster process could also help keep local firms from work overload.
When the recession hit, Korth says, thousands of architects who couldn’t find work left the industry.“This has created a deficiency in the number of architects out there that can fill the spots,” he says. “It’s hard to find good people. It’s hard to find people at all.”
For more on the pressures of construction in the civic arena, check back in two weeks for Russell Nichols’ September feature, “Pushed to the Limit.” Or sign up for our newsletter, and we’ll email you when it’s available online.