Virtual Plan Room

Mike Mathews
Facilities Engineer
City of Fort Worth, Texas

The City of Fort Worth is undergoing a rebirth of its urban core. Daytime parking is almost nonexistent. Each time we advertise a project for bidding, contractors justifiably complain about access to City Hall. Not only does cruising the city streets at low speed looking for a parking spot to pick up drawings increase emissions in an area already under warning by the EPA, but the waste in manpower, general downtown congestion and danger to other traffic are issues of concern.

The cost to print just one bid set for a building project often exceeds $100, and typically we (the City) will print 70 sets per project. Since we tried to get as much contractor participation as possible, we loaned sets to contractors in return for a deposit that reflects the reproduction cost. When the bids came in, the contractors brought most of the plan sets back to City Hall, doubling the cost and air pollution. The documents not needed for construction were recycled.

Through the use of the Internet, we are now able to distribute the documents electronically at no cost to the contractor. Contractors can view the plans and specifications online, and print excerpts on their own PC printers or plotters. They order hard copies from their local printing service that will deliver the prints to their business. General contractors need hard copies for their use, while subcontractors and suppliers view only the portions of the plan online they are involved with and print or fax/e-mail information to other suppliers and potential bidders.

The City pays the annual subscription for the online bid documents service. Participants have only to e-mail the City for access instructions. Contractors use a common name and password during bidding. Once the project is awarded, team members are informed of the project name and password.

Since all bidding documents and most correspondence are stored in PDF or DWF format, it is highly compressed and secure. The plans and specifications cannot be edited.

During design and construction, plans and all documents are posted in their original format to the site for editing by project members. While distribution to individuals is possible using e-mail, the ability to keep everyone updated virtually real-time through accessible posting is attractive. For anyone familiar with the military, the website approach to project management can be compared to the company bulletin board. All the pertinent information is posted and updated, and each member is responsible for checking for the latest news.

So next time you are bidding a Fort Worth fire station or library, pull us up on the Internet (, sign in as "Cowtown" with a password of "Cowtown2004" and save yourself the trip while you help the environment. One day soon there won't be any paper plans or specs at the plans desk, only e-versions.

Mike Mathews can be reached at (817) 392-8274 or at