We’ve always done it that way!

CarolinaFireJournal - By Chris Goins
By Chris Goins
04/24/2015 -

The most dangerous phrase in the English language is “we’ve always done it that way.” How many times have you heard that in your life? Most likely, you’ve heard it at work and probably at home too. It’s a common phrase for someone to say, but we must take a deeper look into that logic to evaluate if it is a good enough reason to do something.


Take for example, Henry Ford. Before he invented the automobile, horses were the best mode of transportation. There is a famous quote from Ford that says, “If I would have asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” It’s safe to assume people told Henry Ford he was crazy to try inventing the car, because the horse had always been the primary way to travel. Perhaps he heard the phrase “we’ve always done it that way.” Imagine if Henry Ford would have listened to those people, we may still be using horse-drawn fire engines today.

The Traditional Way,

Throughout my years in the construction industry, this phrase has been repeated to me over and over again about building fire stations the traditional way — “we’ve always done it that way.” The traditional design-bid-build approach, which involves hiring an architect and sending it out to bid, is not the only way to build a fire station. If someone says, “we’ve always done it that way,” it doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do something. The design and construction industry has evolved. There is now a quicker, more cost-effective way to build a station, and it’s design-build.

The New Way, Design-Build

Over the past 15 years, use of design-build has greatly accelerated in the United States, making this delivery method one of the most significant trends in design and construction today according to the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA). Your ancestors may have ridden horses everywhere, but that doesn’t make it the best way to get around today. The same goes for your new fire station.

DBIA reports that design-build versus traditional bid-build reduces unit costs by 6.1 percent; increases construction speed by 12 percent; accelerates the entire project by 33.5 percent; decreases cost growth by 5.2 percent and schedule growth by 11.4 percent. Design-build has advantages over Construction Manager at Risk projects as well.

Another important aspect of design-build is dealing with a single-source of responsibility for your entire project. No more finger pointing between the architect and general contractor (GC). Everyone is on the same team, working together to deliver a quality fire station, without all the stress. Who wants to play referee between the architect and GC? Why not choose the approach that gives you the best overall experience with the least amount of stress, while staying within budget.

Recently, a fire chief discussed his latest experience trying the traditional bid-build way for a new station. He ran into a HUGE problem. A reputable architect had designed a station that they would never be able to afford. The chief said he spent over $250,000 on plans that will never get built and will probably end up in the trash. At our design-build firm, we hear stories like this quite often.

When selecting an architect to design your building, it’s best to go with one that has experience in designing quality stations that fit in your budget — not a station you can never afford. With design-build, budgeting is done during the design process to ensure the station meets budget requirements. In traditional bid-build, you won’t find out the cost of your station until you send it out to bid, and by then, it’s often too late.

Volunteer Fire Departments

Let’s take a look at all the hard-working volunteer firefighters and discuss how design-build can benefit them. Many volunteers have full-time jobs and may not have the time or energy to put into the process of designing and building a new station — let alone dealing with all the issues that may arise. The design builder is able to guide you through the entire process and there will only be a single-source of contact and responsibly, unlike using the traditional design-bid build process where there are many points of contact and responsibility. Who do you call if something goes wrong? With design-build, there is no confusion on who to call, which enables the volunteer to focus on his or her day job, while the design-builder focuses on the building.

Municipal Fire Departments

Design-build is now an acceptable delivery method in most states, from the state level all the way down to the small cities and towns. North Carolina and South Carolina are states that recognize the design-build approach as an acceptable building method that can save money and time. Most municipalities throughout the Carolinas’ take advantage of design-build today. “We’ve always done it that way” can sometimes seem like the motto for government. However, government entities are now seeing the advantages of design-build and changing their preferred method of building.

Selecting a Design Builder

When selecting a design builder, the most important thing to consider is the company’s experience designing and building fire stations. Taking a chance on an architect that has never previously designed a station can be a costly mistake, and the same goes for the general contractor. Make sure the design builder understands your department and what you are trying to accomplish. Always ask for references and examples of how the design builder has worked on projects similar to yours. Be sure to check the credibility and stability of both the architect and general contractor — not just the company you are signing the contract with. Every department is unique and has different needs, whether you’re a volunteer or municipal department. Selecting the right team for your new station is a crucial part of the building process.

Do Some Research

If you’re thinking about building a new station, look into design-build. Just because someone tells you “we’ve always done it that way” doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it. Talk with others who have utilized design-build for their station, and find out how the process benefited them. After all, if Henry Ford would have listened to all the people who told him horses were the best solution to transportation, our fire response times would be a LOT longer using horse-drawn fire engines.

“We’ve always done it that way” is a phrase that holds people back from doing great things. Design-build is the future of building fire stations.

Chris Goins is a Project Developer with Bobbitt Design Build, who has worked on multiple fire station design-build projects. Bobbitt has been one of the pioneers in design build for fire stations over the last 20 years throughout the Carolinas. They continue to be one of the leaders in the design-build community and are recognized throughout the industry for quality work.
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