MBTA seeks streamlined approach to garage

The planned parking garage that has taken years to become a reality is now on such a hurried pace that the MBTA plans to use a streamlined construction process it has never used before.
The process, known as "construction manager at risk," allows the MBTA to hire a contractor before finishing the design and determining the final cost of the project, as opposed to the standard method of designing the project first, seeking price bids and then choosing a contractor.

The method speeds up the process but can also lead to higher costs, according to a report last year by the Massachusetts Inspector General's Office. The estimated budget for the Beverly garage is $29.7 million, according to the MBTA.

Frank DePaola, the MBTA's assistant general manager for design and construction, said in an e-mail that hiring the contractor before the design is complete allows the contractor to have more input into the planning. Items such as pre-cast concrete pieces can be ordered early, he said.

"In summary, it shortens the overall schedule," DePaolo said.

The two sides would not negotiate a price for the work until at least 60 percent of the project is designed, according to the MBTA. The two sides also agree to a "contingency" to cover change orders.

The "construction manager at risk," or CMR, process was approved by the state Legislature in 2004 as part of a series of reforms related to public construction projects. Its intent is to allow the contractor to become involved in a project's design process as a way to improve the quality of the final product and save time and money.

A 2009 review of CMR by the state Inspector General's Office said most of the communities, state agencies and construction companies who have used the method were satisfied with the process. They said it improved cooperation among all parties and led to higher-quality buildings.

None of the communities or state agencies, however, saved money by using the method, and one reported higher costs. A firm construction price is not determined until late in the project, leaving the community or state agency with the risk of higher costs than expected, according to the report.

One representative told the Inspector General's Office that the "construction manager at risk" label is "misleading" because the risk is on the project owner, not on the contractor.

More than $1 billion of construction has been conducted under CMR since it was approved in 2005, including the renovation of Salem High School. The Beverly garage will mark the first time it has been used by the MBTA.

The MBTA is trying to speed up the Beverly project because it is facing a December 2011 deadline to meet a federal mandate to provide 1,000 new parking spaces for public transportation to offset the increased car traffic created by the Big Dig.

The MBTA's board of directors approved the use of the CMR method for the Beverly garage at its June 2 meeting, but the MBTA needs permission from the Inspector General's Office before it can proceed. The board also authorized spending $973,287 to begin the design of the garage.

The Beverly garage would have 500 parking spaces and would be built behind the Depot condominiums on Rantoul Street, across from the Beverly train station. The MBTA originally planned to partner with the city of Beverly to include condominiums and retail space with the garage but had to abandon those plans when no private companies bid on the work.

Mayor Bill Scanlon has said the garage will be built in a way that will allow condominiums and retail space, which would wrap around the outside of the garage, to be added later.
Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
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