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Alberta Courts Centre and some lessons learned

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by Paul Halpern

Although the $300 million Calgary Courts Centre project is still nine months from completion, a panel of principal actors from the Government of Alberta (GoA) and the GCK design/build consortium have already shared some valuable lessons at the Canadian Design-Build Institute annual conference in Halifax.

HALIFAX

Although the $300 million Calgary Courts Centre project is still nine months from completion, a panel of principal actors from the Government of Alberta (GoA) and the GCK design/build consortium have already shared some valuable lessons at the Canadian Design-Build Institute annual conference in Halifax.

The project RFP, described by Kent Phillips of Infrastructure Alberta as “five volumes and a foot thick,” included outcomes for development, operation, building performance, design, and GoA’s evaluation criteria. Members of the three competing design/build consortia had to be fully acquainted with the RFP to compete. In Dalgliesh’s words, “The RFP was the Bible.”

“Courthouses are complex buildings, maybe even more so than hospitals.”

Fabrizio Carinelli

Project Manager

As detailed as it was, Phillips says, the RFP did not cover everything. He suggests balancing performance requirements for areas where innovation is sought and prescriptive specifications for the end user’s firm requirements.

Long-duration projects should include a cash allowance to cover “latest technology” requirements that may develop in ways that can’t be anticipated, as well as a fast-track arbitration and negotiation process to identify areas of non-compliance with the RFP.

Fabrizio Carinelli, project manager, CANA Construction Ltd., says, “Courthouses are very complex buildings, maybe even more so than hospitals.” To provide their design, guaranteed maximum price (GMP), and schedule in just six to eight weeks, GCK’s design team included “signature” courtroom architects Carlos Ott and Spillis Candella, as well as key sub-trades under an exclusivity agreement.

“At the end of the day,” Carinelli says, “these are the guys who have to build it. Everyone was on the team from Day One.”

The integrated design team allowed GCK to consider and select options quickly. As an aggressive but realistic project schedule developed, a “gigantic spreadsheet” linked cash-flow reporting to sub-trade prices and the schedule, updating cash flow instantly as the schedule changed.

Dalgliesh describes the judiciary as “a very tough, very picky client.” Keeping that client behind a post-RFP glass wall involved a strict single point of contact between GoA and the GCK team during design, freeing them to concentrate on responding to the RFP.

During design review, realistic physical mockups of the centre’s 13 courtrooms types allowed judges to quickly review and comment on the courtroom layout. Bill Chomik, Principal, Kasian Architecture, says using mockups instead of paper documents expedited design tremendously.

Additionally, completing a GMP project in a context of escalating prices and labour shortages sometimes means making compromises. Dalgliesh says that “We’ve learned to be flexible and work with that, but getting that across to the client has been a challenge.”

Design/build’s faster project delivery helped drive end-user decision making.

“A traditional design/bid/build process would have gone on much longer. There’s no incentive in the traditional approach for this client group to make decisions, Dalgliesh says. “Facts on the ground” of workers in place and a building going up provided that incentive.

The final verdict will come next summer when provincial and Queen’s Bench judges move into their new two-towered home with its glass elevators and bridges, central atrium, and clear human circulation system. They’ll probably like it.

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