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Design-build could decrease project costs, time

DEL MAR — Councilman Mark Filanc said replacing Del Mar’s aging 21st Street sewer pump station might be further along if the city had a design-build contract in place when plans for the project got under way in 2006.
Recent budget amendments for the lift station “are the kinds of things that could have been avoided,” Filanc said following a presentation on the building process at the May 4 meeting. “We would be under construction right now.”
Filanc also said the design for the $5.5 million project is not necessarily the best and most efficient one. “It’s just one engineer’s version of it,” he said. Using design-build, the city could have considered bids and ideas from several teams, then selected the one that offered the best value. “You get a lot more creativity in the procurement phase,” Filanc said.
When soliciting proposals, Del Mar currently uses a process known as design-bid-build, a traditional method for project delivery in which the contract is awarded to the lowest responsible bidder. Different entities are used for design and construction. With design-build, which could minimize risk for the city, all elements of a construction project are combined, bid as a whole and awarded to one entity.
“The design-build entity is a firm or a partnership that has specific expertise in contracting, architectural, engineering and construction services — a one-stop shop, so to speak,” interim City Attorney Kimberly Johnson said.
“There are drawbacks to this process,” Johnson said. “One is that the full design work needs to be completed prior to soliciting bids. And there’s some duplication of efforts, and it can be a cumbersome process.”
Other disadvantages include unanticipated costs because construction is based on preliminary designs. There are also labor requirements, several specific state mandates such as the size and type of project that can use design-build, and significant bidding and approval standards. Reliance on a single-service provider also creates the potential for abuse, Johnson said. “This is sort of the fox-guarding-the-henhouse argument,” she said.
Advantages include lower project costs and enhanced performance based on value engineering. “As the project goes along you can make tweaks to the project that actually result in cost savings and you’re not tied to the actual bid document like we are now,” Johnson said.
Currently, any significant changes to a project could force the city to rebid the contract to ensure the process for the initial award was fair and competitive, Johnson said.
With design-build, there is a higher level of accountability because one contractor is running the entire project. It also offers greater flexibility and efficiency as there is no need to spend a lot of time up front developing the bid document because that’s part of the process.
“And in some cases you may actually be able to complete the project earlier,” Johnson said.
Filanc said there aren’t currently a lot of projects in Del Mar for which design-build would be appropriate or applicable. But should they come up, he said the city should give the process “strong consideration.”
Mayor Crystal Crawford agreed. “I, for one, would love to see us find a way to do things faster,” she said. “Our projects always take a long time and part of that’s that we have a commitment to a lot of process (and) community input.
“We should look for ways to reduce the cost of doing projects and ways to get them done faster.”
Filanc was elected to his first council term in November, after plans were in place for the pump station project. He is president and chief executive officer of J.R. Filanc Construction, which, he said, has used design-build for years. He is a design-build designated professional who served on the national committee for the Design-Build Institute of America.