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School construction projects cost & schedule over-runs...
by Jim Shepherd


March 15, 2005

With regard to some of the concerns about the school construction projects cost and schedule over-runs.  I would like to offer the following comments.  I do not know all of the details but I do know a lot about how school construction projects get into trouble.  I have personally worked on over 65 school additions, renovation or new buildings.  Most of them were in Alaska and in remote locations like Ketchikan. 
I have never had a project that did not finish on time and within budget.  This is how I did it.
1.  I made sure that I followed the State of Alaska's Department of Education's guidelines as closely as possible.  Their application process is very detailed and it will help assure that adequate funding is in place for the work to be done.  Also they require value engineering, life cycle cost analysis and clear project goals and objectives.  Even if you are using local funding for the project their model will benefit the project.
2.  The School District needs to either have on staff or hire a experienced project manager to represent their interest on the project.  This firm or individual must be hired up front and should be responsible for helping establish the project budget based upon educational program based project needs.
3.  Be very careful about selecting your Architect and interview several firms to be sure they have experience on similar projects before you hire them.  Your project manager must manage the design schedule to be sure that the project can bid before the end of January.  Materials can then make barge sailings in the spring and construction can start under bettering weather and not in a winter blizzard.
4.  Pre-qualify your bidders.  Don't hire dry weather contractors and expect them to perform well in SE Alaska.  Do not accept bids from contractors that did not meet your minimum levels of qualifications.
5.  Be sure that you are going to get a good Superintendent.  Almost every project that I have seen get into trouble in Alaska, was a direct result of incompetent supervision.
6.  Do not pay for poor quality work.  Your project manager must be tough but fair.  You need to specify the best and insist that the contractors do it right once.
7.  Plan the work and work the plan.  Insist upon detailed schedules for all aspects of the project.
8.  Do not let change orders hold up the progress of the work.  If changes are necessary approve them quickly.  Today's $500 dollar problem will be a $5,000 dollar problem in a month and if left to fester will end up in court. 
9.  If the Architect has made a mistake on the drawings then he should pay for his mistake.  Do not let the Architect try to pass his problems on to the Contractor.  No matter who is responsible for a problem the entire team should work aggressively to find the best solution for the problem.  Save the finger pointing for the courtroom and resolve the problems at the lowest possible level quickly.
10.  Be sure to get all punch list work closed out as soon as possible.  Keep track of warranty dates and conduct formal inspections at the end of the warranty period.  Be sure that local maintenance crews are instructed in how all building systems work and that spare parts are on hand.  Insist on complete detailed Operating and Maintained Manuals.
I hope my experience benefits your community.
Jim Shepherd, Project Manager
Elkin, NC - USA

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