Design build approach for facility renovation and construction

CarolinaFireJournal - Jeff Barnes and John Kelley
Jeff Barnes and John Kelley
10/05/2012 -

When your district is in need of renovation or expansion of an existing fire or rescue facility, or even a newly constructed station to accommodate growing demands, where do you turn? It can be daunting to consider the many factors that go into facility renovation and construction — from site evaluation to building design to permitting and construction. One of the first steps is to consult with a design build partner who deals with these challenges every day.


Why Design Build?

Single-source design and production has long been a cornerstone of our economy. This fact has led to the natural evolution of design build within commercial construction. With the design build approach; the builder accepts full responsibility for the project, integrating conceptual design with the logistical challenges of the construction process.

American structures such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Pentagon used this master builder approach. Yet, the process fell out of favor through the Industrial Revolution. Significant cost efficiencies and the ability to reduce construction timelines have led to a strong resurgence.

The United States government, the largest purchaser of construction in the world, has a stated goal of 75 to 80 percent of their work being designed and constructed by this method. In MilCon conferences throughout the southeast, the reasons given to support this goal are that design build saves time, saves money, and in the end, entails less litigation. Simply put, design build creates a team working together to deliver a product — your new or renovated fire station — on time and within budget.

Advantages of Design Build

The advantages of time savings, monetary savings and reduced litigation are achieved through the early involvement of the design build professional in the project. The fire department, designers and constructors can work together to develop a program — identifying the required number of apparatus bays, dorm rooms, training facilities, etc. — that meets the needs of the department today and into the future — and do it at an affordable price. Early cost input helps with the decision.


Throughout the design process — from the initial program outline through the conceptual plans, preliminary plans, construction drawings and permitting — the design build professional can provide valuable input on material selection and construction methods and provide cost information to assist with the decision-making process. To effectively manage your project, the design build professional will provide the resources, ranging from other design specialists, engineers, specialty contractors and suppliers, who can provide the necessary input and expertise to ensure success.

Single Source

Since most fire departments, paid or volunteer, do not have a staff to dedicate to the project design, working with a single source can keep the project from overwhelming the fire department. The design build professional will integrate the design elements, regulatory requirements and budgetary requirements into a cohesive plan. With a single source, there is a greater feeling of teamwork and less opportunity for finger pointing.

How to Select a Design Build Professional

Once the decision has been made to use design build as the process to renovate your existing station or construct a new station, your next question is how to select a design build professional. In your evaluation, several factors should be considered:

  • Experience — Look for a design build professional who has a proven track record of successfully delivering fire station projects on time and within budget.
  • References — Ask to see their completed fire station projects and obtain fire chief references and contact information.
  • Financial Stability — Even as the economy improves, it is essential to work with a partner that has the financial strength to complete your project, pay their bills and fulfill their warranty.
  • Qualified Subcontractors — A good indicator of the quality and integrity of the design build professional is the subcontractors they use. When quality subcontractors are on the job, projects will be well managed, and job sites remain clean and safe. Subcontractor financial stability and dependability ensures they will be around after the project is complete to address any warranty or service issues that may arise.

In the end, what matters is that you have partnered with a design build professional who has the capability and wherewithal to complete your project on time, within budget and in a manner that exceeds your expectations. You want a partner who cares about the success of your project, who wants to fulfill the station’s requirements so that the needs of the community are met and who wants you to be so pleased that you will gladly be a reference for their next project. With the right design build professional in your corner, you will get the facility you want at the best value, giving you with the greatest long-term return on your investment.

Jeff Barnes, ALVFD, is a retired fire chief, and currently VP of Bobbitt Design Build. John Kelley is Vice President, Business Development of Bobbitt Design Build, Inc.
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