K-State Olathe uses innovative design-build method for first building

July 19, 2010

OLATHE, Kan. - Design-build is not the traditional construction method used for public projects such as a university campus. However, the idea of the newest segment of K-State is not to get mired in how different processes have been done in the past. Rather, the goal at K-State Olathe is to try new methods and take advantage of new opportunities.

For K-State Olathe, design-build began by contracting with DesignSense, Inc. to act as the owner's representative throughout the designing and building processes.

DesignSense helped K-State Olathe create a request for qualifications (RFQ) and request for proposal (RFP) for design-build teams. The RFQ set out what K-State Olathe needed in the team; the criteria allowed for the creation of a short-list of the most qualified teams out of the 23 teams that responded. The RFP detailed what K-State Olathe needed in the building; it gave teams a budget, schedule and prioritized list of programmatic requirements.

Outlining the budget and schedule constraints was not difficult, but determining the programmatic requirements was another story. For this reason, K-State brought in teams of its faculty, staff and collaborators to discuss what spaces would be required for this new building. Six teams, each composed of four to six experts, represented these areas: food service/food safety; diagnostic analytical services; interactive education and presentation; veterinary clinical demonstration; investigator-initiated research; and reception/administration.

These teams provided guidance on what spaces would need to look like, types and sizes of rooms, and types of and brands of equipment to include. They also counseled on what mistakes to avoid and took tours of existing facilities at K-State and other places and mentioned what aspects they liked and which ones they did not. The teams also rearranged so as to include different types of experts in every group, and each of the groups came up with a solution to the arrangement of spaces to be most convenient and practical for the users.

After receiving all this input and feedback, DesignSense reassembled the teams to go over everything again. They advised which walls needed to be fixed – to provide infrastructure for the building – and which needed to be changeable – to give flexibility as the building becomes occupied. Members also had to decide whether spaces were truly necessary, and the spaces were ranked one of three ways: "mission critical," "highly desirable," and "if possible."

Through this process, DesignSense got the information it needed to construct the RFP.

Meanwhile, other experts were reviewing the 23 responses to the RFQ. A committee of stakeholders with technical expertise eliminated the ones that did not match the criteria and ranked the remaining contenders. Accompanied by DesignSense, a three-person selection committee of K-State and K-State Olathe administrators reviewed those contenders. The top three design-build teams were invited to respond to the RFP.

Two days after responses were submitted, the three teams were interviewed. The finalists made individual presentations to an audience that included members of the technical and selection committees as well as K-State Olathe Board of Directors. After the presentations, the proposals were reviewed and evaluated first by the technical committee and then by the selection committee, with latter considering the presentation, the proposal and the technical committee comments.

When it was all said and done, the team of 360 Architecture and The Weitz Company had the job to design and build the International Animal Health and Food Safety Institute. 360/Weitz was chosen because it presented the best value – it met the most requirements of the RFP while staying within the budget.

By using the design-build method and thereby combining design and construction professionals into one team, K-State Olathe greatly simplified the building process. Instead of having to coordinate with two separate entities, design and construction concerns can be addressed simultaneously, and any changes that one side might cause the other can be worked out right then because members of both professions are present in the group.

"We can actually design the site work and the foundations and the concrete first, without the rest of the building being designed," said Nate Purdy, a project manager for The Weitz Company. "So we can get started on that, and get going faster, and then just design the rest of the building based on what we did design for the site work and the footings and the concrete, so it's kind of a faster process."

Not only does design-build allow construction to begin more quickly, it's like a one-stop shop, as far as K-State Olathe is concerned.

"The architect, 360, is under our contract," Purdy said. "So it's, 'Weitz, you're responsible for design, you're responsible for construction, you're responsible for everything.'"

Design-bid-build, the customary method for public projects, works something like this: An architect creates a design, builders evaluate the plans and give a cost estimate for the building, and the owner chooses a builder. When cooperation between the designers and builders does not begin until after the plans are already complete, it is common for conflict between the groups to slow down the construction process and potentially add cost to the project.

According to a Tyson Building Corporation report comparing project delivery systems, design-build is 6% less costly than design-bid-build, 33% faster than design-bid-build, and exceeds quality expectations at all levels.

"Design-build is becoming more and more popular," Purdy said. "I'd say probably between 5 and 10 years ago, there was design-build on maybe a third of the projects out there. Now it's getting closer to half."

- By Ashley Dunkak -