How to save on construction in a challenging economy

Make a firm commitment to stick to the plan, vision and budget, knowing that change along the way is inevitable.

By Fred Perpall

Taking on a building project of any kind just now, in this recession, be it new construction, expansion or refurbishment of an existing space, brings added scrutiny from all parties involved — pastors and staff, volunteer leadership and congregations at large.

I believe there are numerous ways for church communities to successfully navigate projects from start to completion, while being fully aware of a range of cost-saving measures.

Stick to the plan. There should be an immediate goal to achieve transparency throughout a church construction project. It seems incredibly obvious, but it helps immensely if the church leadership involved in a construction project has a well-conceived plan and vision along with a budget well within the congregation’s means brought to the building process.
It’s astounding how often this does not happen and how much this sets a project back. There needs to be firm commitment to stick to that plan, vision and budget, knowing that change along the way is inevitable. From the church’s perspective, there also needs to be a system of checks and balances in place, really just basic accountability, should the project run astray in some fashion, particularly since that likely means additional money will be used.

The question should be asked: “Is there a mechanism in place should that happen?” Going over budget by an excessive amount is crippling for the long-term financial health of a church. An excuse commonly heard is “this project is now in God’s hands” or “God will take care of things” is just not that simple. God doesn’t work like the federal government and isn’t going to provide bailout money for congregations that can’t pay for their construction projects.

Speak with one voice. It’s always critical to ask what is most important for a given ministry’s mission during such a project? A top priority during such a time should involve staying focused, which isn’t necessarily easy considering the complex dynamics of an average church community.

The bottom line is that building committee teams (ideally comprised of individuals with business experience, even from the AEC industry itself), architects and contractors, perhaps even public officials if permits are required, should all sing from the same sheet in order to facilitate communications and ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible.

Use an integrated approach. Through the years I have become a strong proponent of the integrated approach by working on numerous projects in all manners of delivery methods. This entails bringing an entire team of architectural engineering and construction professionals from the same firm together on a given project, known as the Integrated Enterprise.

This is preferred rather than integrating personnel from different companies on a particular project, known as Integrated Project Delivery or Design-Build. Through increased collaboration and a merging of disciplines, a church’s building committee will not have to deal with mistakes, miscommunication and the entire learning curve variable of team members having to learn to work together for the first time.

Trust, rapport and just basic relationship building are all things that can be attained with the church’s leadership a lot more easily through this approach. Integrated Enterprise is a concept gaining in popularity in the building industry, though there are some who are reluctant to merge different disciplines within the same firm.

Use cost and design data. Building Information Modeling (BIM) is invaluable from a cost and time savings standpoint. A project quickly becomes more efficient and cost effective by having accurate and complete information early on as a result of BIM. There simply is no other technology equivalent, and it’s a solution that should be fully leveraged.

As a key component of integrated communication, the goal here is to utilize common BIM tools. BIM is a technology that continues to rapidly evolve and bring more value to the customer, by giving quality cost and design information early in the project, allowing ministry leaders to make sound decisions at the beginning of the project, where there is maximum opportunity to add value and save dollars.

Limit your risk with integration. Taking on less risk is a huge victory in terms of cost savings, and this can happen by working with members of the same firm under the same contract. A church should not have to assume additional risk on cost, schedule or any liability that may arise throughout the traditional design, bid and construct delivery process.

Increases in scope, and mistakes from improper coordination which cause change orders are now eliminated altogether. These changes can result in five to 10 percent overruns on cost in any given project. Any costs caused by incomplete or poorly coordinated information are not the responsibility of the leadership of the ministry; this risk falls to the Integrated Team.

Exposure to warranties, which sometimes creates additional cost for the ministry after project completion, are also removed. Another key opportunity to reduce costs of any project lies in the additional cost added by subcontractors to cover unforeseen costs due to incomplete or uncoordinated information in the architect’s plans. Such contingencies can easily exceed 10 percent and results in additional profit for the subcontractor under “lump sum contracts” if the contingency is not used.

Make sustainability choices. The rapidly moving green movement can easily make its way into churches as well, resulting in many long-lasting cost efficiencies. This is an easy way for these projects to also have a different kind of thought process as it’s not always necessary to go or grow with new construction.

Taking an existing, empty or abandoned environment and transforming it into a new creation, a thriving environment and tool for your ministry to grow seems to underline the message of stewardship we all seek in our ministries’ work. A few easy sustainable choices to consider adding to projects include automatic lights, recycled carpet, thermally efficient glazing, natural an indigenous landscaping strategies, shared parking agreements.

The cost of environmentally friendly materials has declined in recent years, and many of these strategies pay for themselves within a few years, while delivering cost benefit over the life of the project.

Is it a daunting task to engage in a facility project of one kind or another in this down economy? It certainly can be; however, incorporating state-of-the-art technology, exploring sustainable options and working with one firm under one contract, can move the church forward and make sure the experience is less costly.

All of these measures can also bring more value and result in a more positive experience for the ministry and the congregation. The end product marks the creation of a purposeful additional space for a congregation’s needs, whatever those may be.

Fred Perpall is principal and director of design with The Beck Group’s Atlanta office. []


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