County considers “common sense” approach

Clark County commissioners listened to a presentation Wednesday by Dick Andrews, president of Synergistic Teaming Concepts.

First question: What is synergistic teaming and why is the Clark County Public Works Department testing it out?

Andrews, a former construction manager at the city of Seattle Department of Transportation and at Sound Transit, has created a company built on the idea that government and contractors don’t trust each other, and that lack of communication leads to unnecessarily complicated projects that bust budgets and deadlines.

By state law, Clark County Public Works (and other governmental agencies) must award multimillion dollar contracts based on lowest responsive bid; not how well it works with the company. And there’s typically a small window between when the bid is awarded and work needs to begin. Toss in some hurt feelings over past projects, and you’ve got a recipe for a bloated project where the county and the contractor blame each other for what went wrong.

And the losers are the taxpayers.

Andrews suggests bringing in a neutral project manager whose only allegiance is to get the work finished under budget to justify his paycheck.

Public Works Director Pete Capell and Heath Henderson, engineering and construction division manager, saw a presentation by Andrews at a public works conference and were interested in testing out his program.

The pilot project is the Luke Jensen Sports Park, currently under construction. Thompson Bros. Excavating was awarded the $5.4 million contract, and Henderson told commissioners that Andrews met with managers from Thompson Bros. before work commenced.

Contractors will share concerns with him they wouldn’t divulge to the county, Andrews said, and then he can make suggestions on how to resolve problems. One of his business partners is a construction law attorney, who can review and quickly settle disputes.

Commissioner Tom Mielke said the county already employs construction project managers. Why add another coordinator?

“The advocate helps to bring in third-party reasonableness,” Andrews said.

County Administrator Bill Barron finally asked the relevant question: How much does Andrews charge?

Andrews did not give a rate, but said he keeps his costs down to make hiring him worth it for governments. On one $75 million project, he charged $15,000; on a $24 million project (Spokane Street in Seattle) he saved $4 million and no claims were filed against the city.

He said he’s working on a cost benefit analysis and will share that with the county when he’s finished.

Henderson told commissioners that the pros of having a project advocate have outweighed the cons, but one inherent problem with building things in the Pacific Northwest cannot be solved with even the most skilled mediator.

“It’s difficult to ‘synergize’ with the weather,” Henderson said.

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