Authors: John E. McCormac, CPA, Mayor Woodbridge Township & Charles H. Sarlo, Esquire, DMR Architectects
Public-Private Partnership is a solution coming into vogue in New Jersey. Widely used in Europe for a number of years, this concept is generally only considered for new buildings, infrastructure projects and certain large-scale municipal partnerships. In a unique and innovative “coming together” Woodbridge Township and DMR Architects, teamed up and created a hybrid public-private partnership that has saved Woodbridge Township taxpayers more than $700,000—with the possibility of additional savings.
By taking on the role of general contractor, a role traditionally filled by public bid, Woodbridge Township saved taxpayers nearly 40 percent of the cost to comply with a New Jersey state directive requiring development and implementation of a municipal court security policy. Woodbridge Township was able to assume this role because DMR Architects, an architectural firm with a vast amount of public sector experience, partnered with the Township to provide valuable guidance under an enhanced construction and administrative role.
The initial project came about as a directive from the Administrative Office of the Courts regarding municipal court security. Woodbridge Township hosts a municipal court on the first floor of its town hall with additional space for the court’s auxiliary functions. Since the building was not designed for this purpose, the Township was running into several problems - one of which was crowd control and excessive loitering in the first floor hallway which was impeding access for guests and visitors to the municipal building’s other service departments. As a result, DMR Architects was retained to perform a feasibility study in order to not only implement the township’s security plan, which had been filed to comply with the state’s directive, but to reconfigure the town hall’s first floor layout to eliminate congestion due to the number of people who were in and out of the municipal court during morning and evening court sessions.
The results of the feasibility study and the construction cost estimate, which included reconfiguring over 50 percent of the first floor of the town hall, made it evident that the budget established by the township for the construction project could not accommodate both objectives. Rather than eliminate the reconfiguring of the first floor layout, Mayor John E. McCormac proposed an innovative solution. The Mayor suggested that the township act as the general contractor on the project and perform a large portion of the capital improvements outlined in the feasibility study with in-house personnel.
Normally, public projects are bid as a single bid package under the Public Contract Law notwithstanding that several trades are involved. Since Township personnel were performing a portion of the capital improvements on the project, multiple bid packages were created for the heating and air conditioning systems and advanced electrical work. With multiple bid packages, bids are more refined because the work required by each trade is clearly detailed. The end result is fewer hidden costs, minimizing expensive change orders, and decreasing lengthy punch list items that so often derail project timelines.
DMR Architects prepared the construction documents to reflect Woodbridge Township as the single contractor. As the general contractor, the township assumed the responsibility for the quality of all work, as well as completing the project on-time and on-budget. While the township’s personnel were well equipped and experienced to undertake the majority of the construction, there was a concern with respect to ensuring that all of the responsibilities as a general contractor were fulfilled. In order to alleviate this concern and further reduce risk of project delays and cost overruns, DMR Architects assumed an enhanced construction/administration role. In this role, DMR Architects updated the township administration with weekly briefing reports and monitored the township personnel in their efforts. This was a critical element, when you consider that the township was assuming three roles; that of the project owner, the general contractor and a majority of the trades. And, as importantly, with this public-private partnership the role of the project architect was altered. Under a more traditional approach for municipal projects, a department head is generally assigned to be the point person between the project architect and the administration. If the assigned department head is not knowledgeable about construction, the flow of information between all the parties involved can be impeded, making the work of the project more challenging.
Township employees proved to be a valuable asset to the project. They were able to develop a phasing plan and created swing space, ensuring that none of the court’s critical functions were affected by the construction. The use of township employees also reduced the cost of the project because they were able to work continuously, whereas a general contractor would not have been able to perform with daily regularity. A significant part of the construction work was started and completed by township employees prior to the bid award for HVAC and electrical work, shortening the overall time frame of the project and minimizing disruption to the public and to Court operations.
Woodbridge Township officials and DMR Architects took an innovative approach to handling this public project. By assuming new responsibilities and collaborating, they demonstrated a successful public-private partnership, which greatly benefited the taxpayers of Woodbridge Township. Undoubtedly, there are other opportunities across the state for similar partnerships between public and private sectors.
Charles H. Sarlo, Esq., is Vice President and General Counsel of DMR Architects, Hasbrouck Heights, one or the largest and most respected full-service architectural firms in New Jersey and the New York Metropolitan region. Mr. Sarlo has over 25 years of experience in law, engineering, construction, and development.
Mayor John McCormac was elected Mayor of Woodbridge Township in 2006. A certified public accountant, Mayor McCormac previously served as New Jersey State Treasurer, supervising 12 divisions and 3,500 employees. Mayor McCormac is life-long resident of Woodbridge and has more than 14 years of serving the public.