New York City's new Dept. of Design and Construction commissioner says its March 30 report shows that less restrictive procurement and contracting rules resulted in projects being delivered in less time than expected and on budget—and that the new procedures might be worth keeping.

Jamie Torres-Springer took over the role March 23 after Lorraine Grillo accepted a new position as the city's senior advisor for recovery. A day later, he told the NYC city council's committee on finance that being "able to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars of construction in mere months shows how effectively we can work when we are not bound by the typical procurement, administrative and oversight regime," according to a transcript of that testimony. 

In a March 30 report titled "DDC 2020: Delivering Innovation In A Challenging Year," the department says that while it had been "a year of unprecedented challenges for New York City and its residents," it also became "an exceptional period in the 24-year history of the" DDC, with the pandemic placing "expansive new responsibilities on the agency."

Torres-Springer said upon release of the study that “the city’s capital construction process is outdated and inefficient," and that its "projects usually take much longer to complete than comparable work performed elsewhere," including in New York’s private sector. 

He claims the DDC's “work under the pandemic construction rules shows that doesn’t have to be the case," because alternative project delivery methods "work better than our current system, and we should examine how those can be made available for city agencies outside of an emergency.”

Rather than award contracts to the lowest bidder that meets minimal qualifications, the department said its 2020 RFP process focused on firms with a track record of delivering quality projects on time and on budget. Using this system, the agency said it was able to accelerate project schedules while still delivering projects within budget, with fewer delays and fewer mid-project change orders that can slow down construction.

DDC also used the construction manager-build model, rather than the design-bid-build lowest bidder process, and claimed CM-build allowed construction to begin earlier and made for early collaboration between the designer and the builder.

The projects the department completed in 2020 include two large field hospitals with 1,100 beds total, three COVID-19 Centers of Excellence, 28 COVID-19 testing sites and eight mobile testing trucks, four upgraded NYC Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene laboratories to handle coronavirus specimen processing, and more than 400 site inspections for the city’s Learning Bridges program for students in blended learning.

All this happened under the watch of Grillo, who simultaneously had been DDC commissioner and president and CEO of the NYC School Construction Authority. SCA acting president and CEO now is Nina Kubota, formerly its vice president of capital planning and contract management.

In ENR New York's SCA profile when it was named the region's Owner of the Year, Grillo told ENR that the agency did not have a project open late in the past decade—in part because she made sure it "cut through all the nonsense very quickly.”

When her DDC successor was named, Grillo said that for three years Torres-Springer had taken "a hands-on role in implementing the changes to DDC’s capital project delivery system that we developed shortly after arriving at the agency together.”

Torres-Springer, who served as first deputy commissioner of the agency before landing his current role, in turn said Grillo had "led the charge for reform” and indicated he'd take the department further.

"I intend to keep pushing changes at DDC and in the overall capital construction process so that we can build faster and more efficiently," he said.