What are the individual phases? Who should be involved in the project and phases? What type of timeline and budget do you need for even a small design and construction project?
By Jeff Eriks

Project planning is difficult, to say the least. Many factors play into the overall success and completion of a project. There are permitting authorities, internal teams and departments, governmental agencies, sometimes competition (who may cause additional obstacles/challenges), neighbors causing issues and many other factors.

All the Phases
Construction projects typically involve various phases in their lifecycle. Those phases include project need identification, feasibility phase, design phase, permitting and procurement phase, construction phase and occupancy phase. Following are outlines of what is included in each of these phases.

Step 1: Project Need Identification
Identifying a project need is usually an internal process within a company where someone who is involved in the overall management of the company or management of a specific facility identifies a need. During this phase, a rough scope is identified, a rough budget is developed and (depending on the company) a proforma is developed to help determine the overall project metrics, ROI, etc. Once this is completed, the project is either approved or denied or put on hold for a future year. If the project is approved, the Feasibility Phase begins.

Step 2: Feasibility Phase
During this phase, the team identifies a firm (either an architect or a design/build firm) to review the determined project need, develop preliminary designs, preliminary budgets, estimated schedules, and identify the potential permit process and other obstacles as well as any potential issues. Upon completion of the Feasibility Phase, a solid business case will be able to be put together to back-up or modify the one prepared in Step 1. If all obstacles are cleared and the feasibility report provides efficient data, it is time to begin the Design Phase.

Historically, I have felt that bringing in a design/build firm at the Feasibility Phase is crucial because they can help to think through construction means and methods as well as put together budgets based on their current sense of the market. The firm brought in to assist should also be knowledgeable of the industry as well as familiar with the operations of the facility you are looking to build or repair.

Figure 2: Project Need Identification and Feasibility Timelines.
Figure 3: Design Phase Timeline.

Step 3: Design Phase
This phase is where detailed plans are prepared and specs for the project are defined based on the scope developed in the Feasibility Phase. At the end of the Design Phase, you will have a full set of documents for permits and bidding. Choosing the correct design firm will have a huge impact on how the entire project unfolds and the number of challenges that could potentially occur. The design firm must be managed, or a design/build firm should be hired to manage them.

The scope and budget developed need to be constantly checked against the design documents that are being created. Nobody wants to get to the end of the Design Phase only to find out that the project has come in over budget. Also, during this phase, conversations should be had with any and all municipal groups that will have any involvement in the project, whether it be local or at the state level. The goal during this phase is that when permits are submitted, a minimal number of comments are received from them that would require changes to the design document and resubmission.

Step 4: Permitting and Procurement Phase
These two items should be run concurrently. That is my preference, but some people prefer to complete the Permitting Phase and then move into the Procurement Phase. I feel that in order to expedite the timeline of the project and maintain momentum, these two phases should be done at the same time:
• Permitting Phase—The Permitting Phase includes all items with municipalities, the fire marshal, storm water quality, utility companies, etc., but could also include government agencies, such as the EPA.
• Procurement Phase—This is more commonly knows as the bidding process. The design is put out to bid during this phase; they are received, reviewed, compared side-by-side to ensure the scope of work has been followed and each one is “apples-to-apples”, and each company is interviewed to make the best selection possible. Depending on the process used, this would be either general contractors or subcontractors if a design/build firm has already been retained.
After completion of the Permitting and Procurement Phases, it is time to begin construction.

Figure 4: Permitting and Procurement Phase Timelines.


Figure 5: Construction Phase Timeline (16 to 34 weeks is based on average; can range from eight to 52 weeks based on the project).

Step 5: Construction Phase
Oddly enough, this process likely takes just as long as the four phases that precede it. If the facility is a remodel or expansion to an existing facility/site, the construction could impact daily operations. This topic should be thought about and discussed during the Design Phase and planning process in order to be phased properly to continue operating during the Construction Phase of the project. New builds of facilities do not necessarily impact other operations but should still be thought through prior to breaking ground.

Step 6: Occupancy Phase
After completion of the construction, operations need be set up at the facility. There is a lot an owner must do so a building is completely functional and ready for their employees before they arrive for their first day of work. This is true whether it is a MRF, transfer station, hauling company, repair shop, etc., but is often overlooked. It is a time drain on several people to get everything set up. This preparation usually starts during the Design Phase and continues through the Occupancy Phase.

Figure 6: Occupancy Phase Timeline.

Estimated Timeline
The main question here is: how long does this total process take, right? Well, it varies. Let’s define some rules of thumb, but the design/build partner would really need to help create this timeline during the Feasibility Phase:
1. Project Needs Identification—This should be a relatively short phase, depending on the company. However, it will still likely take four to eight weeks to assemble everything and present to management.
2. Feasibility Phase—This phase can be very time consuming, depending on the type of project. How much of operations needs to be learned and assessed? Is there equipment involved? How detailed do the plan and budget, etc. need to be? As a general rule, I like to use a six to 12-week timeline for this phase.
3. Design Phase—Much like the previous phase, scope really drives this timeline. I typically estimate six to 20 weeks depending on the complexity of the facility, if there are other vendors (recycling equipment) involved and other factors that vary from project-to-project. Relatively simple projects, such as a transfer station can be done fairly quickly.
4. Permitting and Procurement—Two words. Wild. Card. Permitting is different in every part of the U.S. Permitting timelines are anywhere from two weeks (in a rural area) to 26 to 40 weeks (in big cities). On average, I would say it is generally about 10 weeks. On the other hand, procurement should be done in three to six weeks.
5. Construction—This phase’s timeline is hard to pin down. Typically, we estimate eight weeks for a small remodel/upgrade to 52 weeks for a new MRF. In general, 16 to 34 weeks is pretty typical for a construction project, ground up.
6. Occupancy—This really depends here on how prepared the owner is when the facility is completed. We see anywhere from three to eight weeks to really get everything set up, people trained and moved in, equipment operating, etc.
If all of these durations added together, it would be roughly 42 weeks on the short end to 92 weeks on the long end. This estimate is using 10 weeks for permitting. The completion of all of these phases is not an easy process and is not typically something that can be done in a calendar year, which is often important on the accounting side of things.

Take Aways
Planning a project and thinking about the budget and timeline is a time-consuming, tough process. There are many factors that play into it. Gathering as much understanding as possible early in the process to help plan properly for each phase identified here is something that is necessary to do for a successful project. The key is to hire the right project partner that can help with understanding and execution of the process, identifying issues, laying out timelines and managing the project so that the focus for the owner of the facility can be on their main job(s).

Jeff Eriks is Vice President of Business Development at Cambridge Companies (Griffith, IN), a design-build firm working with the waste industry for more than 20 years. During this time, more than 100 solid waste design-build projects have been completed including new build, repairs, upgrades and/or modifications at transfer stations, recycling centers/MRFs, hauling companies, landfill facilities, office buildings and more. Cambridge continually monitors the industry to determine any new needs, changes or improvements that will benefit their clients and improve their design-build solutions. Jeff can be reached at (219) 972-1155 or via e-mail at [email protected]. For more information, visit www.CambridgeCoInc.com.