Mar 10, 2006

A Growing Trend

Recently, the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) Manufacturers/Associates Council and the Joint AWWA and Associated General Contractors Committee revealed to the water and wastewater industry that they are interested in the trends of project delivery systems. One of the most popular and successful methods is design-build.

Brian Perlberg, director of government affairs and general counsel for the Design-Build Institute of America, said, “In 1993, only nine states had specific authorization for public sector design-build—now 44 states do. Design-build is trending upward because once owners try design-build and follow best practices, they like it and use it more.”

A Pennsylvania State University/Construction Industry Institute study showed that design-build is 33% faster and 6% less expensive than traditional construction methods. In addition, litigation claims were reduced more than 60% with this method, according to Perlberg.

“For instance, the Washington Borough Wastewater Treatment Plant in Warren County, N.J., which processes 1.2 mgd, put bids out as both a design-build project and a design-bid-build project. The winning design-build team saved the county $2.8 million, or 25% of the cost of a design-bid-build project,” Perlberg said.

Integrated project delivery

Drew Goins, assistant director of water production for the city of Augusta, Ga., recalled his experience with integrated project delivery for the city’s new surface water treatment plant.

“Augusta chose the design-build method over the traditional design-bid-build method for several reasons,” Goins said.

These reasons included scheduling, budget control, change management, performance responsibility and quality assurance. According to Goins, the keys to their design-build success included:

  • Defining individual roles up front;
  • A good QA/QC system; and
  • Early involvement of the operations staff, which enhanced training and startup.

“The most important message I can convey to a potential owner contemplating the design-build delivery method is to be prepared to be fully engaged in the project,” Goins said. “Also, be prepared to make final decisions after receiving input from the team. The momentum and success of the project depend on being willing to make a decision.”

Other owners describe similar experiences. Awni Qaqish, assistant director for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, said the utility has used design-build for more than 20 large projects during the last 10 years and has saved tens of millions of dollars over project estimates.

Paul Kinsella, superintendent for the city of Phoenix, said less than 10% of the utility’s projects are now “low bid” projects. The city is moving away from them because design-build projects have been “generally good experiences.”

Mark Alpert, senior vice president for design-build for CH2M HILL and member of the Design-Build Institute Water Committee, said, “The drivers of use of design-build include scheduling demands, implementation of new and emerging technologies, and the intent to assign a single point of responsibility to the ‘design-builder’ for the delivery of the specific project.”

Communication is key

While no project delivery system is infallible, the best thing about design-build may be the fact that it forces communication. Communication between water and wastewater utilities and suppliers is critical. Early involvement of suppliers in projects can result in favorable outcomes.

For instance, pipe suppliers may be able to help design a pipeline to eliminate unnecessary and expensive fittings. Many manufacturers and distributors may be able to supply a better design with early input when they understand the ultimate intent.

“Design-build works on a variety of projects and offers the operational component to the project as an option. This is called design-build-operate,” explained Oscar A. Khoury, a senior project engineer for the San Diego Water Department. “This allows the owner to have the design-builder operate the facility for a predetermined number of years at an agreed cost.”

As chairman of the Water and Wastewater Owners’ Council for the Design-Build Institute of America, Khoury interacts with public owners—many new to the design-build arena—who are stretching their comfort zones with design-build. Because of the single-source accountability, design-build offers both time and cost savings for owners while increasing quality and reducing litigation.

“It is important that the documents used in the selection and contracting process are good and comprehensive,” Khouri said.

Khouri also recommended reviewing standard documents developed by the Design-Build Institute of America (available at that can be used for different water or wastewater projects.

About the author

Marlay B. Price is vice president of marketing for water and wastewater at Gannett Fleming. He can be reached at 717/763-7211 or by e-mail at [email protected].