Construction on a College Campus 

Guidelines for Hiring a Commercial Contractor

Educational structures require the experience and expertise of architects, engineers, and commercial contractors, as well as feedback from internal stakeholders. Having a cohesive team in place can help your next construction project run on time and on budget.

Establish Your Internal Team

When starting a construction project, make sure all internal stakeholders are in place. In addition to your board of directors, your team may include representatives from facilities, campus safety, marketing, admissions, development, and alumni relations. Additional team members may be included based on the type of building, for example, office of student affairs for dorms or faculty for an academic building. Depending on the type of project and the budget, you may need to hire an owner’s representative or program manager. This individual will work with your internal team to help align your needs and budget before you spend money on architectural drawings.

Choose an Architect

Now that your internal team has determined your space needs and budget, it’s time to hire an architect. It’s important to choose an architect that has experience designing the type of facility you need. Whether it’s a dormitory or a performing arts center, experience designing the type of facility you require can help minimize the potential for delays or cost overruns.

Choose a Qualified Builder

For a large project, hire a commercial contracting firm with experience building the type of facility your college requires. A construction manager also may be added to the project to help ensure timely completion. The manager will oversee important functions such as:

  • Hiring subcontractors, such as a civil engineer; geotechnical company; structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineers; and various consultants based on the type of building.

  • Buying materials.

  • Investigating local zoning ordinances.

  • Obtaining the proper permits.

For a smaller project, such as a renovation, you may consider hiring a general contractor directly. The contractor's responsibilities are similar to those of a construction manager, but you may have more responsibility to oversee the building process.

Check References

Make sure the architect and contractors are qualified for the project.

  • Contact the Better Business Bureau. Information on the contractor should be available.

  • Verify proper licenses. Check with your local building contractors' association or building department. (The Associated General Contractors of America recommends choosing someone with at least five years' experience.)

  • Seek examples. Find out how many jobs like yours the architect and contractor have designed and completed. Also, make sure they have worked with non-profits and have experience helping them recoup sales tax, when applicable.

  • Get references. Call at least three previous clients who've had similar work done and ask specific questions: Was the project completed on schedule? Was it completed within budget? Were there problems along the way? Was it easy to communicate? Were you pleased with the overall results?

  • Consider their safety record. Safety is very important on a large-scale commercial construction project. Ask your candidates for a summary of their safety record.

  • Are they bonded? If the commercial contractor isn’t bonded, that could be an indication of financial issues.

  • Do they pay on time? Ask the contractor’s main subcontractors and vendors if they pay in a reasonable time frame? If there is a pattern of late or delayed payment, it could indicate financial issues as well as cause costly construction delays and even mechanics’ liens.

Bid it Out

Compile a list of contractors. Identify your top three, then:

  • Ask for a bid on your project. Give all three the same specifications.

  • Compare bids. Remember that the lowest bid isn't always the best bid; it might entail lower-quality materials or less extensive work.

  • Consider bonding the project. A bond ensures that a contractor is financially prepared to assume responsibility if he's unable to complete the job. Never proceed with a contractor if he's unable or unwilling to back up his work financially. Bonding typically adds .5 to 1 percent of the total cost, so this option adds expense but also provides protection that the work will be completed according to the design.

Confirm Insurance

If your contractor doesn't carry proper insurance, you could end up having to pay for injuries or property damage caused by the contractor's negligence. Confirm that the contractor you've selected carries adequate insurance:

  • Workers' compensation

  • Vehicle

  • Liability

Require the general contractor and each subcontractor to furnish a certificate of insurance verifying that all workers are properly insured. In addition, either you or the contractor should carry builders' risk insurance covering damage to the structure or materials during construction.

Get it in Writing

Any agreement you make with your contractor should be in writing. Requiring a written contract will ensure that your church's project will be completed with the desired results, within the time frame specified, and within the price range your college expected to pay.

The contract package should include:

  • Identification of contracting parties

  • Description of work to be performed

  • Work schedule

  • Price

  • An amount for liquidated damages in the event of a breach of contract that notes the sum of estimated actual damages

  • Payment schedule

  • Warranty information

  • Statement of permits

  • Statement of insurance and bonds

  • Arbitration or mediation clause

  • Copies of the architectural plans (or drawings, including dimensions)

  • Complete list of building specifications clearly identifying the products and materials to be used

Review Before Signing

Contract language may ask you to indemnify, defend, and hold an architect or contractor harmless for injuries or damages that might happen during construction, even if it they were caused by the contractor's negligence. Instead, any indemnification language should protect your college from claims resulting from the contractor or architect’s negligence.

Have an attorney review the document before you sign, so you can understand exactly what you're signing. Don't hesitate to question any terms in the contract because failing to do so could have costly consequences.


December 11, 2019