Saving Taxpayers Money Through Innovation

by Darren L. James, AIAWhether constructing a fire station, renovating a city hall, or adding space to a library, the design and construction of a municipal building requires cost-efficient planning, design, and construction. Like a three-legged stool, these elements must work together to provide city officials and their constituents the very best value for their tax or bond dollar investment. Here are three suggestions to help ease the process of creating excellence for your next project: 1. Hire firms that will engage in active listening. Design and construction professionals should desire to sit down with administrators, facility staff, and typical building users at the conceptual stage-well before a design has even been discussed. This creates a true team approach, where everyone involved in the project has a voice and can provide their knowledge and ideas to create something better than could have been built without them. This interaction should continue through initial programming, design, funding, construction, and technology and furniture installation. Incorporating the various wishes and desires of the entire team can enhance the building's perceived value to all who use the space. Ask questions, tour buildings in other cities and towns, and encourage your team to study and share best practices from other building projects. When the entire project team is engaged and informed, you are bound to create a better building solution. Design charrettes are a good example of one way to bring your city into the design process. Recently, our firm participated in the design of 20 new transit stations across North Texas, as part of the' $1. 5billion extension of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) light rail system. Public involvement programming was one of the most influential efforts that made this project such a resounding success for DART and the City of Dallas. Community involvement in the design and planning process helped the cities to "own" the stations, feel a sense of pride in the stations, and consequently ensure that the properties are respected and treated well by the residents. 2. Analyze sustainable concepts to help you pick the ones that work for you. Green or sustainable building practices are all the rage today, and many cities and towns require that buildings are built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifiable levels. This means using the parameters established by the u.s. Green Building Council as a guide for providing certifiable buildings or buildings that emulate these principles. These guidelines provide a baseline for you, the municipal officials, to determine which certification level you will target. However, it is important to be sure that the energy-conscious decisions you make will provide true energy savings and improve efficiency to a level that truly matters over the life of your building. Every product or process deemed "green" does not necessarily bring long-term value to your facility. Be sure that your energy consultants have a strong track record in green building practices and understand the difference between "green washing" and truly sustainable and practical solutions. A case in point is the City of Dallas' new Highland Hills Branch Library. The $4.5-million library was designed to achieve a LEED Gold certification. When completed later this year, the 1S,000-square-foot building will replace an existing library built nearby in the 1960s. The design is based on the sustainable principles of reducing the life-cycle cost of buildings. Industry metrics indicate that SO percent of the cost of facilities is incurred after the construction is complete. KAI's design team seeks unique and alternative ways to create multidisciplinary buildings that can accommodate renovations and modifications throughout the life of the building. Designers should seek solutions based on the city's input regarding operational efficiencies and functional layouts that help with staff costs and reduce maintenance and utility bills. For Highland Hills, the circulation desk and the supervisor's office were intentionally placed in adjacent relationships with visual access to the entire circulation area. The building is on a true North-South axis to take advantage of the cost savings attributed to diffuse northern light in the reading and circulation areas, while allowing natural light from clerestories on the South to penetrate the space and reduce the use of artificial illumination. The windows are inset to protect from direct sunlight and heat gain. One of the key points the city requested was flexibility of the space to "future proof" so-to-speak the circulation area for unknown technologies and service delivery options in the future. The mechanical system is distributed under a raised floor to allow redistribution as functions and uses change. All these features are possible with good design and the utilization of tools and a process called BIM, which leads to the final point. 3. Build smart with BIM Building information modeling (BIM) is not just a software application. It should be part of every building planning activity. BIM involves the process of building a project virtually, before it's ever built in reality. It lets you see where you're headed, how various elements impact one another, and how your building will fit on the site. Having this virtual building as your model allows changes as you think through every aspect of your building program. This upfront work can save vast amounts of time and money and ultimately provides a building that meets expectations. Being able to see it, visualize the space and its performance, and detect early-on the areas of potential problems, can take great stress from the process and improve the performance of everyone involved. In fact, a recent case study showed quantifiable results. Two identical buildings were constructed, one using BIM, one not. According to this study, there was a 50 percent reduction in coordination RFls (requests for information), a 50 percent reduction in coordination-resulted change orders, and a schedule that was as much as six months faster. When considering your next city building project, careful attention to detail will go a long way in ensuring you the best possible building and the best possible building experience. Buildings today, and most importantly municipal facilities, must meet the functional design criteria to reduce operations and maintenance, improve staff efficiencies, and provide cost reductions, while increasing facility longevity. In today's economy, keeping these three considerations in mind makes sense and can result in a facility that not only meets or exceeds expectations today, but can also be modified more easily, efficiently, and economically in the future.This article, authored by Darren L. James, AIA, appeared in the March 2011 issue of Texas Town & City Magazine.