Progressive Design-Build Approach Creates Opportunity for Collaboration and Sustainability

When an international life sciences manufacturer needed to upgrade its process water treatment/reclamation system at a northeastern United States facility, it sought opportunities to maximize its return on investment. Our team proposed a progressive design-build approach and a conceptual design that provided future water reuse potential. This delivery method offered a single contract for our client while encouraging collaboration with our team throughout design and construction phases. The client is now positioned to reduce its reliance on local utilities and, as regulations evolve, lessen its demand on local water resources. 

Opting for Collaborative Design-Build Approach

Our client was a relative newcomer to the design-build delivery method but recognized the value of a simpler contract and the ability to remain involved while the upgrade to its wastewater pretreatment system progressed. The collaborative nature of the project team, effective project management, and efficient project execution helped its leadership realize even more value.

As the design team progressed, phases of construction were identified. The team was able to permit early site work and begin construction. In a typical delivery approach, the general contract would require a complete design prior to beginning work. With our design-build approach, initial site work progressed as the design team evolved plans from 30-percent, to 60-percent, and then to complete Issued-for-Construction (IFC) packages. The contractors kept an open line of communication with the design team to suggest alternative ideas to simplify work in the field and, in some cases, realize cost savings for the client. For example, the team identified a different source for underground steam and condensate piping, reducing the cost by 30 percent from the original guaranteed maximum price (GMP). Switching to a different mechanical subcontractor reduced the initial quote cost for that portion of the work by 50 percent. In another instance, the site contractor recommended a different piping material, which was more familiar to the construction crew, thus saving time on site. These cost savings were shared with the owner, which demonstrated the value of the design-build approach. 

Collaboration was further fostered by the fact the owner, representatives of the design team, and subcontractors were all on site together. This facilitates an efficient construction process because modifications to the design or changer orders can be implemented quickly rather than waiting days or weeks for email replies. The design team could respond more quickly to requests for information, ensuring the final system would deliver guaranteed performance. This co-location model of the design-build approach engaged the owner in all decisions and, with an open-book construction budget, all cost changes were easily validated. 

Working through Regulatory Hurdles

Our client wanted to leverage its investment by incorporating water reuse into the project design, which would reduce water use and result in potential cost savings. However, the regulatory environment challenged their objective.  

The company is no stranger to water purification and reuse. Its process already includes reverse osmosis (RO) systems that produce water for manufacturing and rejected water is used to flush toilets in its facilities. Although the region is water-rich, water recycling would reduce its water and sewer costs, and make more water available for growth. 

The regulatory environment poses two major obstacles: industrial discharge permitting and potable water reuse standards. More specifically: 

Permits for industrial discharge may set concentration-based instead of mass-based limits, which inadvertently restrict water reuse. RO treatment for reuse increases the concentration but not the mass of regulated constituents in the RO reject.  

The lack of federal regulations for direct reuse also poses challenges for companies. This puts the onus on companies to prove the safety of treated effluent, which comes with added expense and risk. 

Hugh Tozer and Ed Sharood co-authored “Forcing Investments Down the Drain” for WE&T Magazine’s August 2019 edition. Members of Water Environment Federation can find WE&T Magazine in print or online



Sergio Bazarevitsch National Practice Leader Design-Build

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