The “How?” in getting the best New West Secondary School: A question of Project Delivery


Architecture & Art



Following my blog on the idea of designing the New Westminster Secondary School as a tower instead of the standard rambling low-rise form of school to deal with the site constraints, there has been a tremendous amount of response.

The resounding commentary has been not regarding “why?” but “how?” do we get this to happen.

This is a tremendously complex question. The design and fruition of community-based institutions is very heavily laden with a great deal of stakeholders, especially schools. Parents, community, neighbours, politicians, the Ministry of Education, the School Districts and the teachers all want, and should, have a say in such an important facility that will impact so many. Then there are the Architects and Engineers that also, normally, want to be a key and formative component to the project. Everyone has so much to gain and so much to lose.

After thinking about the “how?”, I keep coming back to one major component that will set the tone for such a project and will, ultimately, decide its success.

How will the project be delivered? What will be the method chosen to get the process going and the building built?

There are two main types of project delivery methods. One is the traditional Design-Bid-Build method and the other is Design-Build.


In the older and far more common process of Design-Bid-Build the project proceeds as follows:

  1. Stakeholders develop the Program, specifications and schedule for the project.
  2. A Request for Proposals is made to Architectural/Engineering teams to design the project.
  3. A team is selected based on their experience, people, schedule and fee.
  4. The design team meets often with the stakeholders to work out concepts then continue to solidifying the design up to the final construction documents. Everything is reviewed and commented on by everyone. Nowadays this is called the Integrated Design Process (IDP). (note: Robert Billard developed a version of the IDP called the Holistic Project Delivery (HPDtm) method to streamline it even further and make the process even more results driven. See the article on our site.)
  5. The Design is completed.
  6. The project is tendered for bids from qualified construction companies.
  7. The winning tender is selected by a panel comprised of stakeholders and based on experience, schedule and price.
  8. Construction starts.


By contrast, the following is the process set out in the Design-Build method:

  1. Stakeholders develop the Program, specifications and schedule.
  2. A Request for Proposal is made to qualified Architects/Engineers to act as the Owner’s Representative who will assist in refining the program and evaluating the Design-Build proposals.
  3. A Request for Qualifications is made to Contractors to assemble a team of Architects and Engineers.
  4. Three teams (typically) are selected based on their experience and robustness.
  5. The teams are given, typically, three months to develop a design proposal.
  6. While the competing teams are working on their designs, the Owner’s Representative develops a design with the stakeholders, meeting often hashing out concepts and testing the program and specifications. This final design will be used to evaluate the submissions by the competing proponents.
  7. During the three months, the teams meet a handful of times and present to a panel of stakeholders. Only the selected panel members are privy to these presentations and the results are not made public.
  8. Final designs are submitted for review. The submissions are tested against the Owner’s Representative’s prototype.
  9. The review panel, based on the advice of the Owner’s Representative, the price and the design that best meets the requirements of the project, selects a winner.
  10. An honorarium, typically in the order of $50,000 to $75,000 (dependant on the size of the project), is given to the losing proponents.
  11. The project begins construction.


Over the years I have worked on seven large and complex Design-Build projects. For one of these, I acted as the Owner’s Representative.

The decision to go with either project delivery method is difficult for large projects. There are many arguments made for the efficiencies and benefits of both. Over the past several years it has become more and more common for schools to use the Design-Build method.


The following are the perceived benefits and problems with each method:




  • The use of the IDP throughout the process.
  • Fluid and constant communication.
  • The design process is not encumbered by the aspect of competition.
  • More incentive to be innovative in problem solving and in creating great Architecture.
  • Well suited to complex projects where there are many different users and needs.
  • Accurate cost estimating is conducted throughout the process with the review and involvement of the stakeholders.
  • The community is involved at many stages.
  • The ability to make changes to the design can be made right up until the tender process.
  • The design is not compressed into a three month period and therefore there is a smaller chance of items being missed and cost-overruns during construction.
  • The contractors are bidding on solid construction documentation and specifications therefore fewer unknowns.
  • The stakeholders know what they are going to get.



  • Pressure to select the right Architect/Engineer team at the start.
  • At times there can be internal disagreements that can hold up the process.
  • Ongoing community involvement can bog down a project and cause delays.
  • There can be a perception that if the project is not in the ground right away, nothing is being done.




  • The compressed design process.
  • Having the contractor as the lead on the project can mitigate cost overruns and drive the project faster.
  • Well suited to simple but large projects such as warehouses and factories.
  • Having more final designs to chose from can be better for selecting the best project.
  • The “spirit of competition” is felt to ensure a better final price for the project.



  • A long lead time where the program is developed. Any missing elements will be very costly once the competition is over.
  • The Owner’s Representative role is an added cost and often gives the stakeholders the false hope that they will get everything they want.
  • Very little communication with the competing design teams.
  • Only the review panel has any involvement in the design.
  • The community has no involvement.
  • The final cost is based on a concept that was created in just three months.
  • Not well suited to complex projects where there are many stakeholders and different users and needs.
  • Little incentive for innovation as the teams are competing and will rarely take any risk in presenting a design that breaks from tradition.
  • A high chance of things being missed as the design process is so short. As construction starts before the whole building is fully designed there is great risk in complications, omissions and coordination errors.
  • The ability to make any changes to the design without incurring significant cost impact is almost non-existent. Any changes will be met with high costs. In fact, many Design-Build projects are gladly accepted by contractors as they they can submit a price at the beginning and count on there being many changes during the project that recoup the loss of providing a low bid.
  • Rarely is the winning project exactly what the stakeholders want. It is almost always a huge compromise.
  • The additional cost associated with paying the losing proponents the honorarium.
  • The proponents for Design-Build often use the argument that the project will be completed faster and for less money.


Let’s examine the realities of the schedule for a typical school using these two methods:



Develop Program                                             6 months

RFP development                                           1 month

RFP and Team Selection                               2 months

Design                                                               10 months

Tender and Selection                                     2 months

Negotiations with Contractor                       1 month

Construction                                                   14 months

Total                                                             36 months (3 years)



Develop Program                                             6 months

RFP & Selection of Owner’s Rep.                 2 months

Refinement of Program & Design               4 months

RFQ & Selection of Proponents                   3 months

Competition                                                     3 months

Selection of winning team                            1 month

Negotiations with winner                               1 month

Construction                                                     14 months

Total                                                               34 months (2.8 years)


While, it may appear that the project is in the ground faster, a lot of time and money is spent early on. In terms of the argument that using Design-Build saves money, this is not the case. When a project, specifically a school, has been selected to go forward a budget is put in place. The project is intended to cost no more than this. If the use of the Design-Build process actually costs less than this budget, the money will be used for extras for the project. Having “extras” does not mean the school will be better because the winning bid is based on a bare-bones design with little innovation and cost-cutting in material and quality. Finally, the cost of the Owner’s Architect and the honoraria must be calculated into the overall project budget, typically hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In terms of making the right choice for the procurement of the New Westminster Secondary School, the answer to the “how?” is based on how much the community of stakeholders wants innovation, great Architecture, involvement and accountability by the design and construction teams. There is a reason why almost all notable Architecture in our cities such as art galleries, libraries, theatres, museums, office and condo towers are built using the traditional Design-Bid-Build method.

If we want to be assured of being proud of the resulting project, to feel a part of the process, embrace innovation, like designing a tower for the school, and further the great steps New Westminster has taken so far in fostering great Architecture, it appears the choice in

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