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New York demands freedom from lowest-bidder contracting

DDC Commissioner Thomas Foley speaking at the 8 May rally at City Hall in New York (Courtesy of NYC Department of Design and Construction)
New York City is trying to break free from state rules requiring the use of lowest-bidder contracting, rallying at City Hall last week under the slogan “Let NYC Build Better, Faster and Cheaper”.

Led by Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi, Comptroller Brad Lander, the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC), the campaigners want the state government in Albany to let them use alternative procurement approaches, known as “construction manager-build” (CM-Build) and “progressive design-build”.

They say these approaches save time and money by allowing designers and contractors to collaborate better on projects.

“Every time DDC has been given the chance to use common sense design and construction, we knock it out of the park, we build faster and more efficiently,” said DDC Commissioner Thomas Foley.

“We have taken a chainsaw to the bureaucracy with our growing design-build programme, completing major projects more than two years faster than we could before. We’ve proven during emergencies that we can use construction methods like CM-Build effectively. It’s past time for Albany to acknowledge these successes, hold us accountable and cut the red tape.”

They also want the state to make it easier for small firms with less than $3m revenue to qualify for the insurance needed for projects, and the state to upgrade the DDC as an authority with freedom to create new procurement rules for design and construction.

CM-Build

Now, New York State law requires two-stage, design-build procurement, where the local authority first contracts for a complete design then puts that out to tender, with the lowest bidder winning the construction contract.

Campaigners say this artificially separates the design and build functions, leading to problems and delays when work begins.

CM-Build lets the authority engage a construction manager early on to collaborate with the designer in an integrated delivery team.

Advocacy group the Regional Plan Association, which supports the campaign, says CM-Build is used regularly by the federal government, the private sector, and nonprofits.

New York City used CM-Build on an emergency basis during covid when the DDC built testing sites and healthcare facilities quickly.

Progressive design-build

The campaign says progressive design-build is useful in complex infrastructure projects where the subsurface conditions are uncertain.

It’s a one-step process that lets the authority quickly select a team based on qualifications, and the team collaborates in the early phases of design.

The RPA said it’s used by states including California, Texas, and Virginia, other New York State authorities, and the private sector.

Billions under management

Currently, the DDC is overseeing $33bn worth of projects, including major climate resiliency works and the upkeep of ageing cultural and civic institutions.

The campaign backed its demands with examples.

The $141m Shirley Chisholm Recreation Center in Brooklyn broke ground in October last year and is expected to be finished by the end of 2025, which the campaign said would be two years faster than was possible under lowest-bidder contracting.

Similarly, the $92m Mary Cali Dalton Recreation Center in Staten Island broke ground in February this year, and is on track for similar time savings.

Meera Joshi, the city’s deputy mayor for operations, said: “We need every tool in our toolbox to maintain New York’s infrastructure within timelines and budgets that make sense for New Yorkers. It is our duty to be good stewards of our city and taxpayer dollars; these tools, like Progressive Design-Build and Construction Manager-Build (CM- Build) are critical to helping us do that.”

The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York also weighed in behind the campaign.

“As more major projects come down the pipeline, we must make it easier to not only complete them efficiently, but also unlock the thousands of family-sustaining union careers and economic stimulus they create,” said its president, Gary LaBarbera.

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