NYC capital construction moved much faster with some restrictions removed during the pandemic, report finds

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COVID-related construction under the less-restrictive emergency procurement and contracting rules in place during the pandemic has been completed in a fraction of the time similar New York City capital projects would have taken under the city’s regular construction rules, while adhering to budgets and maintaining high levels of M/WBE utilization, according to a new report by the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC).

The report, entitled DDC 2020: Delivering Innovation In A Challenging Year, examines how DDC was able to use alternative construction management methods normally not available to city agencies to build projects such as a 470-bed field hospital in Queens in 11 days and three large COVID-19 Centers of Excellence for the city’s public hospital system in less than seven months. The Centers of Excellence represent $117 million of construction that would typically have taken upward of six years to complete under the typical Design-Bid-Build capital project system city agencies are usually burdened with.

The report is available on DDC’s website here.

“We know the city’s capital construction process is outdated and inefficient, and that city projects usually take much longer to complete than comparable work performed elsewhere and even right here in New York City’s private sector,“ Commissioner Jamie Torres-Springer said in a March 30 statement.

“Our COVID work under the pandemic construction rules shows that doesn’t have to be the case. There are alternative project delivery methods that work better than our current system, and we should examine how those can be made available for city agencies outside of an emergency.”

Freed from the time-consuming system that requires city contracts to always be awarded to the lowest bidder who meets minimal qualification requirements, DDC was able to use best-value selection through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process to award contracts to firms with a demonstrated track record of delivering quality projects on time and on budget. Using this system the agency was able to accelerate project schedules while still delivering projects within budget, with fewer delays and fewer mid-project change orders to slow down the process.

DDC was also able to employ the Construction Manager-Build (CM-Build) model of project management, under which a construction management firm is hired through an accelerated RFP process, manages the overall project and holds the underlying contracts for materials, labor and related services. CM-Build eliminates lengthy procurement processes, allows construction to begin earlier and, much like Design-Build, ensures critical early collaboration between the designer and the builder, which is effectively prevented by the Design-Bid-Build lowest bidder process.

Other rule changes under the emergency declaration that enabled DDC to work quickly were reduced public notice requirements; faster project approvals from the NYC Office of Management and Budget, the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services and the NYC Law Department; and a revised role for the Comptroller timed to post-contract auditing instead of reviewing the process during contract registration.

In the last year, DDC has managed the construction of two large field hospitals totaling 1,100 beds, three COVID-19 Centers of Excellence, 28 COVID testing sites and eight mobile testing trucks. It also upgraded four NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene laboratories to handle COVID specimen processing, supported delivery of the city’s “GetCool” program that installed more than 73,000 air conditioners in the homes of low income seniors and performed more than 400 site inspections for the city’s “Learning Bridges” program for students in blended learning. The agency is now building vaccination sites throughout the city, having completed six to date.

Taking advantage of the rules for emergency COVID-related work, the average construction time for DDC’s projects was:

  • Testing Sites – 7 days
  • Mobile Testing Trucks – 20 days
  • Field Hospitals – 28 days (includes design time)
  • Laboratory Upgrades – 35 days
  • COVID-19 Centers of Excellence – 192 days (includes design time)

The agency was able to achieve these results while keeping contract awards to Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (M/WBEs) high; of the $117 million construction budget for the three COVID-19 Centers of Excellence, 46 percent was awarded to M/WBEs.

“Increasing the efficiency of the city’s capital process is something I’ve been interested in my entire career at the Council. Reducing the time it takes to deliver a capital project by a year is definitely a good thing. I’m happy to support it,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the Sub-Committee on Capital Budget.

“Within three weeks of being told to proceed by DDC, our CM-Build team was able to assess 83 potential testing site locations in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, ten of which we quickly built out into actual testing sites,” said Barbara Armand Kushner, president of Armand Corporation, an M/WBE construction management firm that played a large role in building COVID-related facilities for DDC.

“CM Build firms such as Armand are positioned to efficiently advance projects from design development to procurement right through field supervision of actual construction. We would welcome the opportunity to continue this role in future city projects once the pandemic ends, and are confident we would continue to add value and reduce timelines.”

“DDC and the building industry repeatedly rose to meet challenges throughout this tumultuous year. The agency capitalized on emergency procurement and construction management methods to rapidly build desperately needed field hospitals, testing sites, vaccination centers and more,” said Carlo A. Scissura, president and CEO, New York Building Congress.

“Recognizing the essential role DDC plays in the city’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts, the New York Building Congress congratulates the agency on exemplifying the resilient nature of New Yorkers and the building industry. We look forward to partnering with DDC to continue modernizing project delivery methods so that our communities can more efficiently receive the infrastructure they need. Working together, we will build a better New York for all.”

Implementing many of these changes long-term to benefit the city’s capital project delivery outside of emergency conditions will require the approval of State government. After years of advocacy, DDC and several other city agencies in December 2019 received approval from the state to begin using the Design-Build method of construction management, which provides many of the same benefits as value-based selection and CM-Build. DDC has recently issued solicitations for firms interested in being part of Design-Build teams for both its public buildings and infrastructure projects.

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