Why a building owner should consider a construction manager as agent (CMa) method of delivery

A construction manager can help control costs and avoid delays, but how does an owner know they have found the right one? From unique builds to challenging schedules, the right construction manager will make complex projects much less complex for the owner.

Delivery methods

There are a number of ways to establish the contractual relationship between a contractor an an owner. The selected option, often referred to as a “delivery method,” defines the role the contractor will play in the project.

Hiring a general contractor is a well-understood approach that would appear to have the lowest cost for the established design. However, hiring a general contractor requires more time and coordination by the owner and can lead to “bid day surprises” the owner wasn’t expecting.

In the case of construction manager as constructor (CMc), or construction manager at risk, the construction manager provides constructability reviews, preconstruction budgeting and schedule planning during the design process, promoting a team approach between the owner, architect and construction manager. However, this method may appear more expensive since the services are fee-based as opposed to the “bid” system.

The design-build delivery method has all the benefits of CMc but also offers the owner a single point of contact for the responsibilities of both design and construction, potentially resulting in fewer change orders and lower engineering costs.

Unfortunately, the CMc and design-build methods are not an allowable delivery method in Iowa for most state, city or county projects or K-12 school construction projects.

 The construction manager as agent (CMa) model gives the owner the advantages of a CMc model, with one exception. The owner accepts the financial responsibility for the project, rather than the contractor. “Bid day surprises” are still possible but are less likely than with the general contractor approach.

Cost and benefits of CMa delivery

Due to its many advantages and its acceptability for use on government and school projects in Iowa, the CMa method of delivery is most beneficial when projects involve working in or adjacent to occupied spaces, when working with challenging schedules or when working on a large value project.

“The CMa delivery method is very owner-friendly,” said Bush Construction President A.J. Loss. “With this method, the construction manager acts as an agent of the owner, looking out for the interest of the project. It is the duty of the CM to build interest among bidding prime contractors, coordinate the schedule and oversee the construction quality.”

Many owners believe construction manager delivery methods are more expensive than other methods. It’s been found, however, that this isn’t necessarily the case. Though upfront costs may appear higher than with a competitive bid process, the CM method has delivered projects under budget, has completed them sooner than estimated and even with broader scope than originally projected in many cases.

 “For example, we had a project with Augustana College, working on their Westerlin Residence Hall,” said Loss. “Using the CMc delivery method actually decreased the competitive bid cost and increased the increased the scope of the project because the construction management firm (Bush Construction) was able to be involved in the design, scope and scheduling discussions. So, we were actually able to deliver the project at a lower cost.”

Davenport Fire Chief Lynn Washburn and Assistant Chief Jim Bickford had their doubts about the CMa delivery model before Bush Construction began the renovation and construction of the Central Fire Station in Davenport.

“We weren’t sold on it at the beginning,” said Bickford, “but now we are. We have no doubt that the project is better off for using this delivery method.”

Once an owner is convinced a CM model works best for their project, the next step is choosing a qualified construction manager, and Bush Construction has a few guidelines.

What to consider when selecting a construction manager

Undertake a thorough selection process with a selection criteria that is meaningful for your project. Share this criteria with proposing construction management firms, and invite well-qualified firms to compete.

 Use evaluation tools to score each firm on their related work experience, knowledge of the project, quality control and safety, proposed communication systems and more.

Although the CM delivery methods can be extremely valuable, the actual value depends on the specific CM hired for the project. Some owners have been disenfranchised with CM delivery because they selected a CM in the past that did not provide the value promised. Repeat users of CM delivery have found the single most important aspect to consider may be the firm’s past ability to provide value, from the owner’s perspective. Ideally, contact references who have completed projects with more than one CM firm in order to gain the most valuable feedback.

The advantages of having a construction manager hinge on a smoother process, so be sure that the selected firm is able to deliver on those benefits!