February 28, 2024

Newton school board considers construction manager over general contractor

Officials weigh the benefits of approach for upcoming master planning projects

The Newton Community School District Board of Education discusses the master planning options while an audience of parents and faculty watch on Dec. 4 at the E.J.H. Beard Administration Center.

When it comes to actually renovating the chosen buildings in Newton Community School District’s master plan a few years down the road, the school’s architects recommended using either a general contractor or a construction manager as agent, the latter of which could allow more flexibility, albeit with more paperwork.

Rachelle Hines of FRK Architects + Engineers spoke to board members at the Jan. 22 meeting about their most feasible options when deciding to renovate Thomas Jefferson into a larger K-4 building and Aurora Heights into a preK-4 building. Woodrow Wilson and Emerson Hough are expected to close.

Deciding the construction manager approach would be different from what the district has typically done in the past. The project would still be put out for bid, but it does not require one bid for the whole project. So not all bid packages would need to be released simultaneously if market conditions appear favorable.

The construction manager would also take over the management of the bidding process on behalf of the Newton school district; whereas a general contractor approach would utilize the district’s architect, which would be FRK. Construction costs would still require the district to accept the lowest bid.

According to school board documents, the construction manager approach will have the construction manager performing some of the work, mostly general condition work. But the majority of the work is handled by what are called “big package contractors,” which is a different term than a subcontractor.

Fees for construction manager will be negotiated between the school district and the construction manager. But the construction manager does not add additional overhead and profit to the bids that the bid package contractors submit. Each bid package contractor will have their own overhead and profit included in bids.

“So you guys negotiate the fee with a construction manager and you would have a contractor directly with that construction manager,” Hines said. “You guys would hold that contract, you would hold a contract with us and then you would also hold every bid package contract as well.”

Another method the school district could use is the construction manager at-risk (CMAR) method, which is what Jasper County is currently using to construct the Liberty Avenue Yard project for the secondary roads department/engineer’s office. Hines said it is a new approach and not all the kinks have been ironed out.

“It also envelops quite a lengthy RFP (request for proposal) process and interview process that is required — that is not required on the construction manager as agent,” Hines said. “…That’s just how they wrote the law and how they move forward with it. But you guys may not have time to do that.”

In fact, Hines went so far as to not recommend the CMAR approach at this time, mainly due to the time constraints. Newton wants to begin this transitional process as soon as possible. Hines also recommended board members consider the amount of paperwork and action required for construction manager as agent.

Since a lot of the bid packages would be spread out, Hines said there would multiple contracts and multiple payouts and multiple change orders per item.

“Those are the two methods, and I know (the superintendent) and (the business services director) wanted to just get this in front of you to see if you guys really lean one way or another,” Hines said. “Like we said, these are the two we kind of recommend to you at this point.”

Newton Superintendent Tom Messinger was familiar with the construction manager approach when he was still superintendent at Red Oak. The downside, like Hines said, is there are a lot of contracts involved. For a $30 million project at Red Oak, Messinger estimated there were over 40 contracts up for approval.

“I had no difficulties whatsoever using a construction manager for our project, and we did see some good results with the savings we saw in some of the different areas when they stepped in and got involved to stop a change order or say, ‘No, this isn’t the right way of having it done,’” Messinger said.

But this is the only experience Messinger had, and the superintendent was not confident in saying construction manager was the way to go because of that. Messinger hoped that board members would give both suggestions some thought and come with more solid feedback at the next meeting.

“I don’t feel the need to manage the process, so which ever Tom feels best is fine with me,” said school board member Travis Padget. “With the CM and the multiple applications, I see some opportunity for some savings … But it also feels like an opportunity for maybe more manipulation or ... misuse.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.