Keeping your construction project on task and within budget is a proper expectation — if you’re mindful of your vision, the building systems and the human components from the onset.

Whether you’re building a skilled nursing facility, assisted living community, memory care community or independent living apartments, your vision can be enhanced through proper upfront design and construction planning. The following concepts are based on our decades of experience and are intended to help you achieve your best possible building outcomes.

Begin with the end in mind

How much space do you need? What building elements are essential? What items could you live without? When you walk through the door on opening day, what will make you most proud as an owner and operator of this facility?

As you plan your budget, start with a base project, consider needs and wants, and then request alternate bids for non-essential items. These items may include additional rooms, unique or unusual finishes, and optional flooring concepts.

Alternative bids should include items that have a scope that is clearly defined through the drawings and specifications that are not included in the base project. Greater competition in pricing often can be achieved if done at the time of bidding. If the base project comes in below budget, then some of the alternate items can be selected for inclusion.

This approach is more cost-effective than removing an option that will be impossible or cost-prohibitive to add later. For instance, it would be less expensive to “shell out” future rooms (installing floors, walls and roof) than to try and expand the facility down the road.

Start with the finish

Finishes, both interior and exterior, can have a considerable effect on both initial costs and ongoing maintenance budgets. To maximize the value of each choice, they should be discussed and evaluated thoroughly during your design development phase.

For example, we helped one developer achieve the exterior look he wanted by investing upfront time in research. We found an alternative to the conventional clay brick via a local concrete brick product that resulted in a 40% savings. Look for creative options like these that affect value, cost and satisfaction. And make sure your design and construction partners perform proper homework to give you all logical alternatives.

Tactical timing

You’ve heard it said, “Timing is everything.” In construction, it might not be everything, but it can be a major factor that can definitely affect your construction costs.

Rainy seasons and winter weather are common challenges to work around. Whenever possible, most of the exterior construction should be completed, and the building fully enclosed, before inclement weather is anticipated.

Delays can be expensive. Long lead times for items such as custom fixtures, HVAC equipment and steel and other structural components also should be built into the schedule.

When owners pay premiums to have items expedited, no one wins. Planning is paramount to your success.

Trade up with trade-offs

Continuous collaboration among all parties can keep costs within budget while improving the design and performance of a building. Value Trading is the art and science of electing design choices that deliver greater value while “paying” for them by changing or eliminating design features and elements that provide fewer benefits.

In one instance, our energy modeling revealed that the suggested chiller might be more than what was necessary in a facility. It was determined that the specified chiller would be used only in rare circumstances. Further research determined that the temperature might drift up a mere two degrees above an optimum temperature of 75 degrees in those infrequent situations. We endorsed a smaller chiller that not only would deliver initial cost savings but would limit future demand charges from the utility provider.

Value Trading allowed the owner to invest in value-added items — thanks again to initial upfront research.

As the building design crystalizes, the initial cost estimates in the conceptual and schematic design phases are replaced by more comprehensive quantity estimates of materials and systems. Obtaining up-to-date materials pricing from subcontractors is vital.

Consistent comparisons of actual expenses to the original budget is crucial. Changes and adjustments are a very normal part of the process, but it’s imperative to steadily track any deviations from the original scope and to encourage open dialog about the short- and long-term cost consequences of the various options.

Be aware of the human factor    

Subcontractors who regularly bid, install and service equipment often can provide valued insights on investment decisions. Mechanical, plumbing and electrical engineers sometimes are unaware that the cost of specified systems and fixtures might be higher than equally effective alternatives.

When you build a multi-disciplinary team — consisting of design, engineering and construction professionals as well as product-specific expert consultants — the benefits abound. With this coordinated approach, you increase the likelihood of realizing a design that is cost-effective and meets or exceeds your quality and performance expectations.

But you also must be prepared for appeals from staff. It is commonplace to receive requests for additional programs, rooms and building features that were not identified before the initial budget. Staff members may get the impression that the dollars are flowing freely and now is their chance to fund their dream projects. A clear picture of success for your project should be established early in the design process. Then, your team can evaluate and filter requests based on how well they match your goals or achieve your vision.

An experienced estimator should work closely with the design team to enable adjustments while keeping the design on budget. If bids come in above budget, avoid indiscriminately cutting the scope of the project to keep the project on track. Doing so can result in a less-than-best final deliverable, forcing compromises in function, aesthetics and operations.

By keeping these concepts in mind, you’ll have a comprehensive strategy for staying inside your budget while realizing a project that achieves the invigorating vision you have for your customers and staff.