In 2016, the Town of Smithers (“the Town”) began preparing architectural designs and other specifications for a significant airport terminal expansion project that was part of their larger strategic direction to position the airport and community for future growth. With a budget of nearly $9 million and many local construction companies fully committed on other projects, the Town wanted to ensure it had covered all its bases before proceeding to the market. Working closely with the Northern Regional Construction Association, Rob Blackburn (Airport Manager), and architects from Studio 531, the Town decided to pursue the option of having a Constructability Review done to ensure their designs, timelines, budget, and market information was accurate before embarking on the formal solicitation process.

A key concern for the Town was ensuring that companies participating in the Constructability Review were well qualified and that any perceptions of unfair advantage or conflict of interest were addressed up front. Through a select invitation process, they engaged two local general contractor companies to meet with the Town and its architect. The two companies helped the Town assess the market to ensure that trades would be available, reviewed the architectural designs to ensure the project size and scope was reasonable, reviewed the design concept to ensure local expertise was available for assembly, and also reviewed the Town’s preliminary assessment of the costs of material and their budget.

The information gathered through significant market research revealed that both trades and general contractors would very likely be available and eager to work on the airport terminal expansion project. Despite the province-wide construction boom, the completion of the Kitimat Rio-Tinto and other local project completions had created a very competitive environment for local trades and general contractors alike. A review of the architectural designs and verification of the preliminary cost estimates provided the Town with assurance that the airport expansion was well designed, would attract robust competition, and could reasonably be completed within the proposed timelines and budget. By presenting the Constructability Review to City Council, Rob Blackburn and his team were able to instill the confidence needed to proceed to market with this important project.

So how much did this cost, and how did the Town deal with the potential for unfair advantage to those involved with the review?

The issue of unfair advantage was a topic of much discussion between the parties. A key strategy was to ensure that the designs and other information provided to the companies conducting the review were all publicly available. Having held a number of town meetings and community discussions about the project, this information was already in the public domain. In other words, the reviewing companies did not have access to any proprietary or confidential information, nor could they be seen to have obtained some kind of advantage by participating in this preliminary process. As it turned out, although free to do so, neither of these companies submitted a bid for the airport expansion project due to other commitments.

The costs associated with conducting this Constructability Review were shockingly minimal. The Town incurred the cost of flying the architect up from Victoria to participate in the meetings, along with other incidental expenses including staff time and resources to organize and conduct the meetings. The two local companies that assisted with the review felt they had a vested interest in seeing the success of the project as taxpayers and organizations that would benefit from the expansion, so did not require compensation. Each company independently spent several hours conducting the review. Airport staff and architects completed the study within two days. Overall, Rob Blackburn estimates that the total direct costs were less than $1000 – certainly a bargain for the Town by any measure.

How did the procurement process go?

The provincially advertised formal tender process was issued in April of 2017 and attracted six qualified respondent companies. There was not a wide divergence in pricing; there was about a 15% variation in bids between the high and low.  And, unlike some previous solicitations for the Town, there were very few questions before closing and only minor addenda were issued. This successful outcome speaks to the clarity and completeness of the solicitation package, including the design, deliverables, and timelines associated with completion of the project. Work is beginning on the project this fall.

In this tight construction market, with companies scrambling to hire enough tradespeople to meet their project commitments, arranging for a Constructability Review during procurement planning could prove to be an exercise worth its weight in gold!

Special thanks to Rob Blackburn from the Town of Smithers and Scott Bone from the Northern Regional Construction Association for their input and assistance with this article.

Readers are cautioned not to rely upon this article as legal advice nor as an exhaustive discussion of the topic or case.  For any particular legal problem, seek advice directly from your lawyer or in-house counsel.  All dates, contact information and website addresses were current at the time of original publication.

Boost the procurement capacity within your organization.

Contact us to learn how you can bring NECI’s Public Sector Procurement Program to your organization.