Cost estimating is a critical part of any master planning effort. This can be provided by the architect or a professional cost estimator but I would like to advocate for a process that includes a professional contractor. Why would a Church want to such a thing? Because if provides an opportunity to begin a partnering process with a contractor that can last throughout the building design process and eventually lead to that contractor building the project. Why so soon? In my opinion it is never too soon to get an accurate idea of costs and to begin a relationship between parties that must be built on trust, passion for the project and confidence that all of the design team can work together, teamwork. Your church has a Vision and Mission that are the foundation for your Master Planning effort, the sooner you can start building understanding of your core values with the entire team the better.
How do you select a contractor without completed bid documents? Well it is a similar process to how you select an architect, you look at experience, you look at specific church projects and if they were completed on budget and on time, you talk with the other churches that have used that contractor to see what their experience was like and you call other architects to see if they would recommend this particular contractor. Finally you interview them and ask them specific questions about your project and gauge their enthusiasm and quality of the responses and you try to get a feel for chemistry to answer the question…can we work with these people for 2 years? Do they understand our Vision and Mission and are they capable of building within those parameters?
Isn’t competitive bidding the best way to get the cheapest price? Yes it is but that is not always the best price. By selecting the contractor early based on qualifications you are taking a long view. The quality and durability of the project will more than make up for any savings gained during the bidding process. The lowest bid is the contractor that missed the most items or used the cheapest subcontractors. By partnering early with a contractor their knowledge of the project is as complete as possible making them more comfortable with the bidding of the work allowing them to get accurate costs and to use the subcontractors they know will do the work correctly not just cheaply. The foundation of a church should not be based on coercion and greed. When a low bid process is used there will be missed items and the church can either force the contractor to perform the work or agree to change orders. Chang order negotiation can be a brutal process that neither side benefits from in the end. A better process is to make sure the contractor has the best information possible and provides a fair price for the work.
How will we meet our budget and our needs with this expensive contractor? By selecting the contractor on qualifications you will know he is capable of completing the work in a quality manner, on time and on budget. Qualifications and experience matter, experience building churches and working with particular design elements such as sustainability matter. The budget is developed in cooperation with the contractor so he is invested in keeping the project costs in line. After the master plan is complete and fundraising or loans have been arranged the project phases are finalized and the costs are again adjusted. This allows the community to plan and proceed with confidence that the project is always within budget rather than waiting for the bid day to know for sure. As the design proceeds and the building project is refined the contractor provides input and revised pricing. The contractor also uses an “Open Book” method of communicating the final bidding. This allows the church to see the bids for each trade and understand the pros and cons of each contractor selected as well as all the contractors costs for administering the project and the fees they charge. Bid day becomes contract signing day.
Wait, no last-minute value engineering? Nope the design has had the contribution of the contractor from day one so no drastic cuts, no changes in materials that will come back to haunt you. The project has been crafted with Trust that the work will be done well and with Passion for the mission of the church and by Teamwork between all parties to secure a positive outcome.
John E Freshnock- WSKF Architects Inc.