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In our Texas and Oklahoma offices, the benefits of this project delivery method are gaining popularity. But what concerns still hang over a method that is all about transparency and collaboration?

By Jason Beiter, Lou Campero, Conrad Hammond,Chris Migneron, and Chris Peck

The Myths

Click each myth to learn more

  1. “With design-build, I lose control over key decisions.”
  2. “Design-Build introduces more risk in the budget.”
  3. “My priorities won’t be heard.”
  4. “Public sector procurement rules limit design-build contracts.”

The Texas commercial construction industry is facing unique post pandemic challenges. Unprecedented demand in both the public and private sectors, combined with supply chain issues, and inflation necessitate a higher level of collaboration between owners, designers, and contractors to mitigate increasing cost and schedule risk. 

Effectively utilizing design-build project delivery can address many of these challenges. For years design-build has been a prevalent construction delivery method along the West coast, East coast, and Pacific Northwest regions of the United States. However, only in the last few years has design-build project delivery gained traction in Texas.

As design-build delivery continues to grow, it is important to expose the myths of design-build to shed light on the benefits it can bring to a project’s cost and schedule.

Myth # 1: “With design-build, I lose control over key decisions.”

What can be unsettling to clients is a perceived loss of design control since the design team is contracted direct to the builder.  In a true design-build approach, the builder fosters dialogue between the owner and design partners to ensure their project program and vision is realized. 

“As builders we do not want to dictate the design. We want to leave room for creativity and innovative design to develop,” said Chris Migneron, National Design Director for JE Dunn, “Our preconstruction resources for schedule, cost, and constructability help to inform the design decisions our architects are making on behalf of the owner and our design-build team. That helps to reinforce an efficient design process and eliminate costly re-design or value engineering by the design team.”

Once the design and budget goals are established, the integrated design-build team works closely with the owner through all phases of the design process to maintain design and budget alignment.  

“What JE Dunn teams appreciate about design-build is that we’re brought to the conversation early to discuss constructability, cost, and schedule,” said Lou Campero, JE Dunn Project Executive in Austin.

“We are also entering into design-build partnerships with architects that we have successfully worked with before. Trust amongst the builder and designer is critical to having open conversations about the balance between cost and design value and ensuring the quality of the final product meets the goals of the client. And with the level of material delays and shortages we face today, having these conversations as early as possible has a significant impact on establishing a schedule that is accurate and stays on track.”

That collaboration results in improved quality by having coordinated and detailed drawings from the architect and trade partners so the builder can identify constructability issues and challenges early and avoid them becoming change orders later.

Return to the Myths

Myth #2: “Design-Build introduces more risk in the budget.”

Because design is informed by cost, schedule, and quality input, owners can move into the construction phase with the security that their programmatic goals will be met without playing the role of mediator between the builder and designer.

Design-build delivery also streamlines the design process by focusing on designing to bid packages vs. traditional design milestones. Construction of the sitework, foundations, structure and enclosures can commence while the interior design progresses.

“Fast tracking the project through design-build, can transfer the cost risk for these scopes to the design-builder earlier in the process vs. a traditional delivery. This approach reduces budget risk to the owner,” says Chris Peck, Senior Vice President, and JE Dunn Dallas Office Leader.

This was the method used at the DFW International Airport Public Safety Headquarters completed in 2019 by JE Dunn and PGAL.

“Rather than taking the normal phased approach to design with concept, schematic design, design development and construction documents, our team identified what information was truly needed to support an early construction start and allow material procurement to begin,” said Peck.

“We developed what we called a “super schematic” set of documents that allowed the team to guarantee the project Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) 10 weeks after the first kick-off meeting and allowed us to improve the overall project schedule.”

DFW International Airport’s Public Safety Headquarters was also one of the airport’s first design-build projects and JE Dunn is currently starting two more design-build projects with the airport.

Return to the Myths

Myth #3: “My priorities won’t be heard.”

Identifying the interests and level of involvement of the owner allows the design-builder to develop an approach that works for all stakeholders so when the team enters into the construction phase, communication topics can be prioritized and time used efficiently.  

“One of the first things we do is sit with the client and review the scope and schedule. This is where we ask the questions, ‘How much do you want to be involved, and what matters the most to you on this project?’ said Campero, “It doesn’t mean we gloss over other scopes, but we lean on the trust in the partnership to speed up the review process, build leaner, and streamline coordination between the design-builder and client.”

That trust has been critical to the success of JE Dunn’s Austin projects with LV Collective, Austin-based real estate investment firm, having completed two high-rise residential projects with another currently underway.

On each project, the design-build team, identified the owner’s most pressing interests, so their time was used effectively while keeping them informed on all other work. With every project, LV Collective gave the design-build team more clearance on decisions because of the trust and communication that was built.

Return to the Myths

Myth #4: “Public sector procurement rules limit design-build contracts.”

There has been an uptick in the public sector with design-build delivery, especially for projects that have schedule constraints and want to take advantage of a more streamlined and efficient delivery process.

It’s important for public project owners to understand their legal ability to enter design-build contracts. Rules in Texas have recently changed to offer more flexibility for public projects and the laws are beginning to evolve in Oklahoma as well.

As owners begin to seriously look at this option for their future projects, it’s beneficial to consider their programmatic goals and parameters before selecting their design-build team.

Jason Beiter, Project Executive in the Austin Office, credits the City of Austin (COA) for their sophisticated communication and programmatic goals on their EMS and Fire Stations program, a six-year project building five new fire stations throughout Austin. JE Dunn and PGAL are the design-build team, currently constructing the third station. It’s also one of the first design-build projects COA has undertaken. 

“The most successful design-build projects I’ve been on have a design criteria manual or schematic drawings established prior to the design-build team joining the project,” said Beiter, “When the owner brings these clear guidelines, it shows they know the purpose and function of the space for their end user, and that sets the direction of the project. And it doesn’t take away from the creativity for the architect or the quality, if anything it allows them to design intensely in the right places.”The Texas commercial construction industry is facing unique post pandemic challenges. Unprecedented demand in both the public and private sectors, combined with supply chain issues, and inflation necessitate a higher level of collaboration between owners, designers, and contractors to mitigate increasing cost and schedule risk. 

Return to the Myths

Jason Beiter is VP, Project Executive in Austin; Lou Campero is VP, Project Executive in Austin; Conrad Hammond is Sr. Client Solutions Manager in Houston; Chris Migneron is National Design Director; and Chris Peck is Sr Vice President and Dallas Office Leader.