Deciding how to build


You're finally ready to build your dream hospital or expand your existing facility. For years, you've read design articles in Veterinary Economics and carefully studied every floor plan. You've also planned to hire an award-winning veterinary architect. But one of your clients is an architect, and you like her work.

By Mark E.Orendorff

You're finally ready to build your dream hospital orexpand your existing facility. For years, you've read design articles inVeterinary Economics and carefully studied every floor plan.You've also planned to hire an award-winning veterinary architect. Butone of your clients is an architect, and you like her work. Yourneighbor, who owns a construction company, offered to "design build"your facility. Your brother-in-law acted as his own general contractoron his new house, saving thousands of dollars. And each morning you passthe construction site of a large human medical center and notice a signthat says "Construction Managers." With so many options, which shouldyou choose?

Any of these methods could work well for you. Thechoice depends on your individual situation. Consider these pros andcons, then pick the option that works best for you.

Hiring anarchitect

Your first step: Decide whether you want to hire anational architectural firm that specializes in veterinary hospitals.These architects understand the unique challenges veterinary designpresents, and they've seen what does and doesn't work. So if you'relooking for experience and award-winning design abilities, a veterinaryspecialty architect may be your best choice. On the down side, you maypay a specialist more than a local architect, and working long-distancemeans you'll communicate more by phone.

A local architectprobably won't offer experience building veterinary facilities, so to gothis route you need a clear idea of your wants and the ability toexplain your needs. You'll likely spend time educating a local architectabout the unique requirements of a veterinary facility. On the plusside, you can probably see examples of the architect's work close by,and a local architect may know more about your state and local buildingcodes and the inspectors who enforce them.

Whether you choose anational or local architect, make sure he or she is licensed in yourstate and belongs to the American Institute of Architects (AIA), anorganization that promotes professional and ethical standards. Yourarchitectural contract will be a standard AIA agreement, which definesthe architect's duties and your responsibilities and explains the feestructure.

Next you'll talk to the architect about your facility.You'll need to develop an initial project budget to share with thearchitect, and you may revise the budget--and your projectdesign--several times as you see the cost ramifications of yourdecisions. Your project budget should include "hard" construction costs,such as those a general contractor or design/builder would quote, andthe "soft" costs you'll incur, including architectural fees, legal fees,interest paid during construction, the costs of an environmentalassessment, site surveys, geological testing, and the cost of equipmentand furnishings.

When you've finalized your plan, your architectwill draw detailed floor plans and specifications. Then the architectwill solicit bids from general contractors. If the bids come in toohigh, you might redesign the building, but this step may cost you evenmore time and money. For example, decreasing the size, changingmaterials, eliminating costly options, or changing the floor plan couldmake the practice less expensive to build.

Once you hire ageneral contractor, he or she will oversee the construction. Thearchitect will monitor the general contractor's work and keep youinformed about the progress of the project and any problems. Thisapproach involves several layers of management, so communication canbecome problematic. In addition, the relationship between the architectand general contractor sometimes becomes adversarial because thecontractor you choose is usually the low bidder, but the architect stillpushes for high-quality work.

Hiring a design/buildfirm

Design/build firms manage both the design and constructionphases of your building project. This approach often facilitatescommunication during the project and saves time because you only find,research, and hire one advisor--the design/build firm--instead of two(an architect and a contractor). You also could save money through theefficiency of having one company handling both functions. But you mightwant to hire a separate architect to help you evaluate the contractor'sbid and references--and make sure the quality of the construction meetsyour specifications. The first step in the design/build process is toselect a firm based on its qualifications. Then you'll meet with thedesign/builders and discuss your needs, and the company will developpreliminary plans and specifications for your project. Thesespecifications are usually rather general compared with an architect'splans.

Once the plans are complete, your design/builder willsubmit an all-inclusive proposal that includes the architectural designfees and the hard construction costs. At this point, you'll pay the firmfor its work and decide whether to move ahead with the project. Keep inmind that if you decide to go another route, you can't recoup the moneyyou paid the firm to develop the original plans.

Design/buildersperform some of the construction work themselves and hire and managesubcontractors to complete the rest. As the project progresses, thedesign/builder will refine the general plans and you'll likely receiveseveral change orders--or requests to modify the original proposal byadding or deleting items. Change orders often result in additional costsand could lead to budget overruns.

Acting as generalcontractor

In some states, you don't have to be a licensedgeneral contractor to obtain building permits, so you could manage theproject yourself. However, this approach isn't for the thin-skinned orweak-hearted. Be prepared to deal with lots of surprises.

You'llstill likely work with a local architect to develop your plans. Thenyou'll find and hire subcontractors to perform the work and oversee andcoordinate their efforts. For example, you may schedule subcontractors,solve problems, resolve disputes, develop and enforce contracts, checkmaterials and workmanship, keep accounts, and handle pay requests. Thisadministrative work takes time, and managing the project can be verystressful. If you mismanage the job, acting as your own contractor couldcost you a great deal more--in time and money--than the otheroptions.

Hiring a construction manager

For a fixed fee,you can hire a construction professional to manage your project. You mayeven be able to hire a firm that's experienced in planning and buildingveterinary hospitals, which makes it easier to use a less-expensivelocal architect. In fact, construction managers often oversee such largepublic projects as government buildings, schools, and human medicalfacilities.

First you'll select a construction manager. Thenyou'll explain what you need, and the construction manager will help youdevelop an initial project budget. You may want to have an architect onboard from the start, or the construction manager can help you select anarchitect. When the architect completes the plans and specifications,the construction manager will develop a schedule and bid the project.Your construction manager will help you develop individual contractswith each subcontractor and will oversee, manage, schedule, andcoordinate the work of all the subcontractors, resolve any disputes,administer and enforce contracts, check materials and workmanship, andhandle all project accounting and pay requests.

Now you know howthe various planning and construction delivery methods differ and thefirst steps toward deciding which one best meets your needs. When you'vedone that, you're on your way to a new or improved workplace.Congratulations!

Mark E. Orendorff is director of businessdevelopment for ICI Consultants and Construction Managers in Eau Claire,Wis.

August 2000 Veterinary Economics

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