Design-Build procedures for smaller communities

A discussion of the Design-Build project delivery method in Arizona

James H. Matteson, P.E.
Consulting Engineer
Ironside Engineering & Development, Inc.
Show Low, Arizona
Former APWA Region VII Director

The concept of Design-Build has been around for many years, and has been used as an effective project delivery system for very large civil projects throughout the United States. The Federal Government utilized the method to speed delivery of very large and complex projects, rather than the traditional Design-Bid-Build process that we are all familiar with.

In principle, the contractor is responsible for the entire process, compressing the project time element by eliminating the sometimes long-drawn-out process of bidding, potentially saving money for the client. The contractor can dramatically speed construction since the designer is on his team, and the contractor can be working on elements of the project that are only partially designed, such as excavation of a freeway, or the foundations, when the structural drawings are still in the preliminary stages.

In 1996 the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) was authorized by the Arizona State Legislature (SB-1253) to begin using Design-Build procedures. An excellent example of the value of this new approach was the completion in September 2000 of the widening and reconstruction of Interstate-17 through Phoenix, AZ. The total project took 21 months to build, rather than the five years it would have taken using the traditional process. The savings in motorist delay alone amounted to $1,600,000, according to a report by Ronald C. Williams, P.E., Assistant State Engineer. Hard-cost savings of approximately five percent were also documented.

Another excellent example in Arizona was the widening of US-60 through Tempe and Mesa in 2003. That project was completed in 25 months, rather than the anticipated five years using the traditional Design-Bid-Build process. Williams reported that construction engineering costs on this project were reduced by one to two percent, as were administrative costs, and hard costs. Needless to say, ADOT is pleased with the results of this project delivery method, as are Arizona motorists.

Due largely to the success by ADOT, local members of APWA and the construction industry worked with the State Legislature to provide a complete overhaul of the public works bidding process. House Bill 2340, which allowed cities, towns and counties to use not only Design-Build, but Construction-Manager-at-Risk (CMAR) and Job-Order-Contracting (JOC) as well, was passed and signed by the Governor. Since its passage, most of the large communities and counties in fast-growing Arizona have instituted aggressive construction programs using all three methods.

Smaller communities have been slower to try these project delivery systems, probably due to the newness of the methods and the education needed to establish the process as an accepted way of doing government business. Several communities in rural northern Arizona, however, have seized the opportunity afforded by Design-Build. The examples of Design-Build in Navajo County included the widening of an older bridge in the central part of the county near Joseph City and reconstructing a significant portion of Sky High Road in the southern part. Show Low, Arizona has a new domestic water well and a new water reservoir in their infrastructure constructed using Design-Build, as well as a new 24,300-square-foot hangar under construction at the Show Low Regional Airport, to be completed in October 2007. Pinetop-Lakeside, a beautiful resort community in the White Mountains of Navajo County, is using the Design-Build process to build various elements of their infrastructure. Perhaps the most innovative example is a project to construct significant Town Monument Entryway features at the principal highway approaches to the community, and several large business district signs or features throughout the town.

  Show Low Bluff Well Number 13 in development

Other significant examples in the state include the Fountain Hills Civic Center project, which includes construction of administrative offices and a new Council Chamber, and improvements to the water, sewer and storm drainage infrastructure. In Gilbert, the Town used Design-Build to construct a new public safety facility which included a 22,000-square-foot fire station, a training facility and a police storage facility. In Queen Creek, the Town retained a Design-Build team to construct a new 30,000-square-foot office facility to house the Development Services Departments, as well as the attached Pedestrian Plaza connecting the new building to Town Hall. In Southwestern Arizona, the Yuma County Library District is constructing a 40,000-square-foot library, in the historic tradition of the old southwest.

In each of the projects listed, the process for retaining a Design-Build team and developing the project followed the process laid out by the Legislature, as defined in Arizona Revised Statutes Title 34, Paragraph 603. This statute offers communities several approaches in retaining Design-Build teams. Consistent throughout the process is the requirement to advertise in the official newspapers, and to define the selection process in detail. The evaluation criteria and scoring process must be defined and contained in the Request for Qualifications (RFQ), which is advertised in the official news media. For larger projects, a senior member of a construction firm must be on the selection committee, in addition to an engineer and other senior staff members.

  Show Low Bluff Reservoir Number 13 under construction

The process can be a one-step process (select a team based on qualifications, then negotiate the contract) or a two-step process (include a price in a separate envelope). Price is never included in the RFQ itself. However, in some cases, a statement of the maximum project budget is allowed to help the proposers understand the scope of work. In the Show Low Regional Airport hangar project example, the maximum construction budget of $1,400,000 was included in the RFQ, as was a very clear and detailed discussion of the selection criteria, preliminary sketches of the hangar and its location, and very detailed performance specifications. The selection committee included two professional engineers, the Airport Director, the Public Works Director, the Community Development Director and a senior member of a local construction firm. Three firms submitted Statements of Qualification, and Amon Construction, of Payson, Arizona was the recommended firm. The project was awarded by the Show Low City Council, and is expected to be ready for occupancy by the end of October 2007.

The Design-Build project delivery system, involving the submittal of Statements of Qualification by interested teams of engineers, architects and contractors, and judging by community staff to obtain the best qualified team, is true to the principles of Qualifications-Based Selection, or QBS, that APWA has supported over the years. The State of Arizona, which has been in the forefront of the QBS process, is now taking it a step further in the Design-Build process. APWA Arizona Chapter members were instrumental in crafting and passage of the bill that allowed the process to be used, and are now applying it in communities both large and small. The remarkable successes in Arizona's smaller communities demonstrate that there are many creative ways to save both time and money (often the same thing) by taking advantage of the Design-Build process. Once again, APWA is leading the way.

Jim Matteson is an APWA Life Member, ITE Fellow, ASCE Fellow, and former APWA Region VII Director. He has received a number of awards, including the APWA 1993 Top Ten Public Works Leader of the Year, the Arizona Engineer of the Year in 1991 from the Arizona Society of Professional Engineers, the 1978 APWA Award for Meritorious Service, and election to Tau Beta Pi (engineer's equivalent of Phi Beta Kappa) in 1966. He can be reached at (928) 532-0880 or