Construction Contract Administration: Why It Matters
Documentation and quality assurance on any large-scale construction project is the responsibility of a construction contract administrator. Often, this person’s expertise is crucial in ensuring the completion of a project to its specifications, thus making their preparedness for the job a matter of vital importance. David Wojcik of Wojcik + Associates Architects shares with us some insight about this role and its importance for avoiding legal complications during and after construction.
What role does a contract administrator play in a construction project?
This role is truly the nerve centre of the project. The Construction Contract Administrator (CCA) is responsible for developing, interpreting, reviewing, and enforcing all construction documentation. This includes managing quality assurance and quality control; bidding and negotiating procedures; construction observation and inspection; Division 01 contracts, which lay out the duties of the owner, contractors, and architects/engineers; General and Supplemental Conditions; all agreements related to the project, and enforcement and liability.
What professionals are qualified to be a CCA?
Individuals who possess deep knowledge and skill sets through education and experience make for good CCAs. While a qualified CCA does not necessarily need to be a licensed design professional, a certification earned through a respected and trusted professional organisation confirms someone has these critical, refined skill sets. In my experience, the Architect of Record (AOR) – the entity most intimately connected with the construction documents – makes for the most qualified CCA.
Can you tell us more about the contract administration process at WAA?
Delivering construction contract administration services is quite typical on large projects. However, I see substantially underserved markets in the residential, small commercial and hospitality project areas.
Individuals who possess deep knowledge and skill sets through education and experience make for good CCAs.
The process starts with bidding assistance and contract phase tasks. When construction begins, a myriad of tasks are set in motion, including multiple site observations, documenting those observations with notes and photographs, preparing bulletins, documenting construction change directives and the architect’s supplemental instructions for necessary design changes, review and certification of contractor payment requests, responding to contractor requests for information, issuing clarifications, and reviewing and rejecting non-conforming work.
At times, we are asked to administer the construction contract on projects where we are not the AOR. This happens when the client wants our knowledge and attention to detail to provide a high level of assurance that their expectations will be met.
Some projects require remediating unforeseen problems within an existing building. In this case, we assess and synthesise all the gathered data and knowledge necessary to make sense of what is typically a multifaceted and complex set of problems. There are usually multiple remedies available – it is our job as architects to educate our clients and exercise wise judgment and discretion in recommending the right products and designs on our client’s behalf.
Is there a meaningful difference between a consultant and an architect when it comes to advising on a construction project?
Absolutely. The greatest difference is that a consultant is typically not a licensed design professional. An architect may consult, but a consultant is not licensed to practice architecture. This matters significantly when a client is deciding whom to hire for a particular project, and certainly when the anticipated tasks will require expert advisor services.
It is our job as architects to educate our clients and exercise wise judgment and discretion in recommending the right products and designs on our client’s behalf.
A licensed architect is expected to have substantial and specialized education and training, to practice wise discretion, and to accept a fiduciary responsibility at a level well beyond that of an unlicensed consultant. Architects are trained and experienced not only to design and develop construction contract drawings, but also to read and understand them – an absolutely essential skill set towards fully understanding existing buildings.
Those aspiring to be licensed architects must train and then sit for the Architectural Registration Exam (ARE). The ARE is a rigorous registration exam which has been adopted by all 55 US jurisdictions and six Canadian provinces. It concentrates on those areas of knowledge, skill and services that most affect public health, safety, and welfare. Only upon successful passing of the exam is one legally eligible to practice architecture.
The definition of a consultant is not nearly as precise. Anyone who provides “expert” advice may claim to be a professional consultant. With little assurance, it is the client’s responsibility to determine if the consultant’s knowledge, experience, and character are ”good enough” to advise them and put their best interests at the forefront.
How does this distinction affect the construction project as a whole?
The centrepiece of an architect’s practice is having a system of solid moral values which serve as the compass for personal and professional conduct. This system of ethics is formalised as the standard of care documented in the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, issued by the American Institute of Architects.
Anyone who provides “expert” advice may claim to be a professional consultant.
Ethical behaviour is a fundamental requirement of practicing architecture and is used to ensure that we uphold our duty to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public. This includes specifying particular products or systems based solely on their appropriateness to the project and selecting contractors based on qualifications and experience. These are expected traits of a licensed architect, whereas consultants are not necessarily held to the same standards.
As part of the consensual and fiduciary relationship with our clients, architects owe our clients sound judgement and experience. We direct our clients to the recommended course of action, even if it means protecting the client from our own profession.
In what way does the effective handling of a contract affect the likelihood of legal issues arising during the process?
In our experience, it begins with assuring that bidders have a complete and thorough understanding of the scope of work, starting with the detailed set of drawings and specifications. Transparency and open communication at the beginning of the contract negotiations makes for a far less tumultuous process. A comprehensive understanding of responsibilities across all contracted parties is also critical. The ability of a CCA to perform site observations and communicate freely with the owner and general contractor is paramount to determining whether a small problem can be resolved or if it will potentially evolve into a catastrophic liability.
Have you seen any demonstrative examples of this in your work?
Yes, on many occasions. One particular project was a multi-million-dollar, single-family residence that was less than seven years old and already on its third roof, due to an incorrect assessment that a roof leak had caused significant water-related damages. The reality was that the designer, developer and/or contractor did not have an adequate understanding of the principles of applied building science. Additionally, the lack of detailing, incompatibility of specified materials, and incomplete specifications contributed to multiple errors and construction-related issues. Forensically assessing the problem, designing repair details and administering the repair contract has brought this ongoing issue to a close.
In another multi-million-dollar single family residence project; while under construction, WAA was retained to perform site observations and render opinions regarding quality control. During the process, significant structural and building envelope deficiencies were observed and noted. As such, the owner was able to address and remediate the problems prior to them being covered up and likely progressing into catastrophic latent construction defects.
Another case involved an existing multi-family, multi-storey building that was experiencing active water leaks toward the centre core at the lower floors. Our forensic investigation determined that the balconies were not constructed as designed and, coupled with inadequate maintenance, contributed to bulk water entry at the balcony interface, which migrated inside building components for nearly 30 feet before dripping into the centre building core.
The bottom line: partnering with a licensed architect to provide CCA oversight is the right thing to do, often saving time, money and trouble across the project lifecycle.
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David Wojcik is President and Senior Architect at Wojcik + Associates Architects, Inc (WAA). With more than 20 years of project success as a licensed architect for both commercial and residential markets, as well as a construction adviser, litigation support and expert witness, he leads and collaborates on a diverse portfolio of new build and renovation efforts across the US and overseas.
WAA is an architectural firm located in suburban Chicago, Illinois. The firm specialises in providing decisive design, building science consulting, construction contract administration and forensic investigations for residential, commercial and hospitality clientele.