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K-12 School Districts: Construction Manager vs Clerk of the Works

by Ron Gillespie

Your school district has the results of your Building Condition Survey and a capital improvements project has been deemed necessary. The district has prepared a five-year plan and identified facilities needing renovation or replacement. Now what?

Do you need a Construction Manager (CM) or a Clerk of the Works for your upcoming project(s)? This is a question that many districts struggle with when considering a capital project. However, there is no finite answer due to varying factors at each district. There are several factors to consider early in the process to help you make the right decision that fits best for your project and your district.

What is the scope and size of the project?

A project with a value of $2-3 million that can easily be completed over the summer months may be adequately managed using clerk of the works services. This method typically only provides project supervision during the construction phase of the project. However, a project valued at $5-15 million and more with multi-year schedules require much more expertise and planning services. Examples include coordinating work in your buildings during the school year, managing multiple contractors in many different trades, as well as managing and tracking project costs. This is where a construction manager (CM) may be a much better value for the district and the project.

The main difference is the depth of resources available to make the project efficient and successful. A construction management firm can provide multiple staff experienced in complex construction projects as well as support services to document and track schedules, budgets, and progress of large projects. A CM is typically involved in the project early on and through to final completion of the process. The CM is also involved in the planning and design phases of the project as well as the construction phase. A construction management firm, working in partnership with the district, can provide pre-referendum and pre-construction services such as estimating and value engineering that can maximize the district’s investment. These services and resources are not normally provided through a clerk of the works.

What if my project is small but complex in design and duration?

Some firms offer hybrid services that can include pre-planning assistance and clerk of the works services for the construction phase. This can be a good option for financial efficiency while providing the safety net of resources, if needed, that a construction management firm can provide.

So, what is the right choice for your district and your project?

Each district should evaluate their vision pertaining to facilities. If it’s a small, short term project then possibly a clerk of the works is the best choice. If it is a larger project or part of a long term facilities plan, my advice would be partner with a construction management firm that will be on your team from the early beginning to provide all the resources needed and ensure a successful journey to meet your facility goals.

Ron brings a significant depth of knowledge and experience overseeing capital improvement projects for K-12 schools. He is the former Director of School Facilities and Operations for the Corning-Painted Post Central School District. Ron cultivated a 36-year career managing all facilities and grounds, maintenance, and capital projects for the district. Ron joins the Welliver team as K-12 Project Liaison. His focus is on assisting school districts with capital planning and project execution. Ron can be reached at rgillespie@buildwelliver.com