A Tale of Two Roofs

Roofs are often the last building component to get attention and then only if leaks are so prolific that five gallon buckets have to replace the furniture during a downpour.  This was the case when we were called in a few years back to address a municipal building water problem.   Five gallon buckets could be seen on the local TV station as it filmed the monthly city council meetings.    Deterioration from years of neglect required a complete demolition and reconstruction of the roof.  Fortunately, the concrete structure was still in tact and could be saved.  Replacing total roof failures is not this architect’s dream, but the challenge of saving city hall outweighed common sense and I embarked upon a challenge unequalled in my practice.

Most municipal clients in Kentucky are only comfortable with the design-bid-build contract delivery method, so we selected the low bid and awarded the project.  We then proceeded with a project that I could see through the window in my corner office.  It proved to be one of the most stressful of my entire career.  From delays to excuses, to outright disregard for contract specifications, I was reminded almost daily of the reasons that I was not a fan of low-bid projects.  With many years in the public higher education field, I was familiar with the rules and comfortable with the procedures that I had developed, but was also aware of the problems (Not all of the problems, however, as I was soon to become acquainted with additional challenges).  The faded memories of the problems of past projects were refreshed when the phone would ring or an irate city council member would stop by the office. 

Roof Number One: The Low-Bid project

On Friday prior to a holiday weekend, I became ill with a bronchial infection that would literally put me in bed by Sunday afternoon.  The in-laws arrived, and about the same time one of the worst rainstorms in our city’s recent history.  Unbeknownst to me, the workers had walked off the job on Friday afternoon leaving large portions of the building uncovered.  This omission, not allowed by the terms of the contract also went undetected by city personnel and offices which had closed for the weekend.  The rain poured steadily into the building Friday evening, all day Saturday, and Saturday evening.  .

I was awakened from the sick bed on Sunday afternoon by a call from the mayor informing me of the situation he had discovered upon a Sunday stop by his office.  He opened the door to be greeted by a flood wall of trapped water in the building, then discovered that both floors were flooded.  Trying to clear out the cold medicine in my head enough to comprehend the gravity of the situation, I dialed the contractor and asked him to contact the roofing superintendent.  I forced myself out of bed and somehow managed to drive in the pouring rain the three blocks to the site.

Upon arriving, I also called a company that specializes in water damage control and asked them to mobilize.  The mayor, the General Contractor, and I spent the afternoon squeeging 4-6 inches of water out of the building,  Fortunately other volunteers appeared to help as the day passed and by the end of the day on Monday, the situation was under control.  Once the urgency had passed, the questions began.   The roofing contractor indicated that his equipment had broken down on Friday and he had personally travelled across the state to purchase a replacement.  Seeing the incoming storm, and the lack of supervision,  his troops had bolted before he arrived back in town late Friday. Crew members had removed more roof area than they could replace in one day and then abandoned the site when the rains came.

The flooded building was only one of many disasters that occurred during this project.  My selective memory has allowed me to effectively block many of the others.  Not only did a hum-drum roof replacement become an expensive insurance repair, but also a public spectacle and a profit drain for every company involved (including mine).  This is a classic example of what you might expect with design-bid-build projects.  Needless to say, we have not added this one to our company brochure!

Roof Number Two: The Best Value project

A few years later our public library called with a similar problem.  I once again agreed to tackle this most unpleasant job, but with the condition that we would choose a contractor through the process of Best Value Contracting and not by the lowest bid.   Price would only account for 60% of the total points with the other 40% allotted to other criteria- references, experience, ability to perform, certifications, etc..  The contractor chosen had impeccable credentials, experience with high profile and sensitive public buildings, and great current references.  By the way, he just called.   We have had severe weather, but only one very small incident of water in the building during the entire three month project., and more than 6 months of leak-free building following .  The specifications were followed.  The workers did not harass the patrons.  The jobsite was orderly, and the detailing was exquisite.. He had requested 16 days of delay for rain conditions which were carefully documented.  He got them.  I am happy.  The director is happy. The building is dry!

As a bonus, as I was leaving the jobsite on one of my many visits, I overheard the job foreman say to his workers: “He is the best architect I have ever worked with.”  I knew why.  We had removed the tensions and adversarial nature of the design-bid-build process and were able to spend our time doing what we both do well-work out quality details for functional buildings that serve deserving clients.  Best Value Contracting allowed us to work at our highest level and to go home happy at the end of the day.

Long Live Best Value Contracting!

                    "Let's Build Something Lasting"

                    "Let's Build Something Lasting"

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