A national shortage of experienced consultants, suppliers and subcontractors has left building owners scrambling to meet schedules and ribbon-cuttings. The issue has been especially acute for large-scale, fast-track projects where teams are booking large specialty contracts and material orders.
To rise to the occasion, project teams are focusing on ways to compress project schedules in the construction phase. While old-fashioned overtime and expedited deliveries are more common than ever, many owners are gambling on riskier, more radical approaches, such as multiple primes or subs, split-risk contracts and other unique team structures.
For example, Denver's Metropolitan Football District approved the split-risk design/build delivery of a new stadium for the Denver Broncos last year. The Dallas office of Turner Corp. is taking the lions's share of the risk at 80 percent, with HNTB Design-Build Inc. of Kansas City, Mo., assuming the balance. Another example is a major specialty design/build contract for roofing and walls for Tempe's new Arizona Cardinals arena, awarded to a multidisciplinary team comprising four companies.
Another example is a complex joint venture created for the mechanical contract for Columbus, Ohio's Nationwide Arena, involving no fewer than four subcontractors. The primary contract went to a joint venture of two large firms, Limbach Co. of Houston and Sauer Inc. of Pittsburgh, and separate plumbing contracts for concession areas and a restaurant were awarded to the Columbus-based contractors Speer Mechanical Co. and Fox Mechanical Co.
"This was the first time we had used a team approach," says Don Montgomery, director of construction with Nationwide Realty Investors, owner of the new, 685,000-sq.-ft. stadium.
Working with general contractor Turner/Barton Marlow Sports and consultant M-E Engineers Inc., the team hoped to deliver a typical two-year project in 18 months during a time of limited availability of equipment and skilled trades. The local union, Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 189, was enlisted to ensure trade workers would be available.
"At peak times, there were 100 plumbers and pipefitters at work," says Local 189 business agent Darrell Gammell. "It wasn't easy to meet demand ... We were simultaneously providing skilled tradesmen for Anheuser-Busch and convention center expansions."
Drawings were still being finalized when mechanical contractors arrived to install 100,000 feet of piping, 2,000 plumbing fixtures and three large chillers. The team recommended several design changes, such as building air handlers on site, for a savings of about $1.5 million.
Sauer and Limbach served as project co-managers, and the four mechanical firms shared a trailer. "It probably went better than expected," says Sauer Executive Vice President Charles D. Steitz. "There was no friction."
Still, such split trade contracts are not very common, say Mark Klinger, project manager with Speer. "Some projects can be easier to handle this way, but you can't segment them too much," he explains, because of the coordination challenges of tying into the other contractors' work.