Construction Law: Baltimore City Board of Estimates Approves Design-Build Project Delivery System

Without formal protest, the Baltimore City Board of Estimates recently unanimously approved a proposal to allow for use of a design-build (DB) model rather than a design-bid-build (DBB) model for some projects. A DB project involves unified bids for both design and construction, while a DBB project is designed and then separately bid for the building phase.

Several groups, including minority contractors and business associations, have voiced concerns that smaller and minority contractors will not be able to compete on DB projects at the level they have on DBB projects. The City intends to assign minority and women’s business enterprises goals separately to the design and construction phases to ensure that contracting and subcontracting opportunities for these businesses are protected. Other critics believe that the existing DBB model better protects the City and taxpayers from improper awards to politically connected companies.

The Maryland Transportation Builders & Materials Association supports the use of DB and cites various benefits of the model, including shortened project delivery time, more opportunities for value engineering as a result of contractor participation in design, and a general reduction in the City’s obligation to mediate and arbitrate claims between designers and builders operating under separate contracts. DB project delivery systems often provide more opportunities for innovation and will assist with designing for LEED certification and the Baltimore City Green Building Code, which can require careful coordination among trades and phases are particular specified materials and equipment.

DB will not supplant DBB for all projects. Rather, Lead Departments responsible for particular contracts will designate them as DB as early in the project development process as possible. Each DB contract will be approved by the Design Build Executive Committee, which includes the directors of the Department of Public Works, Department of Transportation, and Department of General Services. It is anticipated that the model will be applied to large (over $25 million) and complex projects, like bridge rebuilding and waterway restoration. Emergency and expedited projects will also be considered for DB delivery. Smaller and streamlined projects, where conflicts between the design professionals and builders are less likely to arise, will still be competitively bid as DBB.

The proposed Board of Estimates Policy Regarding the Use of Design-Build Project Delivery, which outlines the procurement methodology and system for scoring bids, is included in the September 28, 2011 Board of Estimates Agenda and available at