The University of Illinois project involved the SOM firm and did so mainly because SOM had gotten into trouble by agreeing not only to design the building but to supervise the construction for a fixed price, which I recall was around $12 million. They had set this price before bids because the federal government was involved, and the agency in charge had insisted that designs be completed, and that SOM (or some other firm) would have to guarantee the price before the money could be made available to the university. However, after SOM signed this contract, when they solicited bids for the construction based on their approved drawings, the estimates came in at around $17 million. At this point, they called me and we looked over the designs with an eye toward bringing down the price of construction. After our internal review, I told SOM that if they could convince the university and the government to allow certain design changes, the building could
The Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, our first Construction Management project involving federal government funds. be constructed for less than $12 million. These design changes were basic, structural ones, and really should have been the basis for the original plans. The various parties agreed to the alteration, the building was constructed, and it met everyone’s expectations.
Before that project, the General Services Administration, through its building division, had insisted on all projects being done in that old way. Specs for designs were drawn up, and these went sent out for bids. An architectural firm was selected, and then designs were made and approved in-house, usually after a couple of rounds of back and forth with the bureaucrats. Only after designs were completed were they sent out to general contractors for bids. Then a construction contract would be awarded and construction would begin. Among the problems with this cumbersome, step-by-small-step approach is that it lengthened the time required to do a project by anywhere from six months to two years.
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We argued to PBS, the Public Building Service, that it was possible to begin the foundations before a building was completely designed, because the foundations could be constructed knowing what the approximate weight of that superstructure would be and that this would save money by reducing the total time of construction, and that it would not adversely impact the design process. This was the approach that, after some wrangling, and visits to Washington, the PBS had agreed to let us try on the University of Illinois library. After that building was com-pleted on budget and on a tight schedule all the parties involved could see that we had saved time and money, and, in consequence, the government began to switch over to CM for many of its future projects.
Our firm completed projects as Construction Manager both for private owners and for public entities. The main difference between private and public projects, for us, is that on private projects we are always acutely conscious of the identity of the owner, and we work as part of that owner’s team. In public-sector projects, the “client” is usually an institution, not an individual, and often there is no single individual to whom we can refer for the many decisions that need to be made during construction, sometimes on a daily basis. Often, on a public-sector job, because of the absence of such a single decisionmaker, we end up taking an even larger role than we do in a private-sector project.
What the PBS especially liked in the CM approach was the sched-uling it put a lot of information on paper, where people could look at it and understand how a project could progress, and, while construction was ongoing, how much progress was being made from week to week, if not from day to day.
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