A New Approach to Campus Construction

About 30 years ago, a new kind of player began to appear in American architectural practice. Traditionally, most architects supervised the construction of the buildings they had designed, as idealized in Ayn Rand’s 1943 popular novel, The Fountainhead. But by the early 1970s a new kind of professional, often an architect, appeared to handle the construction of the buildings that other architects designed for businesses and universities: the construction manager.

As the noted sociologist of architecture, Robert Gutman of Rutgers University, described it in 1988:

“Because the design of many modern building types requires knowledge of a broad range of special topics outside the realm of architecture and involves a variety of participating professionals, it [is now] argued that the control of projects should be delegated by the owner to a construction manager … [Cllients] feel more confident that a project will be completed on time and according to budget if the total project is managed or supervised by someone other than the architect. (Gutman, p. 36)”

I am one of those new persons. In my 30 years in architecture I have been on all three sides of the university-construction manager issue. As a university architect I helped write the first contracts between the City University of New York and its construction managers in the early 1970s. I was a professional construction manager myself, building and renovating numerous schools, colleges, and universities. And more recently I have been the architect for new and renovated educational facilities. I believe that construction management is a 21st-century concept involving partnering and teamwork than can save colleges and universities time and money, while improving the quality of the project. A growing number of colleges and universities use construction managers. Many others might do so also.

Construction management is a 21st-century concept

The construction manager is an experienced construction professional, probably an architect or engineer, who replaces the general contractor on building projects, and who serves both the owner and the architect as a partner on the design and construction team. The construction manager, or CM, usually plays one of two roles. Either he –there are very few “she’s” yet – serves as a consultant to the college president, the trustee’s building committee, and the campus architect or facilities director. These are the Cma’s (for advisors). Or he serves as the chief of all construction, and is known as a Cmc. Recently a joint AIA/AGC (the Associated General Contractors) document was developed for use in the CMc role.

What do construction managers actually do? During the design stage the CM acts as a consultant to the design group, advising the owner and the architect on construction issues, including the availability of experienced construction labor, the ability of the local construction industry to handle particular construction techniques, the cost and availability of various building materials, and similar matters. This consulting begins easly and usually occurs continuously during the design phase so that all the design team members are “on the same page.”

Typical owner/CM contracts require the CM to prepare construction cost estimates at several phases of the design process; so the CM should be knowledgeable about prevailing cost structures. He also provides advice on alternative design approaches and building systems. A good CM should also be able to project the relative life-cycle costs of the design approaches and building systems. (However, this is seldom a standard service under a CM agreement.)

Another CM responsibility is preparing a project delivery schedule. He works with the owner and architects to provide detailed schedules of the design, procurement, construction, and move-in phases of the project. As the work progresses, the CM monitors the schedule, continually looking ahead for potential roadblocks that might delay completion. The CM then develops solutions before these obstacles appear.

Since the CM replaces the general contractor, the owner can now buy (with the AM’s help) components of the construction such as masonry, windows, the roof, plumbing, and air conditioning directly from the contractors who normally sell their services through a general contractor. The Construction Manager packages work so that there are no overlaps or gaps between the trade contracts, and writes the scope of work required of each contractor. When the project nears the procurement stage, the CM advises on the list of acceptable bidders, markets the project to the local construction industry to create bidder interest, and then receives and evaluates the bids received and recommends contract awards to the owner.

When the construction begins, the CM usually has an on-site staff that includes a superintendent (an experienced mud-on-the-boots builder), and a project manager who is usually very involved with the CM throughout the design and bidding stages, and remains the main contact with the owner. In effect, the CM and his staff act as the client’s agent, advising the owner and architect on everything from contractor pay schedules and change orders to checking on construction quality and arranging demonstration sessions for the university’s operating and maintenance personnel.

How does the CM help?

According to Ted Dwyer, the president of EdiS, a Delaware construction management firm, the most important role the CM plays is that of providing informed cost information in the early stages of the design, from comparison costs for individual components to ful-scale project cost estimates. He says, “It’s always easier and cheaper to make changes when the project is still in the planning stage.” This approach can save universities considerable money.

By marketing the project to a large number of trade contractors, competition to work on the job is increased, resulting in lower bids. General contractors typically accept trade contractor bids from a small number of firms with whom they’ve had experience, and they mark up the bids for their overhead and profit. The CM’s fee is frequently less than the overhead and profit mark-up of a general contractor. Again, costs are reduced.

A second advantage that the CM offers is that he can shorten the time it takes to complete the design and construction through a technique called “fast-tracking.” For instance, digging the hole for the building’s foundations can begin while the architect is still refining the details of the final building design. Time is truly money in the construction business, so fast-tracking can save colleges money.

The CM also begins purchasing long-lead materials before the entire construction is under contract, ensures that materials arrive on time, and that construction tradespeople are on site when they are needed. These and other services can shave months from the time it takes to finish construction.

Third, the CM can significantly increase the quality of the construction work – both by participating in the design phases and through supervision in the field. During the preparation of periodic cost estimates the CM can identify incomplete, inconsistent, or inaccurate details, dimensions, and schedules, and he can supplement the architect’s quality control measures. During actual construction, the CM’s superintendent is constantly on the job, and he provides the university with a full-time set of eyes and ears to oversee the work of the trade contractors and protect the university from defects and shoddy work. This is an advantage over the occasional site visits of the busy architect.

In my experience, construction managers are 3xpecially beneficial for:

• renovations
• complex additions
• phased, multi-location projects
• projects with extremely tight budgets and
• projects with hurry-up schedules.

Renovations are difficult for any design team because the old drawings of the existing facility are usually incomplete or inaccurate. Also, renovations often require a disruption of normal building occupancy. The CM can supply a deep knowledge of construction techniques and actually guide the designers to appropriate solutions. The CM has the flexibility too to bring in additional artisans for small or unforeseen tasks.

Colleges often have building projects that must be done during the summer recess.

Colleges often have building projects that must be done during the summer recess. For example, at the University of Richmond we had to renovate a large, collegiate-Gothic classroom building during one summer. The architect and CM began work in the previous winter, prepurchased many long-lead materials and equipment such as light fixtures and chillers, and bid construction trade contracts in mid-spring. We began demolition while the students were packing their cars for the drive home after final exams. The CM’s on-site team worked with the architect to solve several unforeseen problems. When the students arrived for the fall semester, the cleaning crews were vacuuming carpets, washing windows, and removing all debris. The renovated structure, Ryland Hall, was modern and spic-and-span for the first day of classes.

A construction manager can coordinate a complex renovation project.

A construction manager can coordinate a complex renovation project.

Rewards and Risks

Construction managers come in a various costumes. My own experience as a CM was working with the CM division of Caudill Rowlett Scott, one of the country’s best known educational architects. Naturally, I have a bias in favor of professional CM groups attached to outstanding architectural firms. But many general contractors have also developed professional construction management firms, so I would not limit consideration only to firms with an architecture/engineering background. However, as construction management has become a widely used practice, some general contractors have added the words “construction manager” after their name without the adequate expertise in this area. Campus facilities managers should always check references thoroughly.

The architect and the CM should be selected at the same time.

My experience tells me that the architect and the CM should be selected at the same time. Probing interviews with both the possible architects and CM’s are necessary. Often ego problems in an architect, or CM biases against architects, will surface during the interview process. Consider asking both the architect and the CM which members of the other group they respect most.

Actually, some institutions now hire the CM first. Gutman observed a decade ago:

“The sentimental belief that the planning for a building should begin with the appointment of an architect has begun to disappear. A survey of 1978 of a random sample of building owners reported that one fifth preferred to hire the construction manager before choosing the architect (p. 53-54).”

Construction cost estimates developed by an experienced CM should be more detailed and accurate than those normally provided by the architect under a standard AIA B141 agreement. So having a CM and the architect work in tandem can assist colleges with their capital budgets.

Some clients have obtained a “guaranteed maximum price,” or GMP, from the CM, often as early as the completion of the schematic design. Owners understandably wish to cover themselves in case the estimates are wrong. No college wants to be told that it will suddenly have to find an extra million dollars for a project.

But asking a CM for an early GMP may induce him to cover himself too. So the CM may add a healthy contingency to cover the unknowns and to deliver the project within the GMP. Also, a GMP can create an adversarial relationship between the owner and the CM, which defeats the purpose of hiring the CM to be the owner’s agent. In my experience, many guaranteed maximum price arrangements accomplish little, except giving the university a false sense of financial security.

What about the college’s architect, facilities manager, and capital budget officers? Many persons assume that using a CM will reduce the workload of the owner’s facilities staff. This can be the case under the CMc arrangement because the CM usually handles most of the bids, paperwork, and payments to the trade contractors. But under the CMa arrangement, where the CM is a consultant to the university, this may not be the case.

Hiring a CM usually requires more not less campus staff involvement than other project delivery systems, particularly during the planning and design phases. Why? To be successful, the CM approach requires a three-part team: the president and his or her representatives; the project architect; and the CM. Since under a CMa, the owner in effect becomes the general contractor, it is essential that someone on campus with the authority to make decisions and time to devote to the project be an integral member of the design-and-build team.

Construction management would not have grown over the past 30 years if it was not an effective way of completing building projects with savings in cost and time and increases in quality. In the opinion of Robert Gutman:

“The individual architect cannot possibly keep up with the progress of knowledge in all the fields involved in the design and construction of a modern building (p. 101).”

The CM has emerged as a vital partner in planning for a college’s construction projects, a help to architects and interior designers, and a skilled manager for the actual construction or renovation of campus architecture.



Gutman, R, 1988. Architectural Practice: A Critical View. Princeton Architectural Press.

This article originally appeared in Planning for Higher Education, Volume 25, Summer 1997.