Formerly Hull-Stephens and Associates

UNDERSTANDING THE ARCHITECT'S AND CONTRACTOR'S RESPONSIBILITY IN BUILDING A CHURCH (or any building)

February 15, 2017

 

Both architect and contractor have important responsibility in the construction of a new facility. An understanding of the various processes will help you select the one that is right for you. There are several ways to build your church and equal ways "to be taken" or to face "unwelcome problems" in construction. Each process has its advantages and disadvantages. To help you understand these, let's look at each one.

 

"COMPETITIVE BID/BUILD" PROCESS

This is the most common process. In this scenario several contractors submit bids for the construction project, based on plans previously prepared by the architect. The owner then selects the contractor's bid which best meets their requirements.

 

The advantage in the "competitive bid/build" process is the architect is usually selected by the owner to design the building, prepare detailed drawings and specifications, direct the bid process, and oversee construction. Architects are trained to provide structurally safe, comfortable, attractive, functional buildings, and they generally understand the building codes. They also understand the construction process and construction costs, and direct the bidding process for you. They become your representative to translate your needs onto paper and then see that the project gets built the way you want it. They will work with you in selecting contractors to submit bids on the project, then advise you of irregularities, if any in bids. You need a minimum of three to four good bids to assure accuracy. Bidding provides fair competition and gives you assurance that your project will be built for a fair price, and within a guaranteed timetable. As your representative the architect should observe construction, noting irregularities and verifying the contractor's payment requests, and payments to subcontractors and suppliers. Since he is your representative, he has no conflicting interest, and will see that you get the best quality building possible under the terms of the plans and contract.

 

Problems associated with the "competitive bid/build" process are the contractor doesn't always know what the architect intended, unless the plans and specifications are very clear. The architect may not understand what the church wanted if they are not of "like mind and faith", and issues are not clearly communicated. The architect cannot guarantee the bid results, which can be affected by the construction and economic climate. Sometimes contractors take an adversarial role and look only after their own interests. 

 

"DESIGN/BUILD" PROCESS

In this process the owner usually hires the contractor first, who in turn hires the architect to provide the plans. They often provide the owner a guaranteed preliminary estimate of construction cost. They work both during design and throughout construction to meet that goal.

 

The "design/build" advantages are that they work closely with the owner and architect from the beginning, controlling cost, and jump-starting construction. They may get involved in problem solving, and set rigid design and construction schedules. To take advantage of price jumps in materials or labor they sometimes start construction before plans are totally complete. Other advantages are "one source of contact" and responsibility, and the possibility of a guaranteed construction price before plans are ever completed.

 

Problems associated with "design/build" may include the contractor tending to manipulate design and quality at the altar of "cost savings". They can put undue time pressures on the architect to meet a schedule they select which can force an architect to rush and not check as thoroughly, risking mistakes (be it safety or design flaws). Since the contractor usually is the lead party to the contract, they sometimes make decisions, which rightly belong to the architect or owner. But the most serious problem is that the contract is usually written before design takes place and without competitive construction bids. There is no guarantee to the owner that their price will be less than a "competitive bid" based on a complete set of plans and specifications. Because of "conflict of interest" the architect may not be able to insist on top quality construction or design improvements.

 

"CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT" PROCESS

The owner hires a person or company to "manage" construction. They arrange for and oversee the subcontractors who build the building. They may be hired during the design process or after the architect prepares the plans.

 

The "construction management" advantages are that they usually have less expensive fees. It is easier for the owner to provide volunteer labor to keep construction costs down. The owner usually gives the construction manager free reign to make any possible cost cutting measures. In this setting the owner and construction manager become more of a team.

 

The problems associated with "Construction Management" are usually related to quality and/or cost. Many times the construction manager ignores parts of the plans and specifications previously determined jointly by the architect and owner. This they do to cut construction cost and sometimes even "undermine the architect's integrity." They may even bypass the architect's responsibility to observe construction, and payment request approvals. Therefore quality can be sacrificed without the owner even knowing it. The most serious problem is usually when the construction manager "negotiates" a construction contract thereby avoiding the competitive bidding process. So the owner doesn't know if he is getting the lowest price or the most for his dollar. The costs may greatly exceed the architect's estimate as well as normal construction industry costs. Another issue to consider is the owner usually takes all the risk. The construction manager only ""manages" the subcontractors. The owner pays the subcontractors and suppliers, and if anything goes wrong after construction it is usually the owner's responsibility to notify the subs and or suppliers to enforce the warrantees, if there are any.

 

"OWNER BUILD" PROCESS

As the title suggests, the owner constructs all or part of the project. The balance of the project is subcontracted and managed by the owner. They need a qualified foreman to oversee all construction activity.

 

The advantages of "owner builder" are that most labor, management, and overhead and profit costs are basically eliminated. It gives the church more ownership and pride in the building because "we built it ourselves". If done right, this can create a unifying spirit as the church "works together."

Problems associated with "owner build" are many. If the pastor manages the project, his ministry and his health will usually suffer. Church members can become unhappy if things go wrong or not to their liking. It is hard to insist on top quality from "volunteer labor". Volunteers can become tired and overworked. They may have other jobs and homes to maintain as well. When the help isn't there at the proper times construction can string out over weeks and even months. This can result in "higher prices" on some items because of price increases. The delays can also be disheartening to a congregation.

 

SUMMARY/CONCLUSION

There are many qualified architects and contractors in each of the forms noted above. It is in the churches' best interest to consider several contractors and verify each of their qualifications, experience, and some of the projects they have built. Many churches have undergone successful construction projects with each. But there are also horror stories connected with each type. The purpose of this article has been to make you aware of the advantages and disadvantages so that you can prayerfully and intelligently make the decision best for your church.

As good stewards of God's money, the church leadership should become familiar with the responsibilities of the contractor and the architect before entering a contract with any firm or individual.

 

Churches don't have to suffer because of these problems if they will just understand construction processes and risks, and watch for these pitfalls. A church needs to do several things: (1) Pre-qualify the professionals you deal with. (2) Check for experience and quality, and how well they worked with previous churches. (Don't just take someone's word for it.) (3) Determine what is most important to the church - is it lowest cost, top quality, durability, energy efficiency, experience, excellent design, or minimal involvement from church people.

 

A church building committee chairman once said, "We don't want to build the church physically, we want to continue to build it spiritually and numerically." Someone else has said, "it is not always wise to buy the least expensive, because you probably will pay more in the end." Hire an experienced "like minded" architect with lots of church design experience, let him guide you, and you usually won't be disappointed.

 

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