Education & Workforce Development and Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

University takes advantage of new design-build law: IU finishes its first building under construction process

March 26, 2007

What do the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal have in common?

Each project was both designed and built by the same people. Basically, they were among the first design-build projects in history.

What seemed like a good idea hundreds and thousands of years ago has been slower to take hold in modern times. These days, most construction projects are still completed by separate entities-one that draws up the plans and another that brings those plans to life.

But times are changing now that Indiana allows the public sector to use the designbuild process. Under a law passed in 2005, Indiana University recently completed the first public-sector, design-build project in the state-and more like it are on the way.

Open since late February, the IU Service Building houses offices for the university architect, engineer and other physical plant functions.

A design-build team composed of Indianapolis-based Axis Architecture + Interiors and F.A. Wilhelm Construction Co. Inc. built the 79,500-square-foot facility at a cost of $12.4 million.

Design-build is a system of contracting under which one entity carries out both the architecture and construction portions of a project. By contrast, the design-bid-build process takes place when an owner commissions architectural plans, then takes bids from contractors to complete the work for the lowest price.

Breaking out of the traditional bid process was an eye-opening experience for Indiana University architect Robert Meadows, and one he'd liked to duplicate elsewhere on campus.

"When the architect and builder are able to work together, it allows the process to work very well," he said.

Officials estimate they saved several months by using the design-build method on the IU Service Building and shaved about 3.5 percent off the cost of building it the traditional way.

Plans are under way for two more design-build projects on the Bloomington campus. Indianapolis-based Shiel Sexton Co. Inc. has already been selected for a 28,000-square-foot office and classroom building, and the university is preparing to review proposals for a $3 million optometry clinic, Meadows said.

The state law, which excludes transportation projects, makes $833 million in annual schools projects and $70 million in annual public works projects eligible for the design-build process.

But experts agree design-build isn't a good fit across the board.

"Design-build is a tool in our toolbox," Meadows said. "It's not appropriate to use it for every project, but certain projects lend themselves well to the process."

A good candidate for design-build is often a project of some urgency that can take advantage of the inherent collaboration and be completed more quickly. That was the case with the IU Service Building, which was needed to consolidate several functions and replace another building that was being supplanted with a research facility.

Design-build also works well on less complex projects such as parking garages, F.A. Wilhelm Vice President Larry Roan said.

Though it's not the answer for every project, Roan said, design-build in general is favorable because "it eliminates the potential gaps between what a designer designs and the builder builds. One party is responsible and you can get a project done faster by focusing on what is important."

An increasingly popular option in the private sector, design-build hasn't always been embraced by public officials. In 1993, only Virginia allowed the process to be used in its public sector.

Since then, all but four states-Rhode Island, Michigan, Iowa and Alabama-have passed laws breaking down public barriers to design-build, according to Walker Lee Evey, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Design-Build Institute of America.

He advocates design-build because it allows owners to get the best value for their money, he said.

"When you award to the lowest bidder," Evey said, "contractors competing for the work are totally driven by what's cheapest." That typically leads to cost overruns, schedule delays and litigation, what Evey calls the "three handmaidens" of designbid-build.

Hoosier lawmakers joined the majority of states with the 2005 law, which allows localities, public education and state agencies to use design-build. The legislation requires public entities to establish review committees composed of architects, engineers and contractors to evaluate proposals based on price and overall qualifications.

With design-build, owners review pro posals from design-build teams and use a scoring system to determine the best one often exposing them to ideas they hadn' considered.

"The design that we accepted-I don' think it was the direction we would have gone," Meadows said of the IU Service Building. "But after we reviewed it, we realized it had merit."

The university committee reviewed pro posals from eight design-build teams, bas ing 50 percent of the total score on design and 50 percent on cost. The result was a one-story building with exposed ductwork giving the facility a "loft" appeal, Axis Architecture partner Drew White said.

This was the first design-build collabo ration between Axis and F.A. Wilhelm.
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