Conceptual Estimating Technology helps the Texas Army National Guard Stay in Budget


Published on - This article, published in Constructech magazine highlights the role of macro BIM technology DProfiler in saving a federal project from cancellation due to budget issues. The federal government can be one of the most unforgiving of owners when it comes to project budgets. Projects that fall within its jurisdiction are monitored with a scrupulous eye, and those that don’t stay within the allocated resources run the risk of being
terminated. Of course the key to keeping an eye on the budget is properly managing the estimating
phases. The problem with the traditional estimating methods, however, is they do not provide the level of detail needed to keep all parties involved on the project—particularly, the owner—on the same page.

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Conceptual Estimating Technology helps the Texas Army National Guard Stay in Budget

  1. 1. September 15, 2008Protect the ProjectConceptual estimating technology helps the Texas Army National Guard stay in budget. The federal government can be one of the most unforgiving of owners when it comes to project budgets. Projects that fall within its jurisdiction are monitored with a scrupulous eye, and those that don’t stay within the allocated resources run the risk of being terminated. Of course the key to keeping an eye on the budget is properly managing the estimating phases. The problem with the traditional estimating methods, however, is they do not provide the level of detail needed to keep all parties involved on the project—particularly, the owner—on the same page. This was precisely the case regarding a government-funded project in El Paso, Texas. Just when it looked like this project was in jeopardy of getting off schedule andexceeding the budget, the project team called in the reserves in the form of a new method of gathering cost-estimation data through detailed data-rich models.Early WarningsEarlier this year, The Texas Army National Guard,, Austin, Texas, commissioned aproject for a new reserve center and vehicle maintenance facility in El Paso, Texas.The project encompasses a main facility area that includes general office and personnel support areas, whileancillary facilities include maintenance work bays, military vehicle parking, site security measures, and accessroads.A project of such magnitude requires tight coordination of multiple contractors, engineers, architects, andestimators. This specific project is a state-owned facility funded by a cooperative agreement by thegovernment.As a government-funded project, the 243,000-sq.ft. facility was required to continually meet the federalfunding requirements. The project falls under the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) from the DoD (U.S.Dept. of Defense),, Washington, D.C., which is used for organizing the installationinfrastructure of facilities and ships that are in the jurisdiction of the DoD, namely any infrastructure in theUnited States.The program examines the quality of infrastructure and aims to save billions of dollars on facilities annually.The legally mandated selection criteria determine which installations should be closed or realigned.Within BRAC, AFRCs (Armed Forces Reserve Centers) need to be closed or realigned when the missions of theinstallation have ceased or been relocated.In El Paso, Texas, the plan under BRAC is to relocate all units from five closed or realigned AFRCs to a newAFRC with a Consolidated Equipment Concentration Site and Maintenance Facility.This new project will provide a training facility with administrative, education, assembly, library, and alearning center. The facility will also have a vault, weapons simulator, barracks areas, and physical fitnessareas for units. In addition, a maintenance shop will have work bays and maintenance administrative support.
  2. 2. Construction is just beginning on this facility. However, getting to the start date of construction was a bumpyprocess. In particular was the challenge of getting the upfront design and estimate to continually meet thegovernment’s budget.Jacobs Engineering Group,, Pasadena, Calif., which is the design firm on this project, beganworking with estimators at Apex Cost Consultants,, Dallas, Texas, to develop and preparethe conceptual estimate.Claude Eudaric, president, Apex Cost Consultants, says the normal procedure for the cost estimator is to firstexamine the type of building it is, and then develop a historical database.“The historical database has all of the project types that we have done and we go in and we pick a similarproject type that we have done within the last six months to a year and what we do is we extrapolate whatthe cost of this project would be based on the historical data that we have,” says Eudaric.According to Eudaric, since it is a government project, the government sets the budget. And to set thebudget, the government uses the Form 1391, which is a government form used to estimate the cost of theproject. Still, Apex had to do conceptual budgets for the 10% and 35% phases of the estimate to verify thepredicted estimate from the government.It didn’t take long before problems arose. Just 10% into the conceptual budget phase Apex Cost Consultantsfound its numbers had exceeded the government’s budget and the project was in danger of getting offschedule.“Initially we turned in the estimate and (it) said that the project was 30% over budget, based on the 1391,”says Eudaric. “So the first thing they did was they shot the messenger. They felt like we hadn’t provided themenough backup data. How could we make such a determination without details and analysis of the project?”Apex was positive, based on current market conditions, that the 30% overage was indeed correct.“If you give a client the number they think it should be and then the project is off the bid and it blows up,then the liability is on us because we gave them a number that was inaccurate,” says Eudaric.At this point all parties were upset the project had exceeded the government’s budget. It reached a turningpoint where the project had to be reevaluated with a new method of conceptual estimating.Mission RecallA few months later, Eudaric received an email from Jacobs Engineering asking for a new way to reevaluate theproject. Going into the 35% design, the team needed to convince the owners that the cost estimates wereaccurate and help with creating the budget for this project.Apex knew this required getting everyone involved—from the architect to the contractor to the government—on the same page. To do so it needed to provide detailed information on the project’s estimate in a wayeveryone could understand.Apex decided to shift its processes from traditional methods of cost estimation to a new way of gatheringinformation through data-rich models. There began the search for a new technology solution to give all projectmembers a more detailed, macro view of cost estimation through modeling.For the 35% phase, Apex approached Jacobs with the idea to use a new piece of technology that would helpbring the team within budget and essentially get the project back on schedule.“I had gone to a demonstration and saw this three-dimensional software working,” says Eudaric. “And whatwas so unique about it is it was creating an estimate in realtime. So as (it) was modeling this hypothetical
  3. 3. building, on the right hand side were all the costs.“And what the software does is it allows you to build a cost model, but to also build it based on a virtualbuilding where you have dimensions (and) you have parameters. In other words, you are building this buildingin virtual space and then putting a price to it.”The software was DProfiler from Beck Technology,, a technology division withinThe Beck Group,, Dallas, Texas, which addresses the macro view of the project.According to Stewart Carroll, chief operating officer, Beck Technology, BIM (building information modeling)can be categorized in two ways—a macro view and a micro view.Much has been said in the industry regarding the value of BIM. At its core, BIM is a process in which multiplemembers of a project gather the same detailed information from intelligent models. More specifically, themacro view represents the big-picture view of the early phases of a project while the micro view comes a bitlater, answering the detailed questions of how to design, document, and build a project.Products on the market that address the micro view include Revit from Autodesk,, SanRafael, Calif. Bentley Architecture from Bentley Systems,, Exton, Pa. and ArchiCAD fromGraphisoft,, Budapest, Hungary. All of these technologies help contractors design,document, and build the project.Less common and newer to the construction industry are technologies for the macro view. According toCarroll, contractors looking at the earliest phase of a project will likely ask themselves the ‘if’ and ‘what’questions including: If I build this building, what are the ramifications? What are operating costs from an energy perspective? What are the lifecycle costs? What is the first cost of construction? What are all the assumptions we are going to plug in based on our history?In conceptual estimating, estimators must make these key and critical assumptions in order to create acomplete estimate of design, according to Carroll.DProfiler can help contractors create an accurate cost estimate in the planning and conception cost estimatephases of a project and answer the key questions of ‘if’ and ‘what’ early on in the project.“We focus on the early phases of getting teams together, clarifying assumptions, building a graphicalrepresentation,” says Carroll. “Not to design, but to get everybody on the same page in terms of description ofscope, and out of (that) scope comes cost.”In addition to providing improved team collaboration and communication, the technology also provides greateraccuracy of project data. DProfiler provides a graphical representation of all the estimate information so ifsomething doesn’t line up or was miscalculated, DProfiler can easily recognize the mistake. The product alsogives contractors the ability to perform quantity takeoff tasks in a significantly reduced amount of time.One specific feature includes an integrated energy analysis, which studies energy cost impact of change,analyzes LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) qualifications, and determines HVAC(heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) initial cost. DProfiler also includes RSMeans Data, which means theconstruction estimate can reflect the average U.S. cost of any major city’s indexes.The macro view of BIM is becoming more important because being able to look at 3D (three-dimensional)models of detailed information on the estimate—as opposed to basic cost estimates in spreadsheets—gives a
  4. 4. visual element to the estimate. This helps any project member, regardless of experience using estimates, tosee and understand the scope of the estimate.This was an important element in the Texas Army National Guard project, providing all project members withthe scope so everyone could understand where the project was in the conceptual estimate process.Saving the ProjectWith the help of the technology, Apex and Beck did the MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) scope andthe architectural, structural, and site scope for the reserve center in El Paso, Texas.Brent Pilgrim, project cost manager, The Beck Group, worked closely with Eudaric to help develop thedocuments with models and graphical elements used to show the MEP and architectural, structural, and sitescope.“What DProfiler does and the value that it brings is it provided such a level of detailed information thateveryone was able to comprehend it and digest it and understand why the project was over budgetunderstand where different costs were allocated,” says Pilgrim. “So we did the design criteria, the images, thecost estimate, and we provided the deliverable to the team.”Through DProfiler, the team still found the conceptual estimate to be 20% above the government’s budget,compared to the 30% Apex originally presented.To help explain why the project still exceeded the budget, this deliverable was brought into a full-day meetingwhere everyone involved in the project was able to review cost, design, and scope.“We brought in the stakeholder, the owners, the Texas Army National Guard, people as far as Washington,D.C., were in here to look at the project,” says Eudaric.By displaying the detailed project information from DProfiler, everyone involved with the project was able tosee where the project had exceeded the budget and the group could begin to take the necessary steps tobring the project back into budget.Apex needed to value engineer the project, making changes to the building’s scope in terms of materials,functions, and components. This is a process that Eudaric says would normally take weeks to complete.“With DProfiler (the) time factor goes away because now that you have this three-dimensional model, you canactually run what (are) called what-if scenarios on the model in realtime in front of the client as you arediscussing the various changes,” says Eudaric.Since the budget number on this project was $45 million, the team was able to add components back into thebuilding until the team reached the allotted amount. From there, the team turned the other components intoadd alternates, which are components of the project that are not needed for the building to function.Full Speed AheadBy the end of the day, the team was able to get the project down to a base bid and create add-alternate itemsthat allowed them to add scope back in as cost was reallocated or the budget changed.Based solely on this full-day meeting the government approved the project and allowed it to move forward,according to Pilgrim.From that point the project began to move smoothly through the remainder of the estimating phases. Theteam continued using DProfiler for the 65% phase of the estimate. Yet since the estimate move passed theconceptual environment and into a more detailed environment, the project team also applied traditionalestimating to this phase.
  5. 5. For traditional cost estimating Apex uses Sage Timberline Office,, Beaverton,Ore., and integrates it with DProfiler.“We did a final review of the 95% drawings,” says Eudaric. “The client was very happy with the results, andthe project (was) issued to go for bid (near the end of July). So everything was completely pulled together.”Comparing the original cost-estimating methods with the BIM method, the visual elements of the modelhelped the team understand information more thoroughly, according to Pilgrim.“Traditionally, I don’t think people take the time or have the capacity to understand a very dry, traditionalcost estimate,” continues Pilgrim. “(DProfiler) gives a value to the project that allows the team members tomake decisions and understand it and comprehend it and digest it.”