There have been discussions recently around the blogosphere that point to some evidence that the use of the design-build delivery system for construction has been declining lately, specifically on federal projects. The transparency requirements and reliance on ‘fixed-priced’ contracts from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka The Stimulus Act) were originally, and erroneously, thought to have restricted the use of design-build. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also been cited as one agency that is pulling back from design-build. But is this the case for the federal government as a whole? Recent reports like this one indicate that it isn’t, and if you factor in the number of states that have adopted and changed their laws allowing it, design-build delivery would seem to have a pretty bright future.
There is however, evidence that some agencies have evolved in how they use design-build. The Department of Defense has certainly changed the way design-build is utilized on military base construction. While we still see a lot of design-build projects, most seem to be Design Adapt. In other words, there is little creativity associated with the design. The solicitation typically has the desired floor plan, stipulates the desired building system, shows preferred elevations, roof slopes, and sometimes even the desired wall and floor finishes. There clearly is little creative architectural design, however the Design-Builder is still responsible for all building and military base code compliance, and the full design liability. The primary reason this seems to be occurring is two-fold. One, this allows the USACE to compare the design-build proposals with price as the primary decision maker, and it allows the Department of Standardization to develop standard building types that are seen on virtually every military base. And secondly, most design-build construction projects under $25 million that are managed by the USACE are set asides for small business. Therefore standardizing the designs makes it easier and less costly for these businesses to turn in design-build proposals on solicitations. However, is it true design-build? In our opinion, most are not.
Ramtech has been doing design-build projects for over 30 years. We take a single-source, not a joint venture approach to design-build on all the projects we do for the federal government, medical, education, and commercial markets. This single source approach includes our own in-house design-team, design consultants, and our own fabrication facility where we can custom manufacture our proprietary prefabricated building system that allows for 20-30% of a buildings’ construction to be completed offsite. This prefabricated approach, which Ramtech refers to as its “Accelerated Building System” provides for a faster, less expensive, and higher quality finished product. With the Federal Government openly recognizing the advantages of offsite construction, hopefully future DOD projects will show more flexibility in their design-build approach.