Planning new facilities, expanding existing ones, or renovating requires specialized guidance and resources.

Capital Project Major Phases

The following provides a brief introduction to the main design and construction project stages of a complex renovation, expansion, or new building project, which typically includes planning, programming, design, bidding, and construction. Note that these major phases do not include fundraising or revenue generation, which are described in other sections of the Pre-Development Toolkit.

Planning Phase/Pre-Development and Programming

The first phase of a building project is planning and programming. The goal is to develop sufficient information to assess risk and decide to commit resources to maximize the chance for a successful project. This is an important phase for two reasons:

  • Research shows a direct relationship between the level of pre-project planning and project success.
  • The most cost-effective phase to make changes is during planning.

To envision planning and programmatic outcome, you first must establish organizational readiness, check for consistency between delivery of services and stated mission, ensure community fit, and generate board and staff support to prepare a plan for moving forward, including a work plan and conceptual business plan.

The work plan maps the steps necessary to get from strategic planning through construction including documenting the project need and determining the feasibility of capital and operational funding. This paves the way for the following tasks: exploring and securing a site, preparing a conceptual plan, and determining financial feasibility.

To get started, form a building committee of strategically selected volunteers. Their tasks are to establish goals and objectives, gather pertinent information, and identify strategies. They will take on the majority of work, supported by existing board, staff, and by potentially new staff as well as outside consultants to achieve success through the programming and pre-development phase.

The information gathered will help you clarify how a new or renovated facility will enhance service delivery in your community as well as generate a building program (your list of building wants and needs that ultimately define the scope of work to be designed). The fit between program, budget, and schedule are then tested and a determination is made to continue refining the data gathering process or move forward into design.

At the end of this planning phase, you should have identified:

  • The population who will benefit from the space
  • Whether or not the project fits with community or regional plans
  • Your social return on investment defined by the scope of services you plan to provide
  • The essential people to lead the effort (building committee and capital campaign committee)
  • A suitable building location
  • A space program and building conceptual design
  • A working budget for the available resources (capital and operating)
  • A business plan and a high-level plan of finance that articulates where the money will come from (conceptually) to build, buy or lease, and operate the facility in the short and long-term.
  • Comparative unit cost estimate, such as cost per square foot
  • The type and size building you need and can afford

Once you have this information, you can initiate a conceptual design for a new facility or remodel. An initial comparative conceptual cost estimate can be applied. For the planning and programming phase, it is typically based on cost per square foot relative to a similar building type and size within a similar region. Because the building size and design information are not refined at this point, the cost estimate still has numerous unknowns and serves as a general starting point.

Planning and programming vary but can take anywhere from six months to three years depending on the capacity of the organization and scope of project.

Major Phases

Design – Conceptual, Schematic, and Design Development Phases

During the conceptual, schematic, and design development phases, you will be working with an architect and a range of consultants including civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers. Depending on the building specificity and complexity, additional specialists may need to be consulted, such as a theater or healthcare planner, landscape architect, lighting specialist, or acoustic engineer.

The spaces and their functional relationships are codified during design. The building is sited on the property. Major systems are identified and another cost estimate is completed at the end of schematics.

Cost estimating is a critical piece of each phase. At every stage of the design process, there should be a revised total project budget reflecting all decisions made at that time. The precision of an estimate increases as the level of design specificity increases.

During the design phase, the project conceptual design ideas are refined and formed into a comprehensive building design. Additional details will be established in the successive phases, including elements such as interior finish materials, types of doors and windows, fixtures, and appliances. Drawings will reflect coordination between all project systems, including structural, plumbing, mechanical, heating and ventilation systems, energy analysis, and any other indicated system unique to your project.

The resulting set of design documents could include:

  1. Site Plan: This illustrates the relationships between the building and property lines, setbacks and easements, location of roads, parking, and other landscape features.
  2. Floor Plan(s): These are drawings, to scale, showing a view from above, at a 4’ cut line, of all the relationships between rooms, walls, doors, windows, and circulation spaces.
  3. Exterior Elevations: These are drawings of each exterior face of the building.
  4. Sections: These are views of the building’s structure, as if cut through.
  5. Typical construction details.
  6. Documents specifying type, quality and other details of the components in the building.

Consideration of the best delivery method – the working contractual relationship between the organization, contractor and designer – should be explored and decided upon as early as possible in the design process. There are a range of project delivery options. The three most used include: Design/Bid/Build, Design/Build, and Construction Manager/General Contractor (CM/CG).  (See Construction Project Delivery Methods.)

Design – Construction Documents Phase

During this phase, drawings and specifications are finalized that establish all the information the contractor needs to construct the building. A final cost estimate is obtained at 95% completion of drawings and specifications. This estimate is more detailed and includes elements such as construction components, assemblies, and systems. Based on the cost estimate, project modifications may be needed in order to better meet specific budget requirements.

Remember that this total cost estimate does not include the cost of interior furnishings, operations costs, or relocation and stewardship activities. All these costs must be included in the whole project total.

Bidding or Negotiation Phase

Drawings and specifications need to be 100% complete before the bidding phase begins. In this phase, depending on the project delivery method, the architect assists the organization in establishing a list of prospective contractors and agrees on an evaluation method. The process may follow an open selection based on competition requirements, selection based on qualifications, and/or direct bidding. Larger competitive projects may include a pre-bid conference, which is a process to answer questions from bidders, and a procedure to analyze the final bid results.

Construction Phase – Construction Administration

This is the final phase in the development process. Within the construction phase, the architect may continue to provide support services through construction administration tasks. These include reviewing contractor submittals, answering contractor questions (called RFIs), performing site inspections, reviewing and certifying pay requests from the contractor, and managing change orders.

There are three key milestones in the construction phase:

  1. Notice to proceed (after being awarded the bid)
  2. Substantial completion
  3. Final commissioning

The construction phase is completed when the building is finished, the contractor has completed the final list of deficits, and a certificate of occupancy is issued.

After completion of these construction milestones, the building is turned over to the organization. In addition to scheduling a grand opening, the year following construction may require some follow-up, often including building and mechanical system adjustments.