Choosing Design-Build vs Design-Bid-Build

by Britt Storck, Associate at Alta Planning + Design

Our Southeast and Midsouth offices recently completed a few design-build projects. In most cases, the contract type was initiated by the Owner. While very demanding of our staff’s time, the projects were completed in an astonishingly short turnaround. The result? Happy client team, happy builder, happy consultant. And, of course, happy community because users are that much closer to playing at that new park or trail in their free time. If you’re considering a design-build contract for a project, consider these measures to determine if this contract type is best for your community.

Design-build is a method of project delivery in which one entity works under a single contract with the project owner to provide both design and construction services. The entity can be a team of designers and builders from separate firms, but there is just one project manager, one contract, and one unified flow of work from design all the way through completion.

Design-build is an alternative to design-bid-build, the conventional method of design and construction services. In conventional design-bid-build projects, design and construction are split between entities (designer and contractor) with separate contracts and responsibilities. Design-build is used on all types of projects, and can be very successful if executed properly. This approach to implementation is becoming more popular because a joint effort can save money and time by transforming the relationship between designers and builders into an alliance which fosters collaboration and teamwork.

The design-build approach is not for every project and depends on a number of factors. Some of the advantages and disadvantages are listed below.

Pros of Design-Build

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Using a qualified contractor of choice. By not competitively bidding projects, this prevents fly-by-night contractors from doing the work if they have no experience. Qualified builders meet performance needs, not minimum design requirements, in some cases developing innovations to deliver a better project.

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Design-build saves time by not going through the design and bid process. Design-build contracts may save 6–8 months depending on the size of the project. With one team the collaborative nature means work is completed faster with fewer problems, and a commitment to cost controls.

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Design-build streamlines communication. Certain tasks can be more efficient with the builder and designer present, such as negotiating easements with property owners.

Cons of Design-Build

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Design-build efforts do not typically have design plans in place prior to construction. Having construction plans helps ensure design standards, and without them the owner relies on the builder to comply with agreed upon design standards. In most cases, as-built drawings are prepared following construction for the owner and design-build team’s records.

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Design-build relies on the builder to represent the project owner in obtaining all necessary permits through regulatory offices.

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Since most design-build projects are not awarded based on lowest bid, the project owner may not receive the most competitive bid to complete the work.

Design-build projects completed at Alta:

Doodle Rail Trail, SC

RTP Mountain Bike Trails, NC

Razorback Greenway Extension North, Bella Vista, AR

Oconee Nuclear Station Site Plaza, SC

Southwest Bentonville Trail, Bentonville, AR

South Walton Pedestrian Tunnel, Bentonville, AR

Hidden Springs Trail — Bentonville, AR

Bella Vista Soft Surface Trail System, Bella Vista, AR