Friday, January 4, 2013

Site Design Does Take Time and Cost Something!

     I am once again in the position of having spent a couple of days putting together a proposal for design work.  This involves doing background research on the project, putting together the design team, putting together the estimates of the services required and finally providing a proposal on a tight schedule.  As has become typical of the past several years, this work is done only to have the potential client complain that they did not think that they should have to spend that much for the plans.
     This same person would most likely not question paying $250 for a physical even though he would only spend an average of fifteen minutes with the actual doctor.  In other words paying $1000 per hour for physician services.  Nor would he balk at paying the going rate of $250 an hour for a lawyer.  A civil engineer might charge him $125 - 150 an hour and he would most likely not cringe.  As a Landscape Architect, I actually have more training - education and internship combined - than these professionals and I am having to carry a good deal of liability along with errors and omissions (our professional equivalent to the doctor's malpractice insurance).  Yet my proposal basically provides design services at what amounts to $50 per hour.  What is even more frustrating is that the building will most likely cost 2.7 - 3 million to construct and yet my proposal to do all of the site design work including the survey, site design, erosion control, grading design, stormwater design, planting, and as-built documents is less that 0.5 percent of the total.  An architect is likely to ask for ten percent of the built-out fee and get it without any question.
     The problem is one of perception.  Most people think, albeit they are vastly incorrect, that a Landscape Architect does pretty little planting plans that should only take a couple of hours and cost a couple of hundred dollars.  They are often surprised when a City or County tells them that they need to have a site plan provided by a licensed Landscape Architect and have no idea what is required to get a site plan approved.  They are ignorant of the profession and incorrectly link landscape design with Landscape Architecture.  Unfortunately, the former is not a profession it is simply a name and describes services that can be provided by anyone with absolutely no training or experience required.  The latter is a profession and requires a degree, period of internship and a license.
     For the uninitiated, that site plan submission is also much more involved than most people would even remotely suspect.  It involves meeting initially with the client and planning professionals of the jurisdiction that will review the plan.  From the initial meetings, a preliminary design is produced.  Once this is agreed upon, the site plan is done.  This plan involves a staking and layout plan that indicates the exact location and dimension of every element on the site - like the parking, drives, walks and structures.  It also requires that the shape of the land, called a grading plan, be provided.  All water falling onto the site and the watershed above the site must be dealt with during the construction process in an erosion control plan and after the construction process in a stormwater plan.  The stormwater plan must capture and treat the water to remove suspended solids and nitrogen as well as volume.  This is in accordance to Federal mandate.  The site plan will also have a planting plan that will be required to meet local planting codes and will often also contain a tree conservation or protection plan to locate and preserve existing trees on the site that are to remain.  Finally, the plan will have details and notations as to how the various site features are to be constructed.  The plan will have to address public access and transportation to and from the site by foot and vehicle, trash and recycling collection,  open space requirements and any utility or public easement.  This, as you can see, is a great deal more involved than that measly little planting plan that a landscape designer might produce.
     For the proposal that I was describing above, the plan set that will ultimately be submitted to the Town will most likely be produced on an estimated twenty 24" x 36" sheets.  When the site plan is approved, construction plans will be produced from them.  The site plan itself will take over 250 hours to produce and the construction plan will most likely take an additional 40 hours to complete.
     Most Landscape Architects are not looking to get rich.  If we were, we would not have chosen this profession.  We are simply looking to get a fair wage for skilled work performed.  It is frustrating and wrong to try to squeeze the budget by not being willing to pay them a modest amount for their efforts.  Adding to this problem are the number of untrained and unlicensed people out selling site plans and undercutting the rates charges by Landscape Architects.  My advice to all clients shopping for a good design price is 'buyer beware'.  If the rate is much lower, the person doing the project is most likely not licensed and your plan may risk not even being reviewed by the jurisdiction involved.  If it is and there is anything wrong with the plan, the unlicensed person is not going to be able to offer error and omissions or liability.  Anything that goes wrong with the plan implementation will have to be corrected at your own expense.  This could end up costing you a great deal more than the amount saved by the fees.

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