Over the last 10 years more colleges and universities have been using the design-build project delivery process for building new residence halls. At public and private campuses, in all regions of the country, the pressures to provide space quickly and cost-effectively are leading facility managers to recommend the method for their institutions.

School facility managers should become familiar with the process, its advantages and drawbacks, and how it might be best engaged.


Design-build project delivery is distinguished from the traditional design-bid-build process in several fundamental ways. It begins with the identification of facility needs, often after completing a broad-based master-planning phase. Sites are chosen for the new facility, a timeline is projected, and budgets are established. With approvals from capital committees, trustees and public agencies, administrators can move ahead with design.

At that point in the traditional process, architects are selected to help develop a detailed building program. The full design process proceeds until a set of construction bid documents is prepared and bids are solicited. After a winning bid is accepted, the final construction contract is completed.

Hence the traditional delivery process has three distinct phases — design, bid and build — all of which have separate agreements with architects and contractors for the separate steps.

In the design-build process, the three steps are folded together into a telescoped and continuous process. Architect and contractor are together on a team and have a single agreement with the owner. The early steps — master planning and site selection — are the same, but after that the design-build team follows a different track.

With design/build, a school develops a detailed program statement. A building committee working with a programming consultant often does this. Many times the programming consultant is an architect with particular experience with residence halls and design-build. The program statement is important to the success of the project, and should be clear and thorough.

Once a detailed program is completed, the school prepares an RFQ (request for qualifications). In a public process, the school invites companies to submit qualifications; with private institutions, a school may send letters of invitation to design-build developers. Often, they are general contractors or construction managers who assemble teams of architects, engineers and subcontractors. From the RFQ responses, the school chooses three to five teams that demonstrate the best combination of design talent, managerial skill and construction expertise.

At this point, one of two directions can be pursued. After interviews with the finalists, the school may select a preferred design-build team and begin negotiating an agreement. More typically, a school will ask the finalists to submit a formal RFP (request for proposal). The negotiation approach may save some costs and lead to a greater sense of partnering between the developer and the institution. With the competitive approach, the institution can get the benefit of examining alternative approaches and finding the best value in designing the project.