Thursday, August 15, 2013

Get Your Tasks in the Right Order

I was recently approached by a couple of parents who are part of the group of officers of a 'parent owned' sports club. This club has been offering programs to area kids and adults for decades. They had been renting facility space for their club and had what seemed like an iron-clad lease. Recently, they were informed that they would no longer be allowed to use that space and were actually given a very short period of time to leave and to find a new 'home'. They found a property with some infrastructure already in place. This site would need additional work to bring it up to a point where it will provide for their needs.

What they did not really know is that it also would need work to bring it up to code. It seemed to be a logical approach to the problem at hand. They needed a new space and no longer wanted to be in the situation of being at the mercy of some other entity who could simply throw them out with very little lead time. Their next step most likely also seemed logical to them but might have created huge problems for them in their future endeavors. They interviewed and then hired a contractor, reasoning that the work that needed to be done, including the addition of a structural roof over a part of the facility, was the sole realm of a contractor. The contractor in-turn told them that the structural part needed to be designed by an architect and recommended one. So, they then hired the contractor-recommended architect.

This may not seem to be a poor choice in approach to the uninitiated. However, anyone who has dealt with projects within a city or county jurisdiction could probably tell you that this is really not a good way to go if you plan to have a successful project. First of all, you have no way to compare costs and no idea going into the project what you will ultimately be required to spend in order to obtain your final needs. I met with them and tried to let them know this, but ultimately this was most probably too late to help them. They had signed contracts with two service providers - the contractor and the architect - which they did in hast because they feared being without facilities and the damage that that situation might cause to their club.

A better way to approach this kind of problem is to first realize that projects involving land and structures cannot be expected to be completed quickly. These parents should have found temporary rental space to buy them time. The first step that I would have recommend they take is to hire a landscape architect or civil engineer to provide them with a due diligence study. This would give them some idea of potential pitfalls, legal and code requirements, time to completion and costs. I have often been able to determine, after doing a due diligence, that a site is not fit for the proposed use or that a critical utility such as electricity, water or sanitary sewer is not available and extending them is more expensive than the use can sustain. Sometimes the steps required to complete a project, such as re-zoning or a petitioned change in the land use plan, are just too time consuming and the project would take longer than the client can feasibly wait. It is better to find that out before the project is initiated or the property is actually purchased.

After the due diligence, the client can make an informed decision as to whether to procede with the project on that site or to walk away. If they choose to procede, the next step is to build the design team. You can do this by hiring one of the team and letting them put together the rest or by hiring the individuals separately. This team will most likely have a surveyor (to provide the boundary, topography and tree survey), a landscape architect (to provide the site layout and design and to provide site plan submissions), a civil engineer (to work with the utilities, stormwater and other aspects of the site development) and an architect (to provide the design of the structure). The architect will often then add a structural engineer and a mechanical engineer to their individual team.

Once a team is organized, the client will need to meet with them and they will need to produce a set of plans. These plans will have to be submitted to the local planning department for site plan review. This review will cover the site design and layout, proposed grading of the site, planting, tree protection, erosion control and stormwater design. It will also have elevations and proposed floor plans for whatever structures that might be proposed. Once site plans have been reviewed and approved, construction plans will need to be produced. These will also be reviewed and approved. These will provide the information that a contractor will need in order to build the site and the structures, including the architectural plans. With the approved construction plans, the client can then go to a number of contractors and have them bid on the the construction. By doing this, they get an opportunity to compare quotes and an opportunity to keep the cost of the project within a budget. They can also then have the opportunity to filter out contractors who simply cannot meet their time budget.

Obviously, my parent group will not have that opportunity. They are now at the mercy of the contractor who is free to continue to pile on costs. It is vitally important to a project to get the tasks required and the people who will perform them put together in the correct order. Otherwise, you risk a project that is either never completed or is completed over budget and hugely late.