...documentation beyond schematic design. “The good news was we got on the short list, and the bad news was we got on the short list,” says Philip Macey, Haselden’s DB project manager.

In return for ownership of its ideas, the team spent at least three times more on its 240-page proposal than the $200,000 stipend DOE offered the losing teams.

The winning team would have an even bigger risk: Under contract terms, if the parties could not come to an agreement, 50% of the design fee stated in the RFP was at risk. The team did not sign its contract or begin receiving compensation until 10 months after the March 2008 award. By that time, 50% of preliminary design was done, says Tom Hootman, director of sustainability for the Denver-based RNL. “We were into it for $2 million, with 50% at risk,” adds Macey, who joined Haselden from RNL several months ago.

Byron Haselden, president of the Denver-based contractor, says the up-front investment and risk makes DB “not for everybody. This project was important for our culture because it is a signature project with societal significance.”

The U.S. Dept. of Energy is so pleased with its first-ever progressive, performance-based design-build project that it is using the delivery system on five other projects.

DOE says it is not trying to put anyone out of business but rather create a replicable system. “It’s not all risk—there is reward,” says Shanti Pless, NREL’s research engineer. Pless is referring to an undisclosed seven-figure sum for superior performance. To date, the DB team has received some 90% of the funds.

The progressive aspect of the job—and a big departure for DOE—is that it was divided into three parallel design packages: site, shell and interiors. Similar to fast-tracking, the approach allowed the project to be done a couple of years faster than a design-bid-build approach.

But because DOE is not set up for fast-tracking, the DB team still had to respond to contract milestones at the end of schematic design, design development and construction documentation. However, the milestones did not coordinate with the way the team was packaging and delivering information. “We also needed to create document packages [for fieldwork] in the traditional way,” says Haselden.

In September 2007, DOE short-listed three of the 10 teams it had prequalified. In the RFP, instead of telling the three competitors what the building should look like, DOE and NREL defined what they wanted from the performance of the building. The RFP filled 506 pages, almost twice as many as is typical.

For starters, DOE wanted a building with the highest rating, Platinum, from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. In the RFP, DOE and NREL included “aggressive” energy targets, says John Andary, principal in the San Francisco office of the project’s consulting engineer, Stantec.

To sign onto a firm-fixed-price contract, the competitors needed the best information possible, says Baker. To provide this, DOE and NREL held two separate meetings with each competitor to help refine the RFP. To keep a level playing field, all questions and all responses were posted to all competitors. “This was a way to reduce risk and increase the level of understanding,” says DOE’s Baker.

For the competition, DOE and NREL divided their needs for the building into mission-critical goals, highly desirable goals and “if possible” goals. “Mission critical” included attaining LEED Platinum and an Energy Star “Plus” rating...