GSA
A bridging contract shaved about eight months off a very tight schedule.

It can be said that the bureaucratic halls of federal government agencies traditionally are not places associated with innovative change, especially in today’s hyper-paced construction markets where owners in both the public and private sectors must live by the mantra “evolve or die.” But the U.S. General Services Administration is an exception.

GSA is the procurement arm of the federal government and is responsible for the construction, repair and alteration of all federal buildings. Change at GSA has come in the form of a gradual break from tradition as project managers increasingly seek new and better ways to deliver fast-tracked, complex construction projects with the speed and efficiency today’s markets demand. The traditional project delivery method of design-bid-build, once the sole delivery method used for GSA projects is beginning to fade as the agency adopts collaborative and integrated delivery.

"We have had very good results with CMc."

— David Winstead, GSA

“In the 1990s, a shift began in how project managers approached project delivery on federal courthouse projects and they began looking at alternative methods,” says David Winstead, commissioner of GSA’s Pubic Building Service. These days, design-bid-build is obsolete on federal courthouse projects, as project managers exclusively are embracing alternative methods such as construction manager as constructor (CMc) and bridging on high-profile, high-design courthouse projects. While D-B-B is still the most widely used delivery method on GSA’s office and border station projects, all of the 31 courthouse projects GSA’s Public Building Service currently has in various stages of design and construction are being delivered either by bridging or CMc.

GSA’s capital construction program has a total budget of $690 million for new construction, and $866 million for repairs and alteration projects, part of GSA’s $10-billion long-range building plan. For this fiscal year, the courthouse budget is $281 million and there is $97 million for site acquisition, design and construction of eight border stations.

Courthouse projects “are becoming increasingly complex and improving the project delivery method to accomplish those projects continues to be a priority,” Winstead says.  He points to the on-time and on-budget completion last August of the $78-million, 267,000-sq-ft Wayne Lyman Morse U.S. Courthouse in Eugene, Ore., by Kansas City-based J.E. Dunn Construction Co. as an example of GSA’s successful use of CMc. “We have had very good results with CMc,” he says. “It’s becoming a popular delivery method because it brings the builder in early in the project and expedites construction.” Winstead also cites the shifting of risk away from the owner through the use of CMc as another reason GSA project managers and executives favor it for courthouse projects.

On the $281-million, 1.5-million sq-ft U.S. Census Bureau headquarters project in Suitland, Md., completed last year, a bridging contract allowed the project team to finish the job about eight months ahead of what would have been possible through D-B-B, says GSA project manager Jag Bhavgava. The project was fast-tracked because of time constraints imposed by the Census Bureau’s need to begin preparations for the 2010 census. “It was a short time frame, and the schedule was most critical,” Bhavgava says. “The project began in September 2001, and had to be complete by December 2006, and that was a challenge.”

GSA
Eugene, Ore., courthouse was completed on time and on budget using CMc project delivery.

Field Changes

The evolution that has taken place in the way the federal government delivers projects has not been a top-to-bottom policy change. Rather, GSA project managers in the field initiated the change. GSA is divided into 11 regions across the country, with project managers and executives in each region responsible for determining the delivery method for each project. The system allows project managers to decide what works best in each region based on a variety of factors such as material costs and labor availability, which often vary by locality, Winstead says.

Fraga

“Each region has predilection over how projects are delivered,” says Bob Fraga, PBS assistant commissioner for capital construction program management. “There are various permutations of CMc being used, sometimes bringing the CM on at the beginning with the architect, and sometimes after design is nearly done.”

The CMc method, a home-grown CM at-risk process open to various modifications based on nuances and requirements of each project, was first employed on federal projects in GSA’s Southeast region about a decade ago. CMc’s Ground Zero was the James H. Quillen U.S. Courthouse in Greenville, Tenn., completed in the mid-1990s.

In the CMc method, the CM is contracted to provide design review, cost estimating, scheduling, establish a guaranteed maximum price and other general construction services. The CMc functions as a member of the GSA project development team and is involved in the planning, design and construction phases of the project. GSA project managers have modified the approach to include “fixed-price-incentive” or “fixed-price- successive-targets” contracts, which establish a “not-to-exceed” price. They place the responsibility and risk on the CMc to deliver the project within the available funds. The contracts also include incentives for the CMc that award a share of any budget savings.

On the Wayne Lyman Morse Courthouse, J.E. Dunn Construction used CMc to finish construction in just over 24 months. Dunn’s project executive Ira Gail Wickstrom says the job was originally conceived by GSA as a D-B-B project, but  GSA’s regional project managers opted to cut time and costs through use of an integrated delivery approach.

“In private work, we have done many CM jobs using a similar approach to CMc called construction manager as general contractor,” says Wickstrom. GSA officials expected a 36-month time frame to complete construction, but Wickstrom’s experience with CMGC told him it could be done in 24 months. “Had they used [D-B-B], the project would have been a bid buster by $10 million to $12 million,” Wickstrom says. “The important part taxpayers should know is that with CMc, they are getting...