Wake Ed

August 11, 2014

Wake County schools defend use of construction manager at risk

Wake County school administrators will defend the use of construction manager at risk to county commissioners who’ve been critical of that method for building and renovating schools.

Wake County school administrators will probably get a cooler reaction today from county commissioners compared to the school board about the use of the construction manager at risk process.

Construction manager at risk, or cm at risk, is the method that the Wake County school system has used to build new schools and do most major renovation projects since 2007. But it’s an approach that’s drawn questions from commissioners who’ve heard complaints that the process has cut out some local contractors who used to get construction work from the district.

Click here to view a handout that was presented at last week’s school board meeting.

Before 2007, the school system used the single-prime construction method in which all the work is bid out in a single package. The contractor, who could do some of the work himself, bid out work to subcontractors.

Under cm at risk, the contractor is hired earlier in the process and is involved in the design of the project. The contractor also isn’t allowed to do any of the actual work but instead oversees the subcontractors.

One of the controversial parts of cm at risk is that the construction manager prequalifies the subcontractors who can bid.

Joe Desormeaux, the school district’s assistant superintendent for facilities, said the costs between single prime and cm at risk are about the same. But he said cm offers benefits such as more input from the contractor at the beginning of the project, greater minority business involvement, more transparency in the bidding process and better work from making sure subcontractors are qualified.

Desormeaux also said that the cm process results in more certainty over project schedules.

School board members were raving about the process.

“When I see issues like this that appear to be almost no-brainers, I wonder what it is that we’re missing,” said school board vice chairman Tom Benton. “What’s the argument not to use construction management at risk?”

But commissioners have not been as thrilled, listening to the charges that contractor Keith Harrod made at a meeting in November that the school system’s use of cm at risk was locking out smaller firms. These complaints helped lead to the passage of a state law last year requiring public entities to justify using c, at risk for each project.

Due to the law, school staff will come back to the school board to request approval for using cm at risk for most of the major projects that will be funded by last fall’s bond issue.

As part of the new interlocal agreement on school construction, Desormeaux will brief commissioners at today’s work session on why school staff want to use cm at risk.

(I’m off this week. But I have written some blog posts to cover the time period.)

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The WakeEd blog is devoted to discussing and answering questions about the major issues facing the Wake County school system. WakeEd is maintained by The News & Observer's Wake schools reporter, T. Keung Hui.

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