By Mark Alpert, CH2M HILL Senior Vice President Design-Build
As we continue to think about and discuss innovative delivery models for the water sector after the conclusion of the American Water Summit yesterday, design-build or design-build-operate (DBO) models certainly cannot be ignored. What began as the private sector offering to design, build, finance, own, and operate water and wastewater treatment facilities in the early 1980s has now become a key delivery approach by many owners throughout North America. Today’s DBO model is characterized by significant risk transfer, application of innovative solutions and significant cost savings of owners. The single contract for all three phases of project delivery brings not only the value of design-build but also the integration of operation and maintenance into solutions that result in the lowest life-cycle cost for owners and the highest-quality projects.
The design-build marketplace is vibrant and encompasses several variants of the delivery method, and now consists of integrated design-build firms (like CH2M HILL) and opportunistic relationships between construction and engineering firms. The market is highly competitive, allowing owners numerous choices for service providers and approaches. CH2M HILL embraces the design-build approach when it is the right solution for a specific project and owner. In turn, design-build is most successful when owners are comfortable with it and take the most advantage of its risk-sharing potential. When these overarching criteria can be met, design-build’s schedule compression and potential cost savings provide significant benefits to infrastructure projects.
For instance, twelve years ago, Spokane County, Washington, and CH2M HILL began planning a new water reclamation facility to serve the long-term regional wastewater treatment needs. It was decided that the new facility would be delivered under the DBO model, and although experienced in project delivery, this client had never delivered a project of this size or a DBO project of any size. The CH2M HILL team worked closely with the client, the owner’s engineer, and the extended team to develop a delivery plan that would not just deliver the work, but also help to guide Spokane County through the learning processes involved.
The resulting Spokane County Regional Water Reclamation Facility is a 2012 Design-Build Institute of America award-winning facility that uses state-of-the-art membrane filtration technology, and will achieve treatment levels for nutrients that are some of the most stringent in the nation. It also has the initial capacity to treat up to eight-million gallons of wastewater daily, and the facility’s capacity can be expanded to 24-million gallons a day to accommodate increasing demand over the next 20-50 years. The plant’s sustainable design allows energy recovered through digester gas production and co-generation systems to produce electricity to help run the facility. All non-process buildings are designed to meet LEED™ Silver criteria.
The client was delighted with the project and the benefits the DBO model provides the County. David Moss, Spokane County Water Reclamation Section Manager, said, “This was a once in a lifetime project which I’m honored to have been a part of; a true collaborative team effort from start to finish.”
With all the great progress we have made as an industry, there are still hurdles to great use of design-build. They include owners who want more control over all scope decisions and delivery, states and local jurisdiction that are unwilling to change procurement laws and rules, and players who misunderstand the quality of project delivered using design-build versus more traditional delivery approaches. Wider use of design-build will depend on owners communicating to other owners that this delivery method has many advantages.
Thanks to the efforts undertaken by early adopters of the DBO model, the current incarnation of DBO in the public sector encompasses numerous facilities throughout the US with Canada also considering the model as a form of its version of public-private partnerships. As DBO is now widely accepted throughout North America, one can see it being the foundation for projects requiring private sector financing going forward.
Mr. Alpert is CH2M HILL’s Senior Vice President Design-Build responsible for developing and furthering the firm’s design-build business in North America. He is responsible for risk management, project development and team formation for all of the firm’s Water Business Group design-build, design-build-operate, and CMatRisk projects in the United States and Canada. Alpert has considerable experience negotiating complex contracts, which have included consortium and joint-ventures arrangements, projects requiring multi-agency or private-sector financing, and other forms of project delivery. Alpert has also been a consulting engineer and plant manager, having performed design work, directed construction, and managed plant operations for numerous water and wastewater projects throughout his career. Mr. Alpert is the President of the Water Design Build Council, an association of integrated design-build firms. In 2009 Mr. Alpert was awarded the Design-Build Institute of America’s (DBIA) Brunelleschi Lifetime Achievement Award.