Jerry McCreery was the perfect candidate for a design-build construction project. The doctor wanted a multiple-use barn to house horses, hay, and machines, and wanted it to resemble a barn he had seen in a magazine.
Kevin McCormick was more than happy to guide him every step of the way. The sales manager for D&W Construction in Alexandria, Minn., helped McCreery with building design and several design/engineering adjustments, and shared his customer’s delight when the project came in a month or two ahead of schedule.
The structure turned into one of the community’s signature buildings, and a powerful, award-winning project for D&W. The end result could have been achieved using a different method of project delivery, but the design-build process brought the project to a close more quickly and efficiently.
Design-build may be generating buzz in the world of large projects, where commissioning building plans from an independent architect is just as common as working with one firm for the entire job. But in the rural building world of hobby shops and suburban garages, building companies are quite often a one-stop shop for buyers.
For instance, Vince Draper of Stockade Buildings and Stockade Construction estimates 99 percent of his projects are of the design-build variety. “Very few design professionals are experts at post-frame buildings, and if we don’t get involved from Day 1 and design it from the start, it gets designed to the point where they tend to bastardize post-frame,” he says. “It’s not conducive to building in the most efficient and cost-effective way.”
Virginia builders Fuog/InterBuild work with design-build about 50 percent of the time, says sales manager David Potts. He finds customers looking for design-build services are often less decisive than ones who have commissioned an architect’s plans. “I would say plans from an architect are nice, but you don’t get the camaraderie you would with design-build,” says Potts.
McCreery and McCormick are neighbors on a lake in the Alexandria area, which proved to be an advantage for D&W. “He approached me with a picture of a barn in Seattle,” says McCormick. “It was an old black and white picture published five years ago. He asked me if I could build that barn, and I told him we’d see what we could do with it.”
Using that picture, McCormick estimated the pictured barn’s dimensions, and came up with preliminary drawings for the customer. He then laid out the various building methods that could be used to build the structure: conventional framing, steel framing, post-frame, etc. McCreery chose post-frame.
McCreery was also working with a nearby lumberyard on a competing proposal, and though the yard was well-versed in post-frame building, it did not have the capability to do design work on the floor the customer requested. McCormick and his sales staff do their own design work, making changes easier.
“We feel it’s best,” says McCormick. “They’re face-to-face with the customer, building a relationship with the customer. It’s easier to have them continue through the entire process.”
Things were fairly straightforward until McCreery decided he wanted to clearspan the entire lower level. D&W was able to eliminate most of the interior columns. Then there was a change to the upper level, originally designed to handle the relatively light load of McCreery’s carriages. The customer wanted to put hay on the upper level, so the level was re-engineered to accommodate a 175-pound load. McCreery also asked for window sizes and spacing that needed modification. As the single source for design and construction, D&W was able to accommodate its customer’s aesthetic requests without compromising structural integrity.
“Architects have more training on aesthetics and appearance, that’s what they’ve gone to school for,” says D&W’s Todd Emmons. “But just because a building looks good does not mean that’s the way you should build that building. We design for longevity and maintenance, where an architect would design strictly for aesthetics. Some type of trimwork may look good, but is it there for the long term?”
Form and function
The total package element of a design-build project shouldn’t be overstated. “It’s huge, night and day,” says D&W’s Dale Wussow. “When we start with a customer, we listen very closely to what his needs are, what his cost parameters are, then we put the package together. In other (project methods), a lot of times cost gets thrown to the wayside.”
While some customers looking for a building enter the process valuing both aesthetics and structural integrity, others need to learn the balance. Design-build firms like D&W are only too happy to provide the lesson.
“We educate the customer in the sales process, make him aware of the differences,” says Wussow. “We can give them a vision of what a building’s going to look like, but we won’t cut corners on products. We have set our standards very high.”
The trick for a medium-sized design-build company like D&W is conceiving custom buildings for its customers while maintaining cost-saving efficiencies. It’s a fine line to walk, but D&W’s close relationship with Leader Building Systems, its spin-off manufacturing arm, helps bridge the design and building processes.
“We try to think outside the box, not confine ourselves to just this building practice or just this standard,” says Emmons. “Some of the larger companies had to develop standards, stick to the standards, to maintain production and cost. We’re trying desperately not to fall into that hole.”
D&W still takes on its share of design-bid jobs, and turns a nice profit while doing so. Wussow says the company has been successful bidding for a number of big budget commercial jobs. This project delivery method requires a different approach, removing some of the collaborative aspects.
“With a job to bid, typically the types of materials are all laid out, even sometimes down to the brand,” says Emmons. “Variations aren’t allowed, so we’ll typically go at those differently.
“With a bid job, the fee the architect charges to meet with the customer, to create a document with specifications, adds a substantial amount to the project. If a customer can go to a contractor with design-build capability, they can do a lot of that designing in house. You can see how we can save the customer money by doing design-build.”
With McCreery’s design-build barn project, the customer and builder worked together to create a modern structure with an old world feel. The exterior features cedar board and batten siding, with the lower portion of the building finished in rock to provide the appearance of an old stone foundation. Wussow says D&W likes to incorporate a stone or brick wainscot into its post-frame buildings, using products like Novabrik. Overhead steel doors were covered with cedar and cross-bucked for an authentic appearance.
The building has a 50×80 center section, with two 36×50 wings. It accommodates eight horse stalls, has a machine storage area, several garage stalls, and a woodworking shop with in-floor radiant heat, as well as in-floor ducting to remove sawdust from woodworking machines. The upper level, modified to handle 175 pounds per square foot, has access for an 8×12 elevator that will be used to lift horse carriages 18 feet. A local company is designing the lift for McCreery.
The second level, something of a rarity in post-frame buildings, has earned D&W quite a bit of notoriety. “We hadn’t done much of that until this past year, and all of a sudden we’re getting lots of calls for it,” says McCormick. “We’ve been using pictures of that barn in our promotional pieces, and that’s been a focal point of people calling in … we’ve considered taking it out. (Incorporating a second floor) is not a cheap way to build post-frame, but at least it’s getting interest.”
While the barn has given D&W visual ammunition for potential future customers, it has also proven the merits of design-build construction. Working with D&W designers, McCreery not only got the building he wanted, he also got it two months quicker than he expected.
“He’s extremely happy with it, he gets a lot of compliments,” says McCormick. “It’s a showpiece in town.”