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A major capital improvements program involves important decisions regarding the method by which the projects will be designed and constructed - the project delivery method. This decision has become more complex as a variety of alternative delivery methods have been developed to address weaknesses in the "traditional" design-bid-build process. Methods that have gained in popularity include fast-track construction, multiple prime contracting, and design-build.


This delivery method offers the advantage of being widely applicable, well understood, with well-established and clearly defined roles for the parties involved. It offers the Owner a significant amount of control over the end product, as the facility's features are determined and specified prior to selection of the contractor. However, many owners have experienced a variety of frustrations using this system, leading to the development of other methods.

Once completed, the design package is issued to interested general contractors, who prepare bids for the work and execute contracts with subcontractors. The contractor submitting the lowest responsive bid is selected to perform the construction. This contractor is then responsible for constructing the facility in accordance with the design. The Architect typically maintains limited oversight of the work and responds to questions about the design on behalf of the Owner.

Design-Bid-Build Pros:

  • Competitive bidding process
  • Easy to manage, universally understood
  • Defined project prior to bid

Design-Bid-Build Cons:

  • Contractors take advantage of "competitive process"
  • Design suffers from a lack of input from contractors and subcontractors
  • Changes orders are common
  • Owner has full exposure to change orders
  • Delay claims and disputes are common


This system, which many state agencies use, has gained favor in part as another method of "fast-tracking" construction. Work in each construction discipline is bid separately.

For a given project, there may be numerous bid packages depending on the size, complexity and economic breakdown of the project. These "trade contracts" can be bid as unit-pricing contracts for use on a variety of projects. This fast-track approach appears to be a highly desirable feature of this method of procurement in cases where time of performance is a critical element. The Construction Manager (CM) creates multiple bid packages from the basic design documents created by the design team. The CM administers the construction through individual trade contractors contracted directly with the Owner.

CM Multiple Prime Pros:

  • Economy of scale
  • Time for project delivery is reduced
  • Defined requirements and cost containment

CM Multiple Prime Cons:

  • Not suitable for complex or custom projects
  • Multiple contracts can make for administrative difficulty
  • Owner liability in the event one prime trade contractor damages another
  • Lack of a single, guaranteed, bonded price for the total project
  • Changes in project scope will generate change orders


In 2002, San Mateo County Community College District realized that using additional construction delivery methods, such as design-build, would enhance its ability to implement projects efficiently and effectively – to the benefit of its students, faculty, community and taxpayers.  SMCCCD asked then-assembly member Joe Simitian to sponsor legislation that would allow community colleges to utilize design-build, a delivery method used successfully in the private sector.  AB1000 passed and eventually became Education Code §81700, naming San Mateo County Community College District, San Jose-Evergreen CCD and LACCCD as three districts who could use design-build in a pilot program to ascertain if this delivery method could be successful in community college construction.

SMCCCD has successfully delivered or is in the process of completing 5 projects under the EC81700 code authorization (along with 1 project under Government Code 4217 and another project under Government Code 5956):

  • Energy Efficiency Projects, Districtwide (GC4217)
  • Athletic Facilities Upgrades, Districtwide (EC81700)
  • Science Building, College of San Mateo (ECB1700)
  • Student Union and Science Annex, Skyline College (EC81700)
  • Faculty and Staff Housing, College of San Mateo (GC5956)

Possibly the greatest advantage offered by the Design/Build process to many Owners is that at some point early in the design process, the Owner negotiates a guaranteed maximum price for the finished project.

A significant advantage of Design/Build over the "traditional" design-bid-build delivery method is that the Owner has a single contract and point of contact for the design and construction of the project. The contract is fully inclusive of all services and products to be delivered by the team.  The Owner typically does not have to resolve or even become involved with the difficulties and disagreements between the team members that can complicate the low-bid delivery method. With the contractor and designer working collaboratively through the design process, the contractor gains a thorough and detailed knowledge of the design intent and the architect can design in the details and systems that the contractor can provide most efficiently.

Another significant advantage of Design/Build is the compressed time schedule that is possible through phased permitting approvals.  SMCCCD’s projects delivered using Design/Build have resulted in facilities being turned over to the Owner more than a year sooner than if those projects had been designed, bid and then built.

Design-Build Pros:

  • Single point of responsibility for both design and construction Project delivery time is reduced
  • Design/build contractors add construction practicality to design imagination
  • Owners get an enforceable price for construction early in the project
  • The contractor can negotiate subcontracts so the owner can benefit from reliable subcontractors

Design-Build Cons:

  • Unless the scope is well-defined, Owner is at risk for quality and Owner has less control over design.
  • Without clear direction, Owner-initiated changes will cause change orders
  • The Architect works for the Contractor, not the Owner

California Community Colleges Design-Build Guidelines

Report on Design-Build Pursuant to the Requirements of Education Code 81700-ET.SEQ

Facilities Planning & Operations
Phone: (650) 574-6512
Fax: (650) 574-6574

San Mateo County Community College District
3401 CSM Drive
San Mateo CA 94402


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