Comparing Construction Manager and Traditional Clerk-of-the-Works Services

Why cost is not your only consideration…

Your Building Condition Survey and 5-Year Plan has been prepared and your district has a defined list of facilities needs. Most are "asset preservation" and "health and safety" items, some are educational program items. A capital project is deemed necessary, and planning begins.

An important question to ask at this point is "Should we use a construction management firm (CM) or a Clerk-of-the-Works (Clerk)?" Each option has a unique impact on your project's life cycle.

A brief overview: A Clerk typically becomes involved with the project after the bidding process and is strictly responsible for monitoring the work of the trade contractors. A CM, on the other hand, manages the planning and construction process as part of the Project Team, acting as an extension of the District's staff. The CM provides pre-construction services during the design phase, manages the bidding process, and then manages the work of the trade contractors on-site.

As you compare delivery methods, consider these factors:

Pre-construction Services are the largest differentiating factor between a Clerk and a CM firm. It is widely considered that a CM's greatest value is realized during the design phase. Approximately 80% of all savings take place during this period through estimating, construction planning, and constructability reviews. A Clerk is typically hired for construction phase services only.

Project Size and Complexity: A CM's involvement (specifically its cost-saving pre-construction services) is most advantageous for renovation projects over $5 million (and especially over $15 million). Multiple occupied buildings often require the careful planning of a construction-oriented team member to forecast work around on-going educational activities. A single Clerk is typically not involved in such planning and doesn't have additional field management staff to cover multiple venues during construction.

Projects under $5 million often use a single Clerk. However, a few CM firms offer "Enhanced Clerk" services that include some involvement during the pre-construction planning stage. This enables construction-oriented planning with the Project Team in addition to on-site management of the trade contractors, typically at a lower rate for smaller projects.

Scheduled Construction Periods: While "summer-only" construction work on smaller projects helps to justify a Clerk, larger summer-only projects may require more than one person managing work on-site(s). Also, year-round construction requires additional planning, phased construction and field management — all of which involve the pre-construction services of a CM firm.

In-house capabilities: CM firms include staff with past experiences in a variety of construction components, i.e., general contracting, electrical, mechanical, etc. Additionally, a few CMs also provide pre-referendum planning services, working with the project team to help plan a project and take it to the voters. A Clerk is not usually expected to provide that broad range of expertise.

A Clerk can offer a cost-effective way to monitor the progress of a project. However, a CM tends to offer greater value as the district's advocate by providing more involvement and a broader knowledge of the planning and construction process, enhancing the districts likelihood to deliver a successful project. When making your decision between Clerk, CM, or a mix of the two, value to the district will become clearer as you consider their differentiating factors.

John Ticco, Jr. was the Executive Vice President at Campus before retiring in 2020. This article originally appeared in CouncilGram, a monthly newsletter published by the New York State Council of School Superintendents.