Tight budgets and strict schedules are familiar to those responsible for constructing education facilities. Unresolved coordination issues account for 15 to 35 percent of change orders, so savvy school administrators have begun to require document coordination reviews to rein in changes (and costs) during construction. Most schools are aware of the advantages of requiring document coordination reviews on their construction projects. However, many who think they are buying comprehensive document review services are getting only a fraction of the effort needed for worthwhile results.

The right questions

What constitutes a comprehensive document review, and what can school officials do to ensure that the services obtained are sufficient? Here are questions to consider:

  • How long does it take to perform a coordination review? At its most basic, the depth of a review is a function of time spent. Consider the complexities of the project, and align them with the resources (people) and time that it will take to thoroughly examine the documents. For example, reviewing a new school constructed on a green field is likely to be considerably less complicated than reviewing a multiphased renovation of an elementary school. If the document coordinator cannot provide an estimated time to review, chances are that it is not a process-oriented approach, but rather a superficial assessment.

  • What is the process for document review? A comprehensive document review will have a specifically defined procedure. Without a defined and procedure-oriented process, a school is likely to receive a cursory examination of the documents rather than a thorough review. Are the reviewers considering non-traditional disciplines such as phasing, demolition and security? Does the review include specifications analysis? Significant differences exist between quality control and document coordination analysis, and the process is the key to an in-depth review.

  • What is your experience in the education market? Whether building a preschool or collegiate laboratory, it is important that the review team understand the challenges that people and facilities face every day. Ease of maintenance, longevity of ownership and durability of materials are just a few of the aspects that a reviewer must keep in mind when reviewing an educational facility.

  • How is the cost determined? Review costs vary from project to project and are determined by factors such as construction cost, type of construction, phasing complexity, and design and review schedules. A good rule of thumb is to estimate the review to cost 0.16 to 0.20 percent of the construction cost for projects less than $10 million. For projects more than $10 million, the review generally will cost 0.12 to 0.15 percent. Keep in mind that these ranges are estimates, and each proposal should be considered carefully based on the project criteria listed above.

  • Do you have the details you need? Is your reviewer asking you the right questions? Beyond understanding the size of the project, a reviewer will need to take into account issues such as delivery system, new construction or renovation, procurement guidelines, early bid packages, occupancy and phasing. If the reviewer isn't asking for this type of information, a school is likely to receive a more superficial review.

Make it clear

It is imperative for a reviewer to clearly define the services, review schedules and deliverables that are needed to obtain a comprehensive review:

  • Scope of work

    The reviewers' scope of work should include a process-driven coordination analysis of all project construction disciplines. This includes analysis of specifications, as well as review of non-traditional disciplines such as phasing, demolition, security and owner's unique equipment requirements.

    Once a review is completed, it is critical that a back-check is performed. The back-check is a systematic review of the revised documentation. It provides assurances that all the issues raised by a document review are addressed and remedied in such a way that does not create new coordination issues. Performing document coordination reviews without the follow-up of a back-check can reduce the effectiveness of the document coordination review process significantly.

    Responsibility for the back-check should be defined in the proposal process. Often, a document review team can perform the back-check most efficiently, since it is most familiar with the issues that were raised in the coordination review. However, some schools have internal resources with the capacity to execute a back-check and prefer to do this step themselves. Whether by the client or by the review team, a back-check is vital to ensuring value.

  • Review schedule

    A review schedule must take into account design and construction milestones. It is important that the reviewer understand when sufficiently developed construction documents are available and when review comments are needed to maintain the overall schedule. Sometimes, with a fast-track schedule, a series of smaller reviews are critical for ensuring that comments from the design professional are addressed in a timely fashion. In addition, it may be helpful to state in the design RFP that document reviews will be performed, and that the designer is responsible for responding in a timely manner to issues raised as a result of the reviews. Even so, schedules are not perfect, and milestones can be missed. The document review team must have sufficient resources and pragmatism to adjust their review schedule in order to meet the overall project needs.

  • Deliverables

    Deliverables can vary from project to project, depending on the school's preferences. Fundamentally, the deliverables should be in an easily understood format for providing comments to design professionals. Ask for samples, such as red-lined documents, a narrative or an electronic report in the form of a sortable spreadsheet. In addition, a well-designed deliverable will include a mechanism for tracking issues and their remedies, facilitating a thorough back-check.

    The designer of record must understand the deliverables and have input as they are determined. After all, the designer is the principal end user, responsible for taking the compiled observations and revising documents. Accordingly, any deliverable submitted must be user-friendly. This also is critical for school building committees, where many members may not be as familiar with facilities construction.

Who's on first?

Design professionals, independent third-party review firms and construction firms all offer document-coordination review services. Each has the capability to perform these services, but each approach has distinct advantages and disadvantages.

  • Design firm

    By choosing the project's design firm to perform document coordination, schools can expect that the reviewers will be familiar with the project's technical challenges and unique design features. They can focus on areas that may be the most likely to have coordination issues. In addition, because a design firm will have firsthand knowledge of the design phase schedule and important milestones, it is well-positioned to understand and accommodate changes in the schedule.

    However, the designers' familiarity with the project can result in less objectivity in a review. This lack of impartiality can be heightened if the designers or CAD operators who originated the drawings are the primary reviewers. In addition, keep in mind that most design professionals are not trained specifically to review a project from the builder's perspective. Finally, be aware that sub-consultants likely will be responsible for reviewing their own documents, which can result in a lack of review consistency.

  • Third-party reviewer

    Another option is to retain the services of a third-party review firm. These firms offer a dedicated staff of document coordination reviewers who are trained specifically to perform review plans for all aspects of coordination. In addition, both the firm and reviewers are likely to offer an extensive resume of similar experience with education facilities. This increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the reviews. A non-interested third party also is likely to be more objective about the design.

    Consider schedule flexibility carefully when choosing a third-party review firm. Reviews often need to be scheduled well in advance. The review firm must be able to respond immediately to accommodate changes in the design or construction phase schedules so that the project does not miss important schedule milestones. Make sure a back-check of revised documents is part of the review — this may not be included in the reviewers' scope of work.

    Another consideration when choosing a third-party reviewer is how information will be shared with the construction team. How will the information gathered in the review be communicated to the construction team? An in-depth review certainly will uncover detailed information that will be valuable to the construction team's approach. However, a non-interested third party may be unaware of critical design or project-management challenges, in which sharing information immediately is essential to the success of other design or construction phase efforts.

  • Construction professional

    Using a construction firm to provide document coordination reviews is another avenue. When reviews are performed by a construction professional, the advantage is a reviewer with an in-depth knowledge of and experience with building systems. Like a designer, a construction professional is invested in the project's success, and is more likely to be flexible and responsive to multiple phases and design or construction phase schedule changes.

It is important to understand that design phase functions such as estimating, value engineering, scheduling and purchasing, as well as construction-phase functions including project engineering, superintendence and project management, can be affected by the information generated from document-coordination reviews.

If a school chooses a construction firm to provide these services, it should be clear who will be performing the reviews. Will there be a dedicated department for document coordination with experienced resources in this field? Or will “extra hands” with no training or experience in this discipline be handling the document coordination? Clearly differentiate the services expected in a document review from a builder's more standard constructability review. As with the other options, a back-check of documents is critical to ensure that all issues have been addressed appropriately.

McConaghy is the senior vice president regional manager for Gilbane's New England Region.