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October 31, 2018 Article 4 min read

Ready to build or renovate? District leaders should follow these six steps to make sure they're optimizing the school district's limited dollars during construction.

2 little girls counting money on a table in schools

Ready to build or renovate?

Entering into the construction process with a solid strategy is critical for districts who want to use their limited dollars wisely. To determine the best strategy for addressing your district’s facility needs within the constraints of your budget, here are six steps you need to take.

Step 1: Evaluate your buildings and properties

Districts often overlook how their facilities can support the curriculum in the most cost-effective manner. Start by documenting a districtwide plan to address school renovations, updates, or maintenance. Four parts will go into this capital plan:

  1. Evaluation of the district’s current finances and future financing options
  2. Data to describe future pupil enrollment
  3. Systematic evaluations of building utilization
  4. Facility condition assessments for each building and site owned by the district, with associated costs for renovations

All of this information provides unbiased data that will help school boards, administrators, and the community understand how expansion, contraction, renovation, and construction should be balanced to preserve your district’s operational dollars and support academic programming.

Step 2: Consider a disposition strategy

To make sure project costs remain low, your construction decisions should be in line with how much space your staff, students, and community will need. An important, yet overlooked, part of this step is the disposition strategy. Dispositions of unused or underused properties can become funding source for renovations to other buildings. They could also offer opportunity for redevelopment that can bring more families to the community.

Districts that are consolidating buildings will want to evaluate the properties on several levels:

  • How do your facilities relate to your educational objectives?
  • How will your district grow and change?
  • Where should your facilities be located to best accommodate students and the community?
  • Which buildings are the most cost-effective to operate?
  • What pieces of property are the most valuable?

For example, if you have multiple high schools, do they each need their own performing arts center or is it possible to have a regional facility? If two middle school buildings are operating at 35 percent utilization, how might you consolidate buildings and allocate those operating costs more effectively? It’s a lot to consider, but only after these questions are answered can you leverage those opportunities accordingly.

Step 3: Get expert support for your in-house staff

Everyone knows construction projects require an architect and a constructor (such as a general contracting firm or construction project management firm). However, districts should also consider an independent team of professional who provide owner’s representation services. Owner’s representative firms can help districts use their limited dollars to maximum effect.

What’s the difference between a construction manager, architect, and owner’s representative? Find out in this blog post.

Owner’s representative firms often pay for themselves in terms of alleviating staff time, budget and schedule mistakes, and project delivery snafus. They can coordinate the process from planning and project team bidding through post-construction, providing expertise to help the project team get project the done correctly, on time, and on budget.

Step 4: Assemble an experienced team

Assembling the right team for your projects is critical to protecting your capital investment. When it comes to selecting the best fit, remember — “you don’t need a heart surgeon to remove a mole.” Make sure you choose the right owner’s representative firm, architect, and contractor for your budget and select a team that specializes in building to that price point.

Because they have no conflicts of interest, owner representatives can recruit and coordinate multiple architects and construction managers, if necessary, to make sure your project benefits from the top talent available at multiple firms. This reduces time and improves quality—at the same cost.

Step 5: Establish a budget and schedule

Costing out projects is essential, as many projects tend to go 10 to 20 percent over budget. Project budgets should include more than just hard costs — also add in soft costs such as professional service fees, technology, FF&E (furniture, fixtures, and equipment), contingencies, permit fees, issuance costs, and others. Setting a realistic budget will take coordination and cooperation between the owner’s representative firm, architect, and construction project manager or general contractor. Owner’s representative firms will help oversee reviews of schematic design, design development, and construction documents for adherence to the budget and scope.

Time is money, so it’s also important to devise an appropriate project timeline. The project schedule should be aggressive yet realistic, with a well-planned phasing sequence. Projects scheduled strategically within the context of the school year and overall capital plan will minimize downtime and costs.

Costing out projects is essential, as many projects tend to go 10 to 20 percent over budget.

Step 6: Oversee the construction process

At some point in the process, the construction manager will likely come to you and say, “We need to do x, and the cost will be y.” Once construction is underway, it’s important that the district understand how to manage change orders to reduce unnecessary costs and stick to the budget.

An independent owner’s representative firm can you evaluate the project changes and estimated costs from many perspectives:

  • Minimizing the introduction of added scope
  • Performing a thorough review of all proposed changes by always asking, “Is this legitimate? Should there be a credit for work no longer required? What can be done as a ‘no cost’ solution?” and exploring viable alternate solutions that might minimize costs
  • Continuously update actual costs vs. budgeted costs to avoid any financial “surprises”

Conclusion

How to save time and money on school renovation projects is simple: document a capital plan and find experienced K-12 owner’s representative firm who has expertise to help guide your projects from concept to completion.

If your school district is would like assistance with capital planning, contact our team today. Our owner’s representatives have helped dozens of schools with more than $2 billion in capital projects over the last 20 years. We’d be happy to leverage that experience to help your district create a cost-effective capital plan.