GreenStreet Inc. isn’t your ordinary General Contractor. Our team of LEED APs, LEED Green Associates and Certified Sustainable Building Advisors, brings a level of sophistication needed to complete green building projects successfully. Acting as general contractor, we manage a team of subcontractors, ensuring that green building standards are met.
Sounds foolproof, right? Not exactly.
Although green projects bring a level of high-performance building, the relationship between a contractor and client remains no less essential. What follows is a breakdown, into particular elements, of a dialogue regarding Client and Contractor with Abel B’Hahn, Co-Owner of Viridian Future, and Robert Politzer, President & CEO of GreenStreet, Inc., and the challenges/successes they have faced while working toward meeting LEED Platinum, Passive House and Living Building Challenge standards, all while following a design-build model.
The Costs of Construction (And Their Solution)
Abel(client): There is an inevitable tension between Client and Contractor, I think—even when, as with Robert and myself, we respect and like each other. Even though I want Robert to make a profit on my job, I want to ensure I don’t pay any more than I have to. Even if he wants me to be pleased with our work together so I provide him with more work, he must aim to make as much profit as he can.
Robert: Yes, perhaps there is always tension between the Owner and Contractor around pricing. One of the many reasons we recommended a Design/Build project Delivery Method was so that the client would be provided with ballpark pricing as the design was being created, and that they would not experience sticker shock when the pricing and bid was finalized.
On Design Strengths and Parameters
Abel(client): As the client, I have my ideas of what I want, and feel strongly about getting what I want. But—what I want may not be practical or suitable, and my contractor has some areas of strength and some weaknesses. So he must maximize his strengths, and maybe even try to guide me away from his weak areas, whilst at the same time, advising me (and the architect) about the viability of the design.
Robert: This project attempted to push the envelope on Green Building to its very limits, and to do so on a townhouse on the Upper West Side of Manhattan—and with a tight budget. GreenStreet had previously worked on nine LEED Projects, but none that attempted to include LEED, Living Building Challenge and Passive House Certification, which are crucial goals. In itself, that presented a significant series of challenges, and our work represents an accompanying series of achievements, I believe.
Reciprocity and Trust in Green Construction
Abel(client): The usual relationship between Client and Contractor involves the architect, and a three-way relationship is always dangerous. I think it is important, even when there is an architect present, that the Client and Contractor develop a strong relationship of trust, as the Client is the one who triggers the whole project, and the Contractor is the one who actually delivers the constructed building.
Robert: Indeed, mutual trust between the Client and Contractor is very important. While we all hear of horror stories of fraudulent contractors, we don’t typically hear about the underhanded Clients who effectively steal from Contractors by not paying in full for services rendered. In fact, there is not a single experienced contractor who has not experienced such theft. So mutual trust is what is needed for a project to run smoothly.
Flexibility In Terms Of Project Goals
Abel(client): Our particular project is very passion-driven, and the reason for us working together is that we are both passionate about the same thing. That is great, but I must be reliable about payments, and specific with my expectations, and Robert must deliver construction of quality and ensure things such as safety and legality. We learned with our previous architect that passion does not trump competence. The same applies to Robert and me.
Robert: We fell in love with this project, and with the clients from the very start of the process. And we still feel quite strongly in a very positive way, but there have been a number of significant challenges and delays, most notably from the architect who was eventually fired from this project. Delays cost our company dearly, and we have donated many pounds of flesh on this project to date due to such delays and design changes.
Abel(client): In some ways I am not the ideal client. Having realized too late that the former architect provided a spec that was way below our expectations, I have been trying to change and upgrade the spec even after we started work. This is tough for the contractor. Not only did the former architect look through LEED blinkers when designing the envelope, which has been a problem for all of us, but I have myself been on a very steep learning curve, which has led to me introducing things as we go along. This is not what the contractor wants.
Robert: Outside of the terrible delays in the design process caused by the previous architect, the numerous design changes once we started construction have also been problematic. What a Contractor wants is a clear set of plans and specifications so that he knows exactly what to build. Every design change that happens during construction has a negative impact on the pace of construction. Again, delays for a Contractor mean costs not accounted for.
Assessing, and Moving on to The Next Phase
Abel(client): Whilst I have experienced GreenStreet as being flexible, accommodating, and supportive, I think their flexibility in the job site has been hampered by not having any of their own workmen. And I do think flexibility on the part of client and contractor is important. For my part, I think there is a trade-off between flexibility and determination. Maybe my determination leads to me being less flexible?!
Robert: To date, we have conducted Demolition, Asbestos Abatement, Concrete and steel work, and installation of the SIPS panels. These are trades that we subcontract, since they are highly technical and require specialized insurance. There have been additional small-scope items that we had not yet priced and that we got pricing for from our existing subcontractors. Some of that pricing was found to be objectionable by Abel. We have explained that since we are waiting on finalized Plans and Specs for the next phase of the project, we are having to piecemeal these small changes while working with our existing subcontractors. This piecemeal approach is, in our opinion, the problem, rather than any sort of lack of flexibility on our part. Clients need and deserve to get competitive pricing for all work done. However, there has to be a clear Scope of Work for multiple subcontractor bidders to provide pricing for to avoid escalated pricing, or the perception of such overpricing.
Regardless of such difficulties and the challenges that attend construction in general (and perhaps green building in particular), GreenStreet and its partnering with Viridian Future display the healthy interplay and relationship between Client and Contractor.