This stage provides an opportunity to review cost estimates based on more detailed material take-offs; you finally have some formalized drawings to work off of. It should include line items such as square yards of carpet and number of classroom light fixtures. If original cost estimates did not contain an adequate contingency amount, you’ll need to make trade-offs: What must be cut to stay within budget? Is it worth cutting out two classrooms to have a larger gymnasium? Who decides?
Be careful not to make changes that appear to save money but actually cost more in the long run. For example, what if a building wing is decreased by two classrooms with the intention of adding them later as enrollment increases? Do you revise the HVAC system, communication, data and power specifications for the smaller building? If the classrooms are later added without system upgrades, it means inferior systems with a shorter life cycle and higher maintenance and energy costs. If you size systems for the expected final configuration, the change results in lower savings. Additionally, what will be the state eligibility impact of removing those classrooms? Will the size of your grant be decreased?
Often, this stage is when the “fat” is trimmed to keep cost control in the forefront. The architect might not be cost conscious, especially when the fee is a percentage of construction cost, or the contract contains no stated cost limitation. And of course the staff is always asking for changes unaware of the costs. Never change the project scope or request upgrades without getting a written estimate of the change in cost.
This estimate is mostly for changes in the number of items, final specifications, and cost updates. This is the time to make minor adjustments to stay within budget, not reinvent the project. Trying to make large changes at this point will lead to serious delay, additional design fees, and other potentially serious impacts. With the design complete, the architect can develop bid alternates, such as cost for a different floor type, or upgraded cabinetry that promotes flexibility. Each building component (e.g., flooring) is specified for each area of the building: carpet for principal’s office, tile for hallways, and so on. After the design is complete, the architect can get bids on upgrades. If enough money is left over after initial bids are opened, you can choose some of these upgrades. Without this flexibility in bid documents, prices for changes or upgrades after bid awards are likely to be much higher once the competitive bidding element is gone.
The goal during the Design Phase is to complete a set of documents defining a cost-effective program and/or project which can be bid locally with the Owner’s established budget, performance and time requirements.