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Four Advantages to Using Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) for Your School District’s Next Project

Construction Manager at Risk, or CMAR, is different from the traditional delivery methods historically used by K-12 schools, such as design-bid-build. CMAR is an option that offers an alternative process where the school district chooses a contractor based on qualifications, expertise, and best value, rather than simply accepting the lowest bid. If your school district is considering future construction projects, understanding how CMAR works may allow you to establish a more collaborative, cost-effective project.


Understanding CMAR

When using the CMAR delivery method, the project owner employs a construction manager (CM) to consult on a construction project. The relationship between the owner and the CM begins in the pre-development stage of the project, usually the planning and initial design phase. Typically, the CM prefers to participate in the design process to help predict and resolve constructability issues and to address the budget, schedule, and impact of long-lead items before design is complete and construction begins.


"It can be expensive to shut down a job site - even for one day - to solve an issue.," says Ross Group Project Manager Dylan Croslin about potential pitfalls of the traditional design-bid-build process. "With CMAR, there is often more time investment up front, but the payoff is a shorter and smoother construction schedule, an improved design, and an overall better value for the owner."


Once the project design is nearing completion, the CM works with the owner and the architect to establish the guaranteed maximum price (GMP), a fundamental element of CMAR. The GMP represents the cost threshold the CM is contractually bound to honor.


Additional defining characteristics of CMAR include:

Project budget: The budget is the core element of the GMP, as it defines what materials will be incorporated and the duration needed to complete the project. It also quantifies the overall cost of the project.


Project scope: When the CM is involved from the beginning, it encourages better communication between the CM and the chosen architect. The team can then develop a project scope with a clear, logical plan from beginning to end. They are also able to include the project's exact timeline, blueprint, and the tools, equipment, and materials required to complete it.


Project schedule: Having a look ahead schedule, which allows the CM to review the design before it is final and prior to starting the project, helps reduce future financial risk by putting a contingency plan in place, as well as mitigates change orders.


Additional expenses: This includes the total cost of labor and materials and factoring in additional money for potential unforeseen circumstances; for example, the late arrival of materials due to Covid-19 and current supply chain issues.

If the project exceeds the GMP, the CM, not the owner, is financially liable - hence the "at risk" component of CMAR.


What are the Advantages of CMAR?

Using the CMAR delivery method on your education projects provides many advantages:


Greater Cost Control: The CM provides estimates for all project costs, so the project owner has a better idea of how to budget the project.


Enhanced Communication: In CMAR, the CM functions as the point of contact for the major project stakeholders. One of their responsibilities is to represent the project owner; by aligning with the owner's interests, the CM will ensure that all parties involved works to satisfy them.


Limited financial risk: CMAR lowers the owner’s financial risk since the CMAR contract and the GMP both document all the standards, regulations, and contingencies associated with the project.


Reduced stress: CMAR is an inherently collaborative project delivery method. The project owner, design team, and the CM work closely together to design the project and control its costs. As a team, they work to overcome challenges and limit the amount of stress sometimes experienced throughout a construction project.


Why Consider CMAR for your next project?

Not all projects warrant a CMAR approach. For example, straightforward, lower-budget projects do not require pre-construction services, construction phasing, or as much paperwork and management as larger projects. If your project meets any of the following criteria, consider the CMAR delivery method to ensure a smooth and successful project, from the initial concept to final completion.

  • The project has large scopes of work with complex designs that are subject to change.

  • The project requires coordination between stakeholders beyond the owner's availability or ability to manage.

  • The project has a strict schedule requirement, such as completing a project over the summer before school starts.

  • The owner does not have construction industry experience and needs to rely on the industry knowledge of a CM.



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