Changes are necessary during the construction phase of most projects. Problems can arise because of unforeseen conditions, building code interpretations or owner-instituted changes. Although much has been written about the design of educational facilities, little has been written about the importance of complete and accurate specifications and working drawings — construction documents that are the backbone of a project.

The specifications, or project manual, include the bidding requirements, contract conditions and the specifications that define the qualitative requirements for products, materials and workmanship.

The working drawings, or construction drawings — the blueprints — are used during construction. Drawings quantify materials, and illustrate location and relationship.

The National Council of Schoolhouse Construction (NCSC) Guide for Planning School Plants, published in 1965, discussed the principles of economy in planning and construction. Principle 7 still applies today:

“Experience has shown that the use of complete plans and specifications usually results in lower bids than plans judged incomplete for other work of comparable construction. Contractors are able to figure their costs more accurately, eliminating the need to pad their bids to assure themselves of adequate contingencies.”

A well-documented, accurate and complete set of drawings and specifications can result in competitive bids with lower costs, sometimes by as much as 10 percent.

So what has created this problem of incomplete documents? Multiple forces could be at play:

  • Society expects instant response and gratification.

  • Education administrators do not allow enough time for architects and engineers to prepare accurate drawings and specifications.

  • Construction managers and design/builders put unrealistic expectations on architects regarding the time needed to produce accurate drawings and specifications.

  • Architects produce incomplete construction documents because they do not allow or are unwilling to request enough time.

  • Architects promise impossible schedules in order to be selected.

Even with computer-aided design and construction detailing, it still takes time to prepare a one-of-a-kind building. Haste in preparation and lack of time to perform a document check adequately will create problems during the bidding and construction phases. A team needs time to check, cross-check and coordinate all aspects of the drawings including architectural, structural, civil, landscape architecture, interior design, mechanical, electrical, technology and security of the drawings. Changes during the construction phase are more expensive than if the items had been part of the original bid.

Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis.