Five years ago, Rhode Island used what for the state was, at the time, still a relatively novel approach to renovating the terminal at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick and building the new Interlink intermodal station next door.
Known as “construction manager at-risk,” the nontraditional procurement system is now widely used to complete large building projects in both the public and private sectors across the country and helped both airport projects come in on time and under budget.
But even before the T.F. Green projects were completed, legal challenges to the use of construction manager at-risk at the University of Rhode Island had chilled its use.
Lawmakers passed a bill in 2011 allowing construction manager at-risk under certain circumstances, but builders and state agencies described the process laid out by the resulting statute as vague and impractical to actually try.
“Anecdotally, agencies have looked at this and said, ‘We do not know how to do this,’ ” said Michael D. Mitchell, chief of legal services at the R.I. Department of Administration. “I believe there were projects where agencies wanted to use it and didn’t. There have been no requests since the [2011 law] was enacted.”
While traditional public-sector procurement rules require an agency to select a general contractor based on the lowest upfront bid for the entire project, construction manager at-risk allows an agency to select a contractor based on a range of factors and then work collaboratively with it to keep costs down.
Once a builder is selected, it works with the architect and owner to decide how the project should be executed, as well as what its cost ceiling should be.
“It helps the owner to know more about the project early on to make a more informed decisions about it, and then the construction manager executes those decisions,” said Bill Bryan, senior project executive at Gilbane Building Co., which managed the Interlink project.