Water projects are driven by the necessity to meet basic human needs and to provide essential services to sustain communities for generations. With the number of stakeholders involved and the ease in which project costs can escalate, not securing cost certainty early is an issue for water project owners. As a result, design-build delivery with robust preconstruction team involvement is being used more often to expedite projects and control costs.

The concept of preconstruction is fairly new in the water industry, mainly because the popularity of design-build delivery has been increasing. A significant amount of water projects have been planned for a long time. Project owners often want new project funding in place before they spend money on existing failing infrastructure. 
In addition, traditional design-bid-build projects have been trending toward more and more delays because of issues like supply chain challenges. There was very little movement on the implementation of water projects in the early 2000s through the time of the pandemic. But now municipalities and governing agencies need to get their projects done. And they need to do it fast.

Why Preconstruction Services Matter

Preconstruction teams act as a bridge connecting engineering, estimating and construction teams. A few key goals of a preconstruction team are to offer input on constructability, supply details about costs and risks for projects, and use experience and best practices to apply appropriate alternative analysis and solutions to challenging problems.

The importance of preconstruction can’t be overstated. As an example, if a design team included a plant drain without exactly knowing where water would drain to, the preconstruction team would place special attention on this issue. Why? Because whether or not a design requires deep excavation for a drain line with extensive dewatering efforts or the building of a simple pump station, the risks and costs could be quite different and constructability would need to be thoroughly considered for each scenario.

The preconstruction phase should be very organic. This phase should start early and embed the preconstruction team with the design team and project stakeholders. In the validation phase of a progressive design-build project, preconstruction is so important and plays a critical role in aligning expectations with cost and scope. A preconstruction workshop should be part of the validation phase and is considered a best practice to define the goals, expectations and desired outcomes for all parties involved with the project.

Positioning a design-build project for success is the key purpose behind preconstruction and a critical reason to involve the preconstruction team at the onset of the design-build process. The risks of not having a good preconstruction team in place early include escalating costs, poor planning, delays and potentially canceled projects.

When determining how to reallocate resources to preconstruction, consider these four benefits:

Early cost certainty. A skilled preconstruction team can reduce a project’s costs by up to 30%. Permitting and other challenges can keep a project open for a lengthy period of time. The need to create a budget for each stage of a project rather than locking down a budget from the outset can result in spiraling expenses that can cause projects to be delayed or terminated.

Design to budget. Most project owners approach projects with a wish list of ideas that can grow the longer a project continues. One of the most important value-engineering tasks that preconstruction teams undertake is keeping the end user top of mind when determining and prioritizing genuine project needs over wants.

Develop accurate project schedule. If integrated from the outset, the preconstruction team can engage suppliers and manufacturers early to determine needed materials, process equipment and more. The preconstruction team can aid engineers by alerting them to long lead times and possible supply or equipment scarcities. This early procurement involvement can reduce overall schedules and minimize project delays.

Establish constructability early. A thoughtful preconstruction team can provide constructability ideas to the design team, so that the design doesn’t end up too difficult to build. The preconstruction team can suggest using prefabrication, advise on sizing and help select less costly materials, resulting in a more cost-effective construction process. Determining risks and establishing risk mitigation strategies is a key part of constructability considerations.

The speed and financial assurance that design-build delivery offers is highly valued by project owners. Engaging a preconstruction team provides substantial value for a project by helping lock in costs early and guiding careful planning and coordination throughout a project’s many phases.


Evolved thinking like using robust preconstruction services and design-build delivery can help put water and wastewater projects cost-efficiently on the fast track.

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Kelley Reeves is a project manager with demonstrated experience in the construction industry. He is skilled in process scheduling, budgeting, value engineering, procurement, estimating and contracting.