By Bret Ellis
The most important aspect of self-storage construction is proper planning. Building should be treated like any other business venture and pursued with a complete understanding of the process. You have to plan before you can determine your costs. Identifying the key elements of your project and providing sufficient information to achieve your vision is difficult and should be given its due course.
The construction process for self-storage is similar to any other type of project management. The better prepared and informed the players, the more likely they are to reach a cost-effective outcome that reflects the initial concept. There are three components to development that will yield a successful storage site:
- A clearly defined scope of work
- A clearly defined schedule of values
- A clearly defined line of communication
Scope of Work
Preplanning is not limited to blueprints; however, construction plans are the most effective means of delivering an owner’s program to the builder, local municipalities and product vendors who will be involved in the project. Poor plans can create a domino effect that leads to delays, extra costs and even a final result that does not meet the owner’s desires.
A fatal mistake made by many inexperienced developers is to skimp on the architectural package. Neglecting to prepare an adequate design can have tremendous impact on the overall project. In fact, architecture is one of the most common sources of extra costs and claims in the construction industry, neck in neck with civil costs at 30 percent.
A complete architectural design package defines the exact scope of work expected from the builder and the final product you expect. Think of contract documents as an instruction manual for ensuring your vision of the facility is what actually gets built. They are the translation of your ideas into a universally accepted format for construction. The plans and specs are the medium through which your facility will be built and are a crucial part of your business plan. Following are some guidelines to creating a quality set of construction documents:
- Commit the funds. Architectural fees average between 2.75 percent and 6.25 percent of overall construction costs (exclusive of land value).
- Pick the right architect. Has he worked in the industry before? Talk to past clients and references. Was the architect prompt in responding to problems? Did the developer incur extra costs due to shortcomings in the contract documents? Talk to the contractors who built the architect’s projects and ask about the quality and completeness of the plans and specs.
- Instruct the architect of your intent. Define your program and its requirements by specifying what you want to build. Try to provide a complete description of the physical attributes of the facility. Include services to be provided, any special construction issues, amenities to be offered, aesthetic expectations, and any specific ideas you have with respect to the final product.
- Create an exit plan. If you need to walk away from the project for any reason, you need to be able to do so amicably and without undue costs. To achieve this, always ask your architect to divide his fees into the following categories: code research, schematic drawings, civil package, architectural and engineered drawings, permitting, and site visitation and conflict resolution (usually an hourly rate).
- Participate in the process. Define milestones in the design process and conduct a thorough review. If you need assistance in plan interpretation, bring help along. A qualified general contractor or construction manager can often identify shortcomings in the contract plans and specs that could later turn into change orders and extra costs. It is important to conduct this review often enough so your designer doesn’t get off on a tangent, which could produce the need for corrections and the redrawing of plan sheets. A good architect should welcome this review process, as he will want to get it right the first time. Redrawing does not make money for an architectural firm.
- Question everything. Code interpretation is difficult at best. Looking at issues from all angles allows for different interpretations.
- Contract the work. There are several prewritten contract documents supplied by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) that can be used with your architect and contractor to protect all parties. They have been tried and tested in the courts and are an excellent method of defining the scope of work, methods of payment, time frame and general conditions of the project. To get a listing or more information, visit www.aia.org.
Schedule of Values
A schedule of values is the tool used by the design and construction industries to break down the construction estimate into understandable, separate items of work. The numbering system used is called the Construction Standard Index (CSI). It is globally accepted in construction and will be consistent from coast to coast. The CSI-formatted schedule of values allows for a better understanding of the costs to be incurred and a more thorough bid review. Insist that the potential contractors use the format of your choosing (or your architect’s) to assist you in the selection process.
There are several distinct advantages to requiring the schedule of values from potential contractors. The developer can use it to look for potential cost savings or overruns in the estimate. For instance, if your foundation costs are coming in twice as high as projects previously built, you may need to re-evaluate the design. Short or under-bid items should also raise a red flag, since they can lead to delays or even additional costs. It’s important to realize the lowest bid is not always the most cost-effective. Often, a bid that is substantially lower than those of the competition indicate items of work were missed in the estimates.
The schedule of values is highly effective in managing monthly draw requests. If your schedule indicates your contractor is 80 percent complete in item 04-200, “Unit Masonry,” it is easy to verify by on-site inspection whether this is accurate. Without the breakdown, many items might get overpaid in advance, and your ability to manage the project is decreased. AIA forms G702 and G703 are the preferred documents for draw requests. When used together, they provide for accurate billing and payment procedures using your schedule of values, retainage practices and previous billings to ensure you pay the right amount against the contracted sum.
Line of Communication
Construction management is the marshaling and allocation of resources required to build the intended project as outline in the contract documents. These resources include labor, materials, equipment, architectural and engineering services, time, and money. The process involves organizing a wide variety of skilled workers and specialists; leading them in the implementation of the plan; monitoring progress against baseline objectives; and making adjustments to ensure the original goals are achieved. It’s not an easy task. But as in any field, the better informed the team members, the more apt they are to succeed.
Proper methods of communication must be determined and consistently used so all players in the project know what is expected of them, when it is expected, and how they are to accomplish it. Verbal communication doesn’t work adequately for construction, especially when it is provided at field level. A tradesperson standing 5 feet deep in concrete will not always remember the owner told him to tell the superintendent to tell the project manager that the paint for the office walls should be tan. Issues important enough to be stated in the field are important enough to write down.
Over the years, a series of communication tools has been adopted by the industry to clarify issues, stipulate intents and outline costs. Your architect and contractor should be familiar with most of them and welcome their implementation. The terms differ as you cross the country, but the intent and content remain the same:
- Requests for Information (RFI)—The RFI typically represents communication between the contractor and the architect. Information regarding plan interpretation, differing site conditions, and general construction requests is addressed in this format. As an owner, you should request to be copied on all this correspondence to stay informed and understand the ongoing issues that could affect your project.
- Requests for Pricing (RFP)—An RFP is originated by you or your architect when you need to know what an addition to the project will cost prior to beginning the work.
- Cost Proposal (CP)—This is the reply to the RFP from your contractor. You can insist these proposals are also broken down into a schedule of values.
- Change Orders—These are issued after cost proposals are agreed upon and authorized for construction. Change orders become a legal contractual document, and again, the AIA is a good source. It is also important for an owner to realize change orders can actually save money in some instances. Credit or no-cost change orders are common in construction and, in some instances, are necessary to keep a project on budget. Creative construction management or value engineering can help identify these issues.
Along with understanding and using the proper method of communication, it is important to ensure the right people are being properly informed. Before the project begins, always determine who will be the representative and main contact for the contractor, architectural firm and owner. Make sure they are available, prompt, authorized to make necessary decisions, and have adequate knowledge to perform their designated tasks. For instance, the architect’s draftsman is not qualified to make design decisions that relate to structural issues, code requirements or life-safety issues.
Construction is a complicated process that can often lead to disputes. Following the three rules outlined above does not guarantee your projects will be free of challenges, but it will reduce the number of problems you have and greatly enhance your ability to address and resolve issues when they arise. This simple concept of properly planning your project, organizing your costs, and informing participants is nothing new. Businesspeople use this practice every day to succeed in their ventures. Why should one of your largest investments be treated any differently?
Bret Ellis is president of New Orleans-based Ellis Contruction Inc., a full-service general contractor licensed to work in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The company provides feasibility studies, preconstruction work, design/build and general contracting, and construction management. For more information, call 800.924.0036; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.ellisconstruction.com.