In 2018, Tipton County, a community in north central Indiana, broke ground on one of the most significant building projects since 1895. Like many communities around the nation, the county needed to replace an aging and overcrowded jail that no longer met its needs. After an unsuccessful attempt using the traditional Design-Bid-Build (DBB) project delivery method, Tipton chose to use Progressive Design-Build (PDB) to support their objectives and budget. 

PDB refers to the way a construction project design is developed by the owner and the design-builder in a step-by-step process. According to the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), PDB allows the design and construction team to collaborate during the earliest stages of the project development. This enables the greatest amount of engagement between the three key players in a construction contract: the owner, designer, and contractor. Here are five reasons why owners should consider PDB for their projects. 

1. One Contract – One Entity to Hold Accountable — In today’s market, a collaborative approach is necessary to be able to obtain fair pricing, maintain your budget, and finish the project on schedule. A single owner contract is a very important issue, mainly because of risk. It’s also important because of the limited resources available in today’s construction environment, especially subcontractors. With just one contract, the design-builder assumes the risk for the project. There is no question about who is responsible when things go wrong because there is just one entity. Risks for increased costs due to change orders or construction delays are eliminated because risks are assumed by the design-builder with sole accountability for the project. Contracting with a single entity rather than multiple direct owner contracts prevents owner aggravation because there can be no “finger pointing” on a project. 

Ironically, design-bid-build contractors challenge the sole accountability approach. They call it “the fox watching the hen house” since there are not separate architect and construction manager contracts. To counter this claim at Tipton County, Performance Services, as the design-builder, hired a new site superintendent specifically for the Tipton County Jail project. The plan was then for the county to hire him after construction was complete as the maintenance supervisor for the new facility. During construction, he saw every pipe that was run and bolt that was installed. This creative approach provided the new maintenance supervisor a thorough knowledge and understanding of the building systems and assured a smooth ongoing operation of the facility.   

2. Owner Control of the Budget — I have worked on jail projects using all four main delivery methods, including DBB General Contractor, DBB Construction Manager as Agent, DBB Construction as Constructor, and PDB. I have even worked using all four methods at the same time. One critical area owners always want control over is their budget. There is nothing worse than getting to bid day (I call it “surprise day”) and finding that you have multiple bids above your budget. Design-build gives the owner a high degree of control over the design and, in turn, budget. 

The biggest pet peeve for owners is unexpected change orders. With PDB, there are no change orders within the agreed upon scope of work after contract. This is because subcontractors, as design-assist partners, are at the design table. My firsthand experience with other delivery methods is that contractors will look for opportunities for change orders due to the money they left on the table on bid day, but you do not have that environment with progressive design-build. The owner has control over their initial budget and final budget. 

Tipton understood what they got with their building and why. I believe this understanding of their project is due to the collaborative and early engagement provided by the progressive design-build delivery method. A comment made by the Tipton County Jail Commander illustrates this. When he compared the previous DBB failed project attempt, he felt he was “along for the ride,” but with the PDB project, he was “in control of the ride.” The Tipton Jail Commander got the functionality and features he needed with the new facility. 

3. Flexibility and Collaboration Throughout Design — In addition to owner control, collaboration is the key to PDB. Everyone is “singing off on the same sheet of music,” so to speak. You develop respectful relationships. I have learned throughout my career that constructing a building is truly a team effort. It requires a high level of teamwork to be successful. At Tipton County, we had a convenient meeting place for the team at the Tipton County Foundation Building and met weekly. Meeting face to face created an environment where everyone felt like they were part of a team they could trust. 

We also used a charrette design approach. This helped to expedite the design process and developed several design options. As often happens in the traditional approach, we did not use the previous design to begin with or a computer-generated design option because these do not allow for team interaction. Instead, we began by using simple colored building blocks representing various building components. The team could move the blocks around and physically demonstrate to the team why a component should be located where it is. 

Low tech was the most productive approach because there were no barriers to engaging in the brainstorming sessions. This was one of the reasons we came to design decisions so quickly. Brainstorming together and offering design ideas helped build the team. The design process established relationships that provided a lasting benefit which extended throughout the rest of the project.  

The budget was first and foremost on everyone’s mind. When challenged, people became creative and offered solutions to meet the operational needs. Subcontractors were at the table from the very beginning. This helped the designers find new ways to simplify and detail the design to reduce costs. The cost impact of design decisions was known immediately because the design and construction team was in the room and this saved a great deal of time. Although there were times the owner did not get everything they wanted, the collaborative approach allowed us to work through it together. 

Tipton County built a completely different and new corrections facility than previously attempted and it has features of a much larger jail on a limited county budget, including: 

Eight classifications instead of three; 

  • A mental health cell block; 
  • 84-bed general population; 
  • A 32-foot direct line of sight from the control room to the intake counter; 
  • Indoor and outdoor recreation under the roof; and 
  • Master plan for future expansion. 

With the PDB design-to-budget process, we were able to design from the ground up to help Tipton County get what they were looking for within the available budget. 

4. Faster Decision Making - Both in Design and Construction — One of the benefits of progressive design-build is that you can expedite parts of the project due to having one entity working for and making decisions with the owner. Starting from scratch, we designed the entire building and began construction in just four and a half months. The process lends itself to expediency. 

For example, the design used a pre-engineered metal building. It was a high-quality but less expensive option that allowed the county to meet its needs and put money in security-related features. Having the modular steel cell provider on board early also allowed us to expedite bidding, submittal, and fabrication so they could be delivered without delays. As a result, our production date was established early. Locking in a production date early on saved us several months of lead time and eliminated probable market inflation. Trade contractors were at the table during team decisions. Therefore, they knew immediately how to move forward. The fast decision-making process also allowed us to get under the roof quickly and in time for winter weather. 

5. High Quality Outcome 

People were amazed as they walked through the facility at the ribbon cutting and dedication, remarking that it does not look like a jail. It was clear that quality was the primary goal of the project. Even during construction, visiting designers and contractors commented that the workmanship of plumbing, ductwork, and electrical on the back of the modular cells looked like artwork. 

One of the challenges correctional facilities face today is separating inmates into appropriate classifications. When going through the original DBB process, the owner was left with only three classifications. We were able to deliver eight classifications, including a mental health unit that was not originally in the program. 

In some cases, the owner was very specific about what he wanted to ensure a quality outcome. For example, he chose a known vendor for good reason, such as ongoing service and reduced maintenance. The owner got to choose between various manufacturers to select what he felt was in his best interest. Because of PDB, the owner got a higher level of security, more classifications, and a mental health unit all within the budget. 

When an owner can pick his team, he can focus on quality rather than lowest price. With the PDB process, I believe we got a high-quality outcome at a fair price. Additionally, it was clear that the people who worked on the project had a lot of pride in their work. The Tipton County Sheriff’s Office and Corrections Center now serves as the community gateway, and it does not look like a jail.