Update on 10/5/2019

Since I wrote my last article in the paper about the proposed elementary school construction project, the Arcola School District School Board, Administration and Staff have continued to refine the different aspects of the proposed construction project.  Because of these on-going meetings, there have been a few changes to the original design.  The changes from the original design are in bold below. The proposed project currently includes the following:

  • Construction of a new front elementary entrance extending to the north from current entrance. This will include a new reception/waiting area designed with security in mind. It will also include expanding the width of the hallway
  • Construction of new main office, several offices for staff, a conference room, and three smaller classroom spaces.
  • Renovation of current elementary library.
  • Transforming the current office and part of the staff workroom into new boys and girls restrooms.
  • Expansion of the nurse area into a larger area with more space.
  • Replacement of asphalt by newly renovated preschool playground.
  • Floor and ceiling tile replacement in all elementary hallways and current cafeteria area
  • Renovation of all hallway and cafeteria wall finishes.

The district has also put a lot of effort into researching the best way to approach actual construction. Since construction on a school building happens only every fifty years or so, the board wants to make sure that the district uses the best possible approach in order to get the most efficient and highest quality facility as possible for the community and our students. This research has centered on comparing the effectiveness of and costs associated with two different approaches to construction: using a traditional architect - general contractor approach or using a construction manager in partnership with the district architect.

Architect – General Contractor

The first approach to construction is a more traditional approach where the district contracts with an architect that designs the building, does all the schematic drawings, develops all specifications, creates the construction schedule and bids the project.  The district then approves the design and goes out to bid.  General contractors then secure their own subcontractors (such as electrical, plumbing, concrete, etc.) and submit an overall bid for the project. The district conducts a bid opening and chooses the lowest responsible bidder. Following approval, the general contractor then takes all the architect drawings, coordinates the subcontractors, and oversees all construction of the project.  The general contractor is responsible for all day-to-day construction with occasional inspections from the district architect. 

When general contractors bid a project, they include overhead and profit, general conditions (bonds and insurance) and a percentage mark-up on subcontractors in their bid.  When proposing a cost estimate for the elementary school project, the district architect estimated the district would spend between 23% and 25% for the general contractor on a project this size. 

Architect - Construction Manager

The second approach is the use of a construction manager (CM).  A construction manager performs all the tasks of a general contactor plus more.  The biggest advantage to using a construction manager is that they get involved in the design phase of the project and then continue on after bids to coordinate construction. They work closely with the district staff and the architect to ensure constructability, which is a process for identifying obstacles before a project is actually built to reduce or prevent errors, delays, and overspending.  They also focus on the long-term sustainability and efficiency of the design.  They have a lot of experience with actual construction, more so than even the architect, so that knowledge becomes very valuable in the design phase of a project. In using this approach, the construction manager and architect conduct public bids for all subcontractor work on a project. The district enters into contracts with the various subcontractors and their work is coordinated on a daily basis by the construction manager.  The construction management company used by the Arcola School District actually has a quality department.  So in addition to having daily on-site supervision by the CM, they send their quality department to do an official inspection of all work completed by subcontractors.  This process helps to ensure that all systems are installed correctly up front, which prevents problems from occurring later.

Fee Structures

One of the biggest differences between using a general contractor and construction manager is in the approach to fees. When using a general contractor, their fees are built into the overall price of the bid.  As discussed earlier, the fees can vary up to 25% and include profit, overhead, general conditions and mark-up on subcontractors.  Generally, a district does not even see the exact breakdown of their numbers since they are just rolled up into the overall cost proposed by the general contractor at the time of bid.

On the other hand, construction manager fees are usually proposed separate and up front.  The proposal the district received for the elementary school project included the following:

  • Preconstruction Fees – this is a lump sum fee for their involvement in the pre-construction design phase.
  • General Condition – this is a lump sum fee for management staff needed in order to properly oversee the construction schedule, provide quality control, and ensure project is constructed in a safe manner.
  • Professional Management Fee – this is a percentage fee of the overall construction services.

Arcola Analysis

In conducting the analysis of the two different approaches, the school board considered two items: 1. What approach would lead to a better end product and a product that will have long-term sustainability and affordability and 2. The costs associated with each approach.

When looking at cost, the school board used the estimated construction costs proposed by both the architect and construction manager.  The construction manager’s estimate included a total of $1,639,400 in construction costs and $344,500 in construction manager fees.  On the other hand, the architect estimate included $1,570,095 in construction costs and $392,524 in general contractor fees when using the 25% figure for overhead/profit, etc. 

This analysis revealed that using a construction manager would most likely not cost the district a lot more money than using a general contractor and it could even end up being cheaper.  There is no way to know for sure which approach would be cheaper for the district but the importance of this financial analysis is that it at least informed the board that the construction management approach would be a financially feasible approach.


When the board discussed which approach would lead to better end product, the general consensus was the use of a construction manager.  The board felt these reasons were the most compelling:

  1. There is a great value in having the on-site construction people involved in the planning phase of the project.
  2. The district had the ability to research, interview, check references on and select the construction manager.  In a straight bid process, the district must accept the lowest responsible bidder for a general contractor.  Many times this works out great but sometimes it does not.
  3. The construction management company will provide not only daily onsite coordination and supervision of the project but will also provide on-going quality inspections to ensure high quality work.

As a result of this analysis, the Arcola Board of Education approved Poettker Construction as the construction manager for the upcoming construction/renovation project.  The contract includes a straight fee of $22,000 for pre-construction services, $225,000 in general conditions and a 4.25% fee on subcontract work.  In addition, the board also approved a contract with Graham and Hyde Architects.  The cost for architect services includes a fee of 9.5% of all construction including construction manager services.  This is estimated to be around $200,000.

The architect and construction manager will now work with staff to finalize the design and develop schematic drawings for the project.  The hope is that the board can consider approval of the final project plan and release bids around the first of January with construction to occur in April/May.  Of course, any construction work that will start with school in session will be done so in a safe and non-invasive manner.