Advantages to Selecting a CMAR Early

by | Aug 29, 2023

With the overarching goal to design and construct a high-quality project within budget and on time, the construction management at-risk (CMAR) delivery method is becoming a popular option for many owners when evaluating the various collaborative delivery processes. One key advantage to CMAR delivery is that it puts the owner in the driver’s seat, giving it the ability to select both the designer and the construction management at-risk firm *(CMAR) based on a best-value selection process.
The question then becomes, “When do you select and add the CMAR firm to the project team?
Historically, it has been a general practice to select a designer to develop a preliminary design report (PDR) and 30% design documents to use in the request for proposals (RFP) process for CMAR selection. Therefore, by the time the CMAR is selected and under contract, the designer has already progressed well beyond the 30% design phase. This is becoming a thing of the past as owners now see the benefit of selecting the CMAR firm much earlier in the process, often well before the 30% design phase. Owners are now understanding that when it comes to water infrastructure projects, early CMAR involvement can significantly enhance project outcomes by saving time and money. Engaging the CMAR early in the planning and design stages of a project offers several benefits that cannot be understated. In this article, we’ll delve into the three key benefits of early CMAR involvement: an accelerated schedule, higher cost certainty, and flexibility in decision-making.
Accelerated Schedule
Time is of the essence for any infrastructure project, and early CMAR involvement can play a pivotal role in expediting the schedule. By engaging an experienced CMAR firm from the project’s inception, valuable input can be integrated into the schedule, including critical path analysis, identification of long-lead equipment, single or multiple guaranteed maximum price (GMP) submissions, concurrent design and construction sequencing, permitting constraints, etc. This early collaboration facilitates the identification of potential bottlenecks, feasibility challenges, and construction constraints, as well as provides valuable insight regarding construction methods and alternate approaches that can help optimize project timelines. Ultimately, an accelerated schedule can lead to cost savings, reduced disruption to the surrounding community, and earlier delivery of vital water infrastructure to meet growing demand.
Higher Cost Certainty
Cost overruns are a common challenge on infrastructure projects, often stemming from unexpected site conditions, scope changes, or unforeseen design issues. Early CMAR involvement can help mitigate these risks and provide better cost certainty for owners. Contractors bring practical insight into the project’s cost drivers for materials, labor, and equipment requirements. CMAR firms are able to provide real-time pricing that reflects current market conditions and supply chain issues, thus enabling more accurate cost estimates during the planning and design stages.
Collaborating with a CMAR early also allows for value engineering exercises, where cost-saving opportunities are explored without compromising the project’s quality and performance. Alternative materials, construction methods, or design modifications can be vetted with the project team that can lead to significant savings in material and labor costs. Additionally, early engagement with the CMAR can facilitate the identification and mitigation of potential construction-related risks, thereby minimizing the likelihood of costly surprises during the construction phase.
By integrating a CMAR’s expertise into the decision-making process early, project owners can gain a comprehensive understanding of the project’s cost implications and make informed choices. The result is a more accurate budget and greater confidence in financial projections, reducing the likelihood of costly delays and the need for change orders.
Flexibility in Decision-Making
Water infrastructure projects often involve complex engineering, environmental considerations, and regulatory requirements. Early CMAR involvement empowers project owners and stakeholders with increased flexibility in decision-making. The CMAR can provide critical insights into design alternatives, construction methods, and project phasing that optimize the project’s functionality, durability, and sustainability.
With the CMAR on board from the beginning, potential conflicts between design intent and constructability can be resolved early, reducing the need for potentially expensive and time-consuming design changes during the construction phase. CMARs can provide valuable input on the availability and suitability of construction materials and equipment, ensuring that the project remains on track without delays or compromises.
Moreover, early collaboration fosters better teamwork among all project participants, allowing for more effective communication and alignment of objectives. A common decision log capturing constructability, risk, and value engineering items can be used early in the process to guide the design and ensure the final product meets the owner’s expectations. By establishing a shared understanding of project goals, constraints, and opportunities, early CMAR involvement facilitates a smoother decision-making process and promotes a culture of collaboration, which ultimately enhances the overall project outcome.
For water infrastructure projects, early involvement of the CMAR brings numerous benefits to owners. An accelerated schedule, higher cost certainty, and flexibility in decision-making are all results of early CMAR integration in the project that can lead to improved project outcomes, reduced risk, and greater stakeholder satisfaction. Sarasota County, Florida, is one owner capitalizing on these benefits. For its first CMAR project, the CMAR firm was selected after the 30% design phase for the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) expansion project. It was quickly realized that the CMAR’s input was key to early design changes, schedule changes, and value engineering ideas that enhanced the project. Consequently, for its next CMAR project—the Venice Gardens WRF expansion—the CMAR firm was selected early in the PDR phase, shortly after the designer was selected. Sarasota County was able to leverage the CMAR’s early input to obtain an early preconstruction and construction schedule, preliminary budget to assist funding needs, and the ability to sequence and focus design on early-out equipment and early GMP requirements.
Embracing early collaboration with a CMAR firm sets the stage for the project team to successfully and efficiently deliver vital water infrastructure projects, ensuring sustainable and resilient water systems for our communities.
*Note that the WCDA Water and Wastewater Collaborative Delivery Handbook, 6th edition, refers to CMAR in two different ways. In the first meaning, CMAR refers to the construction management at-risk delivery method itself. In the second meaning, CMAR refers to the actual contracting firm hired to construct the project. Both usages are correct, depending on context. Refer to page 16 of the handbook for more detail on CMAR.