The Role of the Contractor and the Contractual Process

Most child care programs wait until the final constructions documents are completed before hiring a construction manager or general contractor. Unfortunately by waiting until the design documents are completed to start this process, you are overlooking a valuable member of your design team who can help guide the team in selecting building materials and finishes that meet the budget requirements before the design documents are finalized.

In a typical child care project, after the designs and specifications are finished, the project is put out for competitive bid and the lowest bidder is selected. Subsequently, that contractor is held to completing the building at that bid price regardless of what issues might arise during the construction of the building. Although a contractor can be valuable ally in design, their unfamiliarity with child care often leads to inappropriate selections when having to complete change orders or making substitutions.

Negotiated bids, rather than fixed competitive ones, allow the contractor and the team to arrive jointly at a set of documents and a price. The contractor will still be held to the construction budget, but there are fewer surprises. A time and materials bid allows for changes during construction but requires a contract defining the process. Contractual processes that allow for change in a cost effective manner, are better predictors of success for buildings for young children. It is also important to establish a generous contingency budget, with line items for design changes, which can be costly to the project.

In choosing a contractor, look for a company that has been in business for at least five years and that has previous experience with child care buildings or similar projects. Check references from previous customers and ask to see completed buildings that they have finished. Ask for proof insurance, a copy of their license, bonding information and a written contract that spells out what is to be done, how long the job will take, which work will be subcontracted, who will perform each construction task and how inclement weather will be handled. Check with your local Better Business Bureau and other regulatory agencies that might have handled complaints against this company.

Even though the general contractor has been on board early, if the project comes in over budget, the team might face the need to "value engineer" the building. This is a way of saving monies in construction materials such as substituting less expensive floor tiling, doing a phased development of some features such as built in lofts and the use of standard items such as windows and cabinetry in order to bring down the price of the building. Be sure to be at the table when this process takes place because you as the owner/operator might have a very different opinion as to what is necessary and important to the success and function of the building than would the architect or general contractor. For example, acoustic ceiling treatment is usually one of the first things that are taken out by designers during the value engineering process. If you have worked with children, you know how important a peaceful and quiet environment can be to young children.

Next month we will discuss construction administration and the role of each team member.