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Involve the General Contractor Early in the Process

Special to the Business Journal

When construction costs are estimated based on the conceptual design of a commercial project, various contractor trade line items inevitably are going to be overlooked. Frequently, construction costs run dramatically over what was budgeted.

How can you keep cost overruns to a minimum?

The best thing you can do with any project is involve your general contractor during the design phase. The general contractor can work with the design team and act as a cost check to help the designers stay within the owner’s budget.

By involving a general contractor from the conceptual stages, the project usually goes much faster. When the designer and contractor work hand-in-hand, the joint effort can shave months off of design time.

Contractors also have “hands-on” knowledge of material cost and availability.

Whether a remodel or new construction, it is important to verify the site’s existing conditions during the early stages of design. By investing time in the verification during the design phase, you can avoid the potential of some extremely disruptive events during construction in terms of costs and scheduling.

Another way to help stay within your budget is to have a well-defined set of drawings. Allocating more money to your design budget allows your architect to output a more detailed set of plans. This will save you a considerable amount on the back end due to the fact that you will have fewer change orders.

– Communication Is

A Critical Ingredient

Communication between the owner and architect is a critical ingredient in a successful design process. The owner also should frequently conduct a review of the plans with the architect to confirm that the owner understands the development of the design.

This process allows for any changes or adjustments to be made during design, rather than in the field. This can help prevent user dissatisfaction and costly change orders.

It is also important that a “constructibility review” be performed during the latter part of the development of the construction documents to help identify problems.

During this process, the contractor or construction manager can review the design to ensure that the feature can be physically constructed as it is designed.

As an example, a design detail for one project depicted a building’s exterior wall, supported by a glass storefront. The proper connection of the wall to the steel frame of the building was never developed in the plans.

As a result, there was a change order to add steel connections to support the wall. Not only did this add to the cost of labor and materials, but the project was delayed significantly.

– Working With A

Complete Set Of Plans

When you perform a comprehensive review, you usually see the benefit of more competitive bids, limited change orders, and a reduction of time-consuming requests for information. With a complete and accurate set of plans, the contractor can build without requesting direction at every stage.

Every developer knows that construction delays can mean thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of dollars in lost revenue and added interest costs. It is critical that every construction project have an accurate, thorough and realistic schedule.

You also need to make sure that the subcontractors are well-managed. One delay can have a domino effect, throwing everybody off track.

For example, an automatic fire sprinkler subcontractor once tried to cut expenses by installing the sprinkler systems working from ladders, rather than utilizing electric man lifts. Not having to rent the lifts may have helped that contractor see a bigger profit on the job, but it delayed the project and ended up costing the owner a lot of money in the end.

These things need to be talked about at the beginning of a project, so every person on that job site understands what needs to be done, and in what time frame.

Choosing the right team, from architect to subcontractors, can make a big difference in the end results and final cost of your project. It is critical that you establish a thorough prequalification process, and check references. One bad apple in the bunch can give you disastrous results.

– Project Team Members

Should Fit Well Together

It is also important that the different pieces of the project team have similar philosophies and management styles to help ensure harmonious working relationships.

Even if the subcontracting firm has a spotless reputation, make sure they commit to putting the right people on the job. Nearly every trade needs to have someone onsite who is authorized to make decisions. Waiting for responses can add considerably to a project’s timeline.

With the projects of today becoming increasingly complex, combined with the shrinking of delivery timelines, it can be a challenge to bring a project in under budget. By following a few basic principles, however, it can be done. Selecting the proper project team is the first step in the right direction.

Keeton is president of Keeton Construction Co.

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