From March 28-April 1, the Design Build Institute of America (DBIA) held a two-in-one conference for Transportation and Water/Wastewater in Kansas City, Missouri. Unfortunately, like many conferences, this one was attended more for it’s offering of mandatory Continuing Education Credits (CEU) than for anything else. Sure, it provided updates on Design-Build contracts, best practices, awards, and time for networking, but there was little innovation or excitement in the actual practice of design-build, especially with a focus on building highways, bridges, and wastewater treatment plants.
Interestingly, attendees at the Water/Wastewater Conference skewed female while the Transportation Conference was male-dominated (mostly middle-aged white male engineers). And while the diversity of the crowd may have been lacking, the message remained constant: design-build is better than design-bid-build or any other contracting method because it saves money and time and there is one singular responsible entity.
But I overheard several comments that, as a professional city and regional planner, made me cringed: eager student volunteers exclaiming how cool it would be to design freeways; an engineering touted his “innovative” approach to storm-water management at the construction site of a bridge–digging a big hole and filling it with gravel so trucks could drive across in lieu of the standard retention pond. A project manager for a bridge in Louisiana still to this day couldn’t figure out how 10 box culverts would allow bears to pass through.
Several conference sessions focused on sustainability, LEED, and “going green,” at least in name. After days of working through session after session, I had high hopes for “Going Green in the Water and Wastewater Industry.” This session was an overview of a project in Maryland for the US Navy, which was required to be LEED Silver. Since the design-build model encourages “communication, collaboration, and cooperation among all stakeholders early on,” it facilitates LEED certification and going green, explained Joe Kantor of the Haskell Company. In the end, the project could only obtain LEED certification for the administration building and install “Sustainability Measures” in the mechanical buildings because, well, the LEED system just doesn’t cover municipal infrastructure facilities very well.
The best session by far was the joint session by “Money Man” Chris Butler of Butler, Lanz & Wagler Investments. In these economic times he said what everyone in the room was hoping to hear, in spite of federal Reinvestment Act money tapering off and continued State and municipal budget tightening: “I would anticipate 18 months to two years of continued growth based on the latest leading indicators”–welcome news to an industry that can design and then build projects 30 percent faster than any competing approach.