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How To—Cooperative strategy between architects and contractors may save time

Putting together a strong, solid project team is the key to any successful development project.

By matching the right architect with the right general contractor, a team is created with the common goal of providing the highest quality product for the most competitive cost. In the case of most projects, however, the general contractor is an under-utilized resource.

By involving the general contractor early on, you can enhance communications, ensure harmonious relationships and maximize efficiency. More specifically, teaming with the right general contractor early in the game produces the following benefits:

—Accuracy of budget , Contractors can give invaluable input on the project’s preliminary budget. The contractor is there, in the trenches, day after day, dealing with such things as tight schedules, subcontractors and material buyouts.

Without the contractor’s input, precious time can be lost if an architect develops a set of drawings based upon the owner’s “wish list,” only to be faced with numerous changes later when the project goes over budget. Oftentimes, this creates frustrations for the project team. Using the contractor as a continual “cost check” , starting with the initial stages of design , can help keep the project on the right track.

—Value engineering , The contractor can suggest cost-effective design alternatives and provide value engineering for the project. In one such case, an owner wanted her building to have an all-glass exterior. For aesthetic purposes, the designer’s structural engineer gave the building a structural design of columns with flagpole footings, which makes the structural supports invisible from the exterior of the building.

As an alternative, the contractor suggested changing the structural supports from columns to brace framing. Initially, the architect was concerned that the building would lose some of its aesthetic value because the brace frames would be visible.


– Modifications Can Save Money

In the end, design modifications were made to conceal the brace frames through strategic placement. The building was still structurally sound and visually appealing to the owner, who saved nearly $200,000 through the team’s joint effort.

—Mechanical and electrical cost , On less complex projects, it is a good idea to have the general contractor bring in specialty contractors to help design systems such as electrical and plumbing.

But the real advantage and cost savings come from having each related trade involved, and held 100 percent accountable for their respective system, including installation, testing, approvals and warranty. This accountability leaves no room for error, and no fingers to point.

—Material selections , The contractor can also assist the design team with material selections. Many times, the contractor is in a better position to recommend materials that meet the owner’s and architect’s requirements for aesthetics, quality, cost and availability.


– Teams A Plus For Meeting Schedules

—Time schedules , Finally, one of the most important benefits of teaming designers and contractors early in the project is the drastically reduced length of time it takes to bring a project from concept to completion.

Having a project come in on time and under budget not only ensures its success, it makes the project team look good and the client happy. By combining their talents throughout the entire duration of the project, both the architect and general contractor stand to reap substantial benefits in terms of enhanced client relationships and repeat business.

Keeton is president of Keeton Construction Co.

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