What is a construction manager at risk?

McCownGordon Associates collaborating on site.

When you’re in charge of a construction project for a school or other public building, you may be most familiar with the design-bid-build type of delivery method for those projects. At McCownGordon Construction, we encourage all project owners to consider using construction management at risk (CMAR) for their project delivery method. 

Design-bid-build starts with having your project designed with an architect. Once you have the fully designed plans in-hand, you solicit bids from the appropriate general contractors and choose the best, often the lowest, bid for your project. But chances are, if you’ve encountered this before, you know how far from straightforward the process really is.

When construction experts aren’t given the opportunity to review the architect’s design early on for potential issues or cost savings, it leads to pricey change orders and projects that often go over budget and surpass their scheduled completion date.

What is a construction manager at risk?

The construction management at risk project delivery method is a collaborative approach that leverages construction expertise during the planning process. You hire a construction manager who leads and works collaboratively with the architecture and engineering teams throughout the design and construction process.

The construction manager at risk also works within a guaranteed maximum price to ensure your project never exceeds your budget. 

You’ll have a better understanding of the project timeline and different phases of construction thanks to the construction manager’s insight and advice on budget, cost estimating, scheduling, and design.

Moreover, you have an opportunity to make important cost-saving decisions during the design phase, backed by our expertise and knowledge in construction and supply. 

A foundation of support for your project

If you’re an owner, you want to find a construction manager who has a large portfolio of projects similar to your project. You don’t want to choose someone who is playing the guessing game. That could lead to more risks, more mistakes and a longer project timeline.

If you have a project with a large, undefined scope, desire more collaboration throughout the process or need a guaranteed cost before design is complete, seeking the help of a construction manager at risk could be the solution you’re seeking. Plus, if you have timeline constraints, the construction manager at risk can provide the direction and insight you and your team need to get the work done faster. 

The construction manager also holds the contracts for any trade partners they bring in.

What does a construction manager do?

A construction manager at risk performs a variety of essential functions for your construction project. Some of the benefits you gain from hiring a CMAR include:

  • Controlled costs, including guaranteed maximum price
  • Efficient use of budget
  • Improved project timelines
  • Increase in collaboration
  • Trusted, skillful trade partners
  • Prioritized local vendors and partners
  • A transparent process
  • Thorough communication with the full team

Not sure if your project needs CMAR project delivery? Contact us to tell us more about your project, and we will work together to determine if this is the right delivery method for you. 

Keep your project moving forward

This is a situation that happens often with large projects: You go to an architect and have them design a building with all of the features you need and want. The end product is something that fits all of your hopes and dreams for your new structure. 

Then you put it out for bid only to find out the project as designed is far too expensive for your budget. This often ends up with the project shelved indefinitely. But your project began with a need, and that need deserves to be met.

When you choose a construction manager at risk, we start with your actual budget and maximize it, rather than working backwards and hoping to come in at the right cost. Working together and leveraging our expertise, we can help you fulfill those same hopes and dreams for a building you’re thrilled with.

Whether your project is publicly or privately funded, it’s important to spend those dollars as responsibly as possible. Partnering with someone like McCownGordon for a CMAR-based project ensures you get the most out of your dollars.

What is the difference between CMAR and design-build?

Design-build is a common collaborative project delivery method in which the owner hires both the designer and the construction manager at the same time under a single contract. This is a design-led approach where the team works together under the architect.

Construction manager at risk is similar to design-build in many ways. It’s also collaborative and streamlined, but CMAR is a construction-led approach. The construction manager pins down exactly what you want in your project and your budget. Armed with this information, they work with the architect to deliver a design that meets your needs. 

The vital input of the construction manager gives insight into the costs of certain features and materials, giving you precise control over how your budget is spent. 

A good example in your day-to-day life is to imagine buying a new car. You want leather seats and find a car in your budget that has them. The CMAR is the person who would come in and tell you that those leather seats cost $5,000 of your budget—and that information may significantly change how much you want them. You could potentially add a variety of other features for that same cost. 

Give yourself the opportunity to spend your money where it matters with unmatched insight into all of the costs of your project. You know what features are most important, so you should have the final say in how they’re prioritized.

The value of a construction-led delivery method

Construction manager at risk is a collaborative approach emphasizing the construction expertise of a construction manager. As your construction manager, we act as consultant throughout the design and construction process.

You have enough on your hands without obtaining the encyclopedic knowledge of construction it takes to fully understand the process. Without that insight, it’s challenging to know if you’re getting the best service and the best outcome for your project. That’s why you need a trusted partner like McCownGordon as your construction manager at risk to ensure you get the best value for your budget. 

How can CMAR save on costs?

Your construction manager not only gives you a guaranteed maximum price; they work with you to control costs throughout the project.

One example we’ve encountered of cost savings because of our construction-led approach is with glass-covered buildings. An architect delivers a design you love that includes 16 feet of glass. As a construction manager, we may counter that design and suggest using only 12 feet of glass instead. While we know you loved the original design, with our construction expertise we know that adding an extra 4 feet of glass costs twice as much.

Another example of construction expertise saving costs would be a design featuring a limestone design. The architect designs the limestone to hang on the exterior of the building to achieve the desired look.

After reviewing, the construction manager might suggest using a thicker limestone and stacking it to achieve the same look. While this would come with a higher material cost, the cost difference between the labor of stacking and hanging the limestone could be $1 million.

In a hard-bid scenario, their bid cost only includes exactly what was drawn in the original design. Any variation from that is a costly change order, immediately pushing your project over budget.With CMAR, you’re protected. There is no risk of paying more than the guaranteed maximum price, and you don’t have to compromise on quality or features. We work together to ensure you maximize every penny from the start.

The construction manager at risk approach provides more efficient ways to get what you want. They will give you all kinds of options to achieve your ideal design and finished structure. 

Does using CMAR help beyond the project itself?

At McCownGordon, we go beyond thinking about the cost to build your project. We also consider the lifecycle costs associated with your project. What will it cost to replace equipment? Would it make sense to spend less initially on your HVAC system if it means replacing it in 10 years? 

We ensure you see the construction costs, replacement costs, and lifetime costs of the different aspects of your building. This type of information is especially important for K-12 and higher education construction, where structures need to function efficiently for decades. In these situations, it likely makes sense to spend 10% more on a roof that will last 50% longer. 

When you’re in your building for the long term, you deserve a chance to make long-term decisions. Hard-bid delivery typically includes the least expensive installations to keep the bid low. If you’re a school administrator using a design-bid-build delivery, you could end up with an HVAC system that will only last 15 years that’s been put on a 20-year bond, meaning your building won’t have adequate heating or cooling and you’ll likely end up having to ask for additional bond issues down the road. 

Trust our experience as a construction manager at risk

McCownGordon has partnered with Basehor-Linwood School District USD 458 on more than 10 projects since 2018. David Howard, former superintendent at Basehor-Linwood School District USD 458 worked on many of those projects with us. Before he left, he sat down with us and talked about his experience working with McCownGordon.

“We chose CMAR because we’ve done the former process, most superintendents aren’t trained in construction so we leave that to the experts. They guide us through the whole process.” 

Basehor-Linwood School District Testimonial

Decided on your project delivery?

Once you select your project delivery method, it is important to take steps to maximize the chances of your project success:

Effectively communicate to all team members (architects, engineers, construction managers, trade partners and consultants) the goals, objectives and issues leading to the selection of the delivery system. It is important they understand and commit to the owner’s expectations. 

  • Ensure the terms and conditions of all contracts reflect the project goals, objectives and expectations, and memorialize all related agreements. For example, if the team anticipates changes during construction, be sure the contract defines how they will be managed, and their cost- and schedule-impact minimized.
  • Consider obtaining legal assistance experienced in construction matters for crafting contract language.
  • Commit to the appropriate level of owner involvement, e.g. active involvement with timely and informed decision-making to not delay or impact the project. 
  • Assess risks and plan how to manage the overall program, e.g., internally or via a program management consultant.
  • Recognize that disputes over scope, quality and other issues may still arise. Define how disputes will be handled to minimize cost/schedule impacts.

Discover the difference of a construction manager at risk

Take charge of your project and maximize the budget you have, rather than risking going over-budget with change orders from a traditional design-bid-build project delivery. 

At McCownGordon, our team maintains a customer-focused mentality, allowing us to meet or exceed even your highest expectations. Dedicated to promoting integrity, performance and relationships, it’s our people and values that truly make the difference.

Our customers aren’t simply another project; they’re an extension of our team and community. Together, we don’t just build—we bring creative visions to life. From first thought to final nail, we deliver quality work to ensure our builds stand above the rest. 

We have four regional offices around the Midwest—Kansas City, Manhattan, Wichita and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. Call us at 888-304-4929 or use our free online quote tool to start building today. 

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