Church Design Topics Part V: Integrated Project Delivery and the Fiduciary Role of Church Leaders

I’ve written here before about an “Integrated Design Team” (IDT) approach to church architecture projects that tries to avoid old school design-bid-build adversarial relationships between the Owner (and Architect) and the General Contractor. To say it again very simply, the IDT concept works to ensure that the Owner, Architect and Contractor work together as a team to achieve the church’s project goals for design and budget.

I want to re-visit the topic again, because many of our church clients remain concerned that the IDT process may not be the most financially responsible approach for their church. Pastors, trustees, and building committee members alike understandably take their fiduciary responsibility to congregational monies seriously. And indeed, so does LeMay Erickson Willcox as church architects.

Let’s look at fiduciary responsibility from both means of project delivery. In the design-bid-build approach, the Architect works carefully to provide a “tight” set of bid documents for a custom project that has never been built before. The awful truth is, however, that there has never been a “perfect” set of construction documents prepared by any (truthful) architect. Ever. Certainly, better sets of documents reduce the opportunities for change orders (and our office takes great care in quality control of our documents). But even so, there is inevitably the moment where there is a question or ambiguity or even missing piece of information in the documents. In a competitive bid environment, multiple General Contractors are working to exploit each and every document weakness, all while trying to be lowest initial bidder. At the end of the bid process, the church leadership can say to its congregation that it has achieved competitive bidding and thereby the lowest bid for the project.  But given the competitive bid environment, has the best long-term value for the church’s monies been achieved?

Remember, in design-bid-build, the General Contractors bidding have one primary first goal in mind: winning the bid. To do so, they must have the lowest numbers, and to have the lowest numbers.  This potentially pushes the GC to work with those subs who he may readily know are not the best fit for the job apart from cost. Further, because the GC must go low with his initial bid simply to win the job, he will naturally then rely on change orders during construction to make-back his profit margin. Even if the GC sees an issue with the documents during bidding, he is not likely to bring it forward, and thereby lose his competitive advantage along with the opportunity for a change order during construction.

The beauty of the Integrated Design Team Approach, on the other hand, is that the church’s fiduciary concerns are satisfied with open-book competitive subcontractor bidding while working with a GC and subcontractors that are qualified and capable of delivering superior construction. Remember, regardless of the delivery method, 95% or more of the construction contract value may be in the subcontractor bidding; the GC’s overhead and profit may be as little as 4%. And with an Integrated Design Team, even the GC’s fee is something that can be discussed. Both GC overhead and profit and subcontractor bidding can be shared transparently between the GC and the Owner, ensuring that the subcontractor selected provides not only a competitive bid, but the level of quality expected. The success of the project delivery is measured not in terms of lowest initial cost, but in a clearly understood best value to the church—all discussed within a trust-based team environment. Value-based decision-making seems to us the better measure of the fiduciary responsibility church leaders owe their members.

While LeMay Erickson Willcox has worked with both methods for almost 30 years, the large majority of our church architecture clients in the last 5 to 10 years have enjoyed the Integrated Design Team, negotiated bid approach to project delivery. The reason is not just that there’s less adversarial tension between the parties during construction: it’s that the church leadership has delivered the project as expected to its members in a value-driven, financially responsible manner.