Claims and Mediations: Post-Construction Services

It seems that as every large project winds down and prepares for handover to the owner’s facilities and operations teams; be it hospital, transit center, or bridge, they seem to follow the same cadence. Large claims and finalized disputes are collected, packaged, and delivered to the owner who hands these toxic assets to designated teams of reviewers, who, working for both owner and design team, attempt to research and respond to the demands for repair and recompense from their aggrieved construction partners.

This period is hardly imagined during the heady days of preconstruction, when troops of freshly scrubbed and earnest professionals strive create a fabled utopia of clash-free models with VDC (virtual design and construction) teams living in perfect harmony. Post-construction is an almost inverse dystopia of blame and retribution.

Is there construction technology, including software and processes, that can help large design and construction projects avoid the post-construction destination of claims and mediations?

Project preconstruction begins the journey of construction and is the honeymoon period of this new relationship between owners, designers, and builders. Continuing the metaphor of marriage, post-construction becomes just the opposite, with its bitter unwinding of project relationships, which reminds one of the of divorce and family law industries.

As such, the terms that define and shape discussions of divorce; post-construction has its “in-spouse” and “out-spouse.” Just as it sounds, the in-spouse is the partner who has the power in the relationship; including control of the family finances. In construction projects this role falls to the owner who has been paying for the project and owns and occupies the building upon completion.

If the owner is the in-spouse, the builder assumes the role of out-spouse in post-construction. It is the builder who, using the design team’s plans, has brought the project to fruition. And depending on the focus and framing of disputes and claims, during this post-construction period, the out-spouse may also include the design team who provided flawed design documents from which the builder was required by contract to build from.

And just as in divorce proceedings, the out-spouse provides documentation on how they were wronged and cheated, identifying a compensation package that will help rectify and heal that aggrievement. The owner responds to these demands with their own reasons and counter offers. While the design team often remains on the sidelines playing the role of victim through third-party claims from the out-spouse, or arbiter to the in-spouse’s review of the out-spouse’s demands.

As in divorce, the goal is to work to a negotiated settlement. Settle all claims, provide recompense for the affected parties, including the design team, and move onto full occupancy, without going into costly and reputation damaging litigation.

Is design and construction like dating and marriage, with the owner and architect wooing a builder who responds in kind to create a project, which becomes the envy of the built environment? Is there pre-nuptial software that can help project teams prepare for separation during preconstruction?

Furthermore, are large capital improvement projects always subject to this fate? Should every owner embarking on a design and construction project plan for a costly divorce at project completion? Is there something like construction therapy available during construction that can mitigate a costly ending? Why can’t collaboration continue through to the finish of a construction project?

These questions and explored responses will be the focus of my next few articles.

Cliff Moser works with Stanford Healthcare helping build the New Stanford Hospital, www.sumcrenewal.org, with BIM Services. He can be reached at cliff.moster@gmail.com