Construction Document Phase Services


CarolinaFireJournal - Jim McClure
Jim McClure
10/10/2014 -

The next phase is Construction Documents (CDs). Once the owner and architect are satisfied with the documents produced during Design Development (DD), the architect moves forward and produces drawings with greater detail. These drawings typically include specifications for construction details and materials. Once CDs are satisfactorily produced, the architect sends them to contractors for pricing or bidding, if part of the contract. The level of detail in CDs may vary depending on the owner’s preference. If the CD set is not 100 percent complete, this is noted on the CD set when it is sent out for bid. This phase results in the contractor’s final estimate of project costs.


“Deliverables: The construction document phase produces a set of drawings that include all pertinent information required for the contractor to price and build the project.”

— American Institute of Architects

This is the third time I have used the AIA’s definitions as springboards for my writing. The first two, Schematic Design (SD) and Design Development (DD) had more text to describe a relatively shorter part of this process. I find it ironic that the shortest definition describes the longest, most arduous part of the design procedure. Thirty-three words do not accurately describe the process needed to get from Design Development to Construction Document Bid Set. While the first two usually turn around in a couple of months each, CDs will take months to be ready for someone’s signature. We will discuss more about signatures later.

There will and should be more communication between you and the architect. As it says in the definition above, the architect will “produce drawings with greater detail.”The goal is to have a set of drawings that contractors can bid on and build from without any brain damage. There is an inherent conflict in this process. The architect is under a contract for a fixed amount of money. Therefore, they want to minimize their expenses. So they are hoping for the least amount of revisions, meetings, conference calls and the shortest schedule. This does not make them bad people, it is just business. You on the other hand want to get it right. You want to get into the new firehouse as soon as possible but you want to ensure the building works.

At this point I need to digress. We need to talk about the architect selection process for a moment. Where I work, architects are picked by qualifications, not price. We are not allowed to pick an architect just because he is our brother-in-law or she is the mayor’s wife. We interview a short list of firms based on their submitted qualifications. After picking our top choice, a contract price is negotiated. I cannot stress enough how important it is to do background checks on the firms you interview. Preferably before you invite them to the interview. Talk to the other fire departments where they designed buildings. Ask how open and responsive they were to you. Ask how many times they asked for more money over and above the original contract. Talk to as many people as you can. Determine if they were flat out nonresponsive on some issues. I found out too late the power of the Internet. If we had just Googled the last firm we chose, we may have gone in a different direction. Frustrated with the lack of response, I started doing research. I found articles related to delays and lawsuits on another public projects they did. Their M.O. was the same as we were experiencing. On the other hand, when you hear from your counterpart in another city that his experience with a firm was so good the architects stayed at his house and they played golf together, you know you have a winner.

Back to the mission at hand. The CDs have phases within them based on percentages. There are variables at play. Your professional project management team may require specific percentages as targets, i.e. 30 percent, 70 percent, 100 percent and Bid Set. The first set of CDs can also be as high as 50 percent with a jump to 95 percent after that. Remember these are just a continuation of the earlier work. You will have three to four opportunities to review, question, correct, cajole or wrangle the plans to meet your Program Statement. Sometimes you receive a set labeled 90 percent or 95 percent, but when you finish your markups they are nowhere near that percentage. The phase, “upon further review...” comes to mind. Sorry, I had to say that. Football season started the day I wrote this.

Sharpen your pencils and your memory. You will need both from this point on. Last issue I wrote about reviewing the plans to see how they match up with the previous documents. From this point on this is all you are doing.

I should have mentioned this last issue. Whether reviewing the DDs or the CDs, do not just check the items and pages you marked up on the previous version. Review every sheet. Pages will have been added and you will miss something. More importantly, the fixes you asked for in the previous review may affect something else. If either of these conditions occurs without your knowledge, I guarantee that when you find it later, it will be too late to fix it. I have hinted at this situation before. The worse case scenario is not realizing the actual issue until the walls are up. Then everyone realizes the day room is too small. True story, early in my tenure, but the details will have to be in another issue.

Here’s another true story about the 50 percent CDs we received for the last project I worked on. You would think I had seen everything after 10 new buildings.

The architecture firm changed project managers on us. OK, happened before, no big deal. How did it affect us? They re-numbered the rooms and re-arranged the pages. Try finding the correlating items from the previous version when your reference points are gone! When I pointed this out their only response was, “Yes.”I had so little trust in this firm I accused them of doing it deliberately to hide things.

After reviewing and “marking up” the plan set, 30 pages had comments; one page had 27 comments and another had 28. There were a total of 152 comments from me. This was only for the Architectural, Mechanical and Plumbing pages. The Civil, Structural, Electrical and Landscape comments were in another document.

In the Winter 2014 issue my article included a screen shot of a SD markup sheet. It was from this same firm. Yes, they are the firm mentioned in my digression above. It never got any better. On this page is an abbreviated Markup Sheet from the same firm. It contains my comments for plans labeled 100 percent CD.

I do not want to give you the idea that they were non-responsive on everything. The complete sheet had 70 items. Forty-eight line items were OK but the 22 listed here were incorrect or listed on my 95 percent CD review. I have highlighted my comments in shades of red.

The Comments column shows my initial response to the 100 percent CD plan set. I pointed out 11 times that I had listed an item at the 95 percent review. Three times in my response I made reference to a detailed list of standards and equipment I sent the year before. Of course this was to the project manager who was no longer on the project. Particularly irritating are item A2.01, Note 31, item A5.02, Detail 1 and item A5.03, Detail 1. All three were originally made the year before either at the end of the DD phase or the beginning of the CD phase. You would think that if you looked in the dictionary for the phase non-responsive these three would be the examples you find but you would be wrong.

The best examples (worst offenders?) would be the following responses found in the “Consultant” column - A2.01, Notes 3 and 31, A2.01, Note 56 and A5.02, Detail 2. Although they responded to my original comments, you can see by my additional comments they did not actually address the concern. By the way, my five comments to their responses were in red when I sent them originally. I did not just highlight it for this article.

Earlier I mentioned a change of project managers. This does happen occasionally but for this job we had at least four over the life of the project. With each change there was a loss of institutional memory of our program needs and requirements. This was another reason that I had to constantly refer back to earlier documents.

This finally degenerated into an epic battle with the architects saying, “My requests were changes in scope and would require additional funding.” These guys had guts. The card they were playing was meant to scare me off. If I was responsible for a change of scope then they could ask for more money under the heading of Additional Services. They thought I would back off or the city would back down.

The other problem was foreshadowed by their constantly delaying their responses “to the next version.” Some of the things I was critiquing did not show up until the 95 percent CDs and they said it is too late now to change it without an Additional Service Contract. As you recall, my early communications with this firm were meant to prevent this but they tried anyway.

I don’t know how they could do this when I had a complete written record of ALL correspondence from the beginning of the project. This is when my on-line search found similar bad behavior on another project.

My response was to quote chapter and verse from meeting minutes, emails and the markup sheets from the beginning of the project. That won most the battles. I did lose a few. Ironically two involved the fact that the public would be in the building occasionally.

We had to put in a water fountain due to a building code change, Item A2.01, Note 56. Of course the code ignores the fact that we have a full kitchen with plenty of water and cups. Conversely, they conveniently disregarded the fact that children would be in the building either on tours or from our own families visiting, particularly during the holiday shifts. Item A2.02, Note 10 —the stair rails were not designed with vertical balusters but horizontal stainless steel cables as the protective fall barrier. Code requires that there be no opening greater than four inches to prevent a child from slipping through. In essence, they created a ladder effect. I repeatedly told them so but their response totally ignores the facts and uses the old stand by, “But we’ve always done it that way.” City staff did not back me on these two. Licensed professionals always follow code even if there is a logical alternative. Also, the architects liked the aesthetic of the stair rail.

The bottom line on all this is to motivate you to document, document, document. Save every email, memo and the minutes of every meeting. If you were not at a meeting get a copy of those minutes. If you have a conversation with someone you need to send a quick “recap email” to the person you talked to. If their understanding was different they will correct you which leads to a more precise record of the project.

Two unique events occurred as a result of all this drama. First, we hired an outside firm to do a Constructability Review. There was lack of faith in the CDs. Second, this firm would not be used as the Project Manager during construction. This was the only project we changed horses on.

Remember the golfing architects earlier? We’ll hear about them next month.

(This is part eight in our exciting journey.)

Jim McClure is the owner of Firehouse Design and Construction (FD&C). The mission of FD&C is “to help firefighters, architects and government agencies design and build maintainable, durable, and most importantly, functional firehouses.” McClure’s career in public safety spans almost 29 years. For more information visit,, call 408-603-4417 or email [email protected].

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