The bidding process for construction projects requires that a strong team is assembled from the outset of the project. In addition to a general contractor, large projects require many professionals such as architects, engineers, consultants, designers, landscape architects, etc. This is an enormous number of “moving parts”. Organizing and establishing a comprehensive scope of services or work for the contractor and each professional is a critical task best performed by a professional construction manager.
Assemble a well-functioning and coordinated professional team.
In the schematic design phase, the project architect should establish a complete design program that identifies in general terms all the client’s desired scope for the project. Once the project program has been defined, it is imperative to translate the initial requirements into various scopes of services to assemble a professional team that is optimal for the project.
In addition to a licensed architect, most projects require multiple professionals including structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, civil and geotechnical engineers, landscape design, and often waterproofing or other specialty consultants to prepare integrated design documents. Deliverables will include drawings and technical specifications for each discipline and who must convert the scope of work into the required engineering services and comprehensive bid documents for the eventual contractor. Determining how the work of each of these different professionals should interface is a skill based on experience and is best performed by the project architect or by a construction manager in consultation with the architect.
Typically, when the construction manager provides bid management services, a Request for Proposal (RFP) is generated. The RFP lists all services to be performed, including the schematic design package as developed to date, along with assumptions and project requirements such as timing of design phase, permitting requirements and contract terms. An RFP for an electrical engineer, for example, will include the existing and required main service, define responsibility for working with the utility company for required upgrades, definition of lighting packages and intent, site power and lighting requirements, low voltage, security and communication systems, mechanical equipment and a list of equipment that requires power, and a host of other requirements. The electrical engineer should also be fully engaged to perform construction administration services during the construction phase, inspect the contractor’s work and ensure compliance with design and code. All of this and more should be specified in the RFP and provided to multiple electrical engineers to obtain competing proposals that are apples-to-apples. In this way, the project team is assembled through professional bidding, with each participant having a clear scope of services that does not omit or overlap with other scope.
Early planning should include identification and evaluation of existing conditions.
Another important planning requirement is that existing conditions are identified and understood as much as possible. Often the RFP for bidding includes requirements during the design phase for site evaluation of existing conditions, invasive testing, load calculations and other measures. A clear understanding of pre-existing conditions prior to finalizing the drawings and construction documents will provide key guidance on how to accomplish the project. Building systems are tightly interrelated. A quality re-roofing project, for example, requires integrating all elements at the roof level: flashing, siding or stucco at the roof to wall juncture, gutters, roof drainage, parapets or cornice work, mechanical systems or other rooftop equipment, penetrations for piping and conduit, and integration of chimneys and skylights. Waterproofing between all these assemblies must be properly integrated. If the roof is existing, these assemblies must be understood to create a complete and thorough bid package for the contractor.
Engage contractors at the design stage for their input.
Ideally, the contractor would be engaged for preconstruction services and become part of the design team. For large projects, engaging contractors at the design stage provides a wealth of benefits for the project. A good general contractor will perform required site investigations, produce interim budgets based on incremental drawing packages, provide schedule implications, identification of long-lead items and constructability review and other key tasks that will not only inform the design, but keep the project on budget. Unless the client is experienced with development, it makes no sense to produce 100% design drawings only to learn upon contractor bidding that the project is 25% or more over budget. Early planning can reduce these kinds of surprises, avoid delays and keep the project design close to budget.
It is still possible to obtain competitive proposals from general contractors, even in the scenario when they provide early preconstruction services. A good construction manager will prepare an RFP to multiple general contractors that includes requirements for fee, general conditions and insurance costs, proposed project staffing, preconstruction fees, relevant experience and other requirements. In this way, multiple GCs can provide proposals and be evaluated on their own costs. Then, using a GMP type contract method, trade contracts are reviewed and evaluated on a line item basis, ensuring competition is maintained on both the general and subcontractor levels.
Issue a Request for Proposals to multiple contractors to ensure competition.
Alternatively, if the project is to be a stipulated sum bid (design-bid-build), after the professional team has been fully engaged and the drawings and specifications completed, the project is ready for contractor bidding. Bid documents should include general conditions and requirements that address site-related conditions such as safety considerations and temporary access requirements, payment terms, insurance requirements and the form of contract. Consult with your professional construction manager or attorney regarding construction contracts.
Once all these documents are assembled into a bid package, you are finally ready to begin the bidding process. Carefully prequalify those whom you invite to bid. Confirm licensure and the quality of their insurance coverage. Inquire into their company stability, size and years in business. Make sure the contractor has performed projects of comparable size and dollar value. Once the bids are received, your construction manager will analyze them carefully to ensure that contractors have not missed items such as ancillary trade work that could fall in the cracks during the overall project. Those are common reasons for change orders and mid-project cost overruns. Finally, conduct interviews to determine the potential bidders’ strengths and weaknesses and discuss issues such as:
- Can they commit sufficient staff to complete your project on schedule? Do they have other projects that may compete with yours for attention?
- Meet the intended project manager and site superintendent to make certain they have previous relevant experience with projects of the same size and scale. Also, do they have experience with the type of construction, intended materials and manufactured systems?
- Are there warranties and extended care considerations you should be aware of? What is their service policy and record once the project is complete?
- Take the time to tour similar projects they’ve completed.
- Check References! You’d be surprised at the type and extent of information references can provide if you simply take the time to ask.
It is virtually impossible to compare apples-to-apples bids without professionally prepared specifications. Who is awarded the project should not be just about price, but also about their ability to deliver and willingness to be part of a controlled process to meet cost and schedule requirements. The value a good construction manager provides generally saves owners money well in excess of their fees. During construction, their presence on-site provides independent monitoring and quality control, coordination and ongoing management of the budget and schedule. A construction manager will manage the project team to bring out their best work to meet the vision and goals of the project and most importantly, ensure a properly planned and successful project.