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Column by LeChase Vice President Jim McKenna, who leads the company’s pursuit and management of design-build projects.

Increasingly, developers are finding a more cost-effective and efficient way to build all kinds of projects, from major infrastructure and government-led projects to industrial, manufacturing, commercial construction and more. This solution, the design-build approach, is a project delivery method that entails hiring just one entity to oversee a project from start to finish. It results in a streamlined process that builds a stronger team from day one and avoids unanticipated delays and conflicts.

In design-build, the owner typically hires a construction manager or a design firm to carry out an entire project. Compare that with the traditional design-bid-build process: hiring an architect, waiting for the designs to be completed, then seeking the right contractor before construction can begin.

As one example, consider the three-level parking garage that LeChase Construction Services’ New York Metro office is planning for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains, N.Y. As the design-builder, LeChase hired a designer of parking structures and a civil engineer to deliver the 550-space structure on a campus the hospital is developing at 1111 Westchester Ave. With designs only 20% complete, LeChase is already contracting with a vendor for precast concrete and seeking other suppliers for steel, elevators, glazing and a solar canopy that the hospital wants to top off the structure.

With these efficiencies, the company is on schedule to break ground on the project later this year. With a traditional delivery method, construction might not have begun before spring or summer 2023.

The design-build method transforms the relationship between the designer, contractor, and other stakeholders. It helps to create a more sound initial design, as the team solves challenges together. Under the traditional method, delays can arise if a contractor receives plans that do not meet the required budget. Also, disputes can arise between the architect and contactor throughout the project, placing the owner in a difficult position acting as a dispute resolution manager. This sequence can cost valuable time. It can also result in higher expenses when change orders are needed to fund unanticipated construction steps or procedures, and it typically leads to a less satisfied client.

The design-build method is especially advantageous for an owner who does not have design or construction expertise, and does not want to get stuck mediating disagreements between two entities with separate contracts.

Due to the clear-cut advantages it offers project owners, design-build is on the rise as a method of delivering a project. FMI Consulting reported in a September 2021 study that design-build is growing nationwide across a host of sectors they assessed, including health care, commercial, office, education and more. Its study, conducted with the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), projected that by 2025, the design-build approach will account for 47 percent of construction projects in those sectors, up from 42 percent in 2020.

According to the FMI report, the design-build approach is more commonly used in the Southeast, West Coast, and Texas. At LeChase, we plan to be a leader in the shift to design-build along the East Coast, where we operate. We have embraced the concept for its ability to maximize the results of investments in time, money and resources.

LeChase has already employed the design-build approach for hundreds of projects, with a combined value of nearly $750 million. With our Design-Build Center of Excellence, we continue to train employees and expand our capabilities at all offices.

As of March 2022, 17 of our employees have completed the training required for certification in the design-build method by the DBIA. Of those, four are fully certified and four others are certified at the associate level.

As the lead contractor on a project, we ensure that the owner’s interests are at the center of every task – a goal that has always been and will always be paramount at LeChase. We use the design-build approach to make informed decisions through enhanced collaboration, resulting in better solutions. With industry-leading training and resources we’re developing a better approach that will drive integrated teams from the earliest concept to final close-out.

Historically, design-build has been hindered in New York State by laws that require separate contracts for separate aspects of a job. In December 2019, the New York State Legislature passed a law allowing New York City to loosen the restriction in seven departments – Design and Construction, Transportation, Parks and Recreation, Environmental Protection, the School Construction Authority, the Housing Authority and the Health and Hospitals Corporation. Over the following two years, those departments identified 44 projects valued at nearly $8 billion that would use the design-build approach.

As the design-build approach becomes increasingly more popular, saving developers and other stakeholders time and money, it seems likely that its prominence will only continue to rise. At LeChase, we are committed to being on the vanguard of that change.

Jim McKenna is a vice president at LeChase Construction Services and leads the company’s pursuit and management of design-build projects.