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UW System offers project delivery options

Paul Snyder

The UW System Board of Regents on Thursday formally pitched a set of changes to the state’s review and approvals process for new construction.

“These recommendations are fairly modest,” said regent Jeffrey Bartell, “but they could make a major difference in how projects are performed in the future.”

Among the changes recommended by the UW System is a call for rules allowing the complexity of a state project — rather than the cost — to determine if it is delivered through the design-bid-build, single-prime, multiple-prime or construction manager-led process.

“A project’s budget does not reveal its complexity,” said David Miller, UW System vice president for capital planning and budget. “You could build a $50 million new, green field office, which would not be that complex, or perform a $10 million interior renovation of a building, which could be very complex.”

The issue of the state’s project delivery choice has been a point of contention between general contractors and subcontractors for a long time due to Wisconsin’s longstanding preference for multiple-prime contracts, which give all companies direct contracts with the state.

Groups such as the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin argue it would be better to have one point of contact and responsible party for a project. But when it comes to determining project delivery, AGC Government Affairs Director Jim Boullion said the association prefers to let a project’s price tag determine delivery.

“Having a set of price ranges makes sense,” he said, “because it keeps more contractors that can work on projects in a certain price range in the ballgame.”

Boullion said there could be circumstances under which a project’s complexity merits extended review in determining delivery. But, he said, trying to determine complexity on a case-by-case basis would become burdensome.

These kinds of issues and differences of opinion are what David Helbach said he is trying to solve as he reviews delivery methods and ways to better control project costs. Helbach, an administrator for the state Department of Administration’s Division of State Facilities and secretary to the state Building Commission, said he is considering the changes proposed by the UW System in his review of project delivery methods but has not yet determined his final recommendations.

“Any of those changes would not be part of the (2009-11) capital budget process,” he said. “Everyone has ideas, and, while all parties have been cooperative in bringing those ideas forward, there’s just no consensus yet.”

The UW System’s recommendations also included increasing the threshold from $150,000 to $250,000 for projects requiring state Building Commission approval. That proposal is included in Wisconsin’s proposed 2009-11 budget bill.

Helbach said he does not know if he will make his recommendations to the Building Commission on March 30 or wait until the April meeting.

“It’s better to do it right,” he said, “than force the issue.”

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