Finding the perfect partner


A quality design/build firm uses close communication and a variety of resources to make sure the finished product is not a surprise


Design and construction management firms, also known as design/build firms, can help you define your cleanroom project in terms that provide meaningful guidance for design. In many cases, a design/build firm is the owner's best resource during the planning and building of a cleanroom project. Even the simplest of cleanroom design/builds can be complex, so every bit of expert advice and guidance can help an owner get the finished product that's right for a specific application.

From the design/build firm's perspective, every project is different, including people, needs, site, finance and regulatory requirements. For this reason, effective communication between the owner and the firm is extremely important for a successful design/build.

Many of the owner's needs and expectations come into focus only in the design phase. As the owner and design/build firm mutually evaluate alternative approaches to the project's design, priorities are clarified and new possibilities emerge.

When selecting a design/build firm, and especially during the planning and building stages of the project, the owner should ask questions. Owners should approach the architect at the firm as a "value add" professional who will bring experience and specialized knowledge to the project.

Selecting your design/build firm

Choose a firm as carefully as you would a dentist or doctor. Factors such as organization, available staff resources and technical competence will be important to your decision.

Owners should look for "one-stop shop" firms that can deliver a total package and provide a single point of responsibility. If an owner decides to use a number of entities to work on one design/build project, he could end up with "finger pointing" at the end of the project, says Brian Mazur, director of cleanroom sales worldwide for Aketon Technologies (Corvallis, OR;, a subsidiary of IDC. "Some clients in Asia have been getting hurt by back charges and the responsibility of pulling the project together." One company taking total liability can solve this problem.

A larger firm is more likely going to be able to handle this liability with proper monetary support from corporate offices. "You have to be a big enough company to handle the volume," says Mazur. "In most cases, you're talking $300 million or $400 million dollars for the entire project."

Design/build firms will assign a team of architects and engineers to guide the owner through the project. Every bit of expert advice and guidance can help you get the finished product you need. (Photo courtesy of Clean Room Engineering)
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Larger firms will also generally have offices throughout the country or world. "You don't want to have a company from the United States trying to design a cleanroom in China when you don't have local workers who would be familiar with the customs and environment," says Mazur. Local workers will be needed to communicate with local companies or owners.

Sometimes a firm can contract the services of other firms, but still keep the liability in one place. Blake Hodess, president of Hodess Building Co. Inc. (North Attleboro, MA;, says he considers his company to be such a design/build firm. "We actually use different design firms depending on the project and location." Hodess manages these design and planning counterparts in a way that allows this network to act as a one-stop shop.

Being familiar with local codes and customs is an indication of a firm's technical competence. It is the duty of the design/build firm to show the owner that the cleanroom has been properly certified and that the work completed is validated.

After the owner finds out that the firm has the capabilities to put together the type of cleanroom the owner needs, Hodess says his clients usually ask about the qualifications and experience of the architects, engineers or other workers who would be assigned to the project. "Then they want to meet and interview them all," he says.

Once an owner finds a solid design/build firm, the next step is contacting the firm's marketing department to get the planning started. The owner will be directed to speak with an architect or engineer once the marketing department has evaluated the request.

Planning stages

During the planning stages of the design/build, an owner must communicate specific needs to the architect, while the architect or engineer must be able to explain to the owner what can be done with the owner's proposal. Some advice to the owner: Be frank. Tell the architect what you know and what you expect during the planning stages. Ask for an explanation of anything you don't understand.

Planning is usually paid for by the owner, but often times it's free, depending on the client and how big the job is, according to Aketon's Mazur. "Normally, planning starts quite a bit in front of the job, meaning one or two years prior to actually 'putting a shovel into the dirt,'" he says. This consulting could include code studies, code analyses and site selection.

Chuck Vaciliou, vice president of strategic development at Erland Construction Inc. (Burlington, MA;, says a team of architects and engineers will ask the owner a series of questions during the consulting process to figure out what type of cleanroom the owner needs, such as: What are you capable of doing and what are you trying to do? What is the purpose of the expansion? What is the process flow? What is your equipment matrix? What are your space requirements? Will the cleanroom need an expansion in the near future? What hazardous materials will be involved?

Once the firm has the answers to these questions, the answers are evaluated. "Anything that seems out of the 'norm,' you're going to question," explains Vaciliou. "For example, we may ask [the owner], do you really need a Class 10 cleanroom that is 10,000 square feet? And we would tell the owner that that could be excessive." A good design/build firm will be able to distinguish between what the owner actually needs and what has been requested.

Ready to build

After the firm gathers information from preliminary questions, it prepares a conceptual estimate for the owner. The firm will give the owner a "ball park" idea of what the project will cost.

In these hard economic times, the owner may not be able to afford the firm's "ball park" estimate. If this is the case, a good design/build firm should be able to come up with possible options that could lower the price. A few more words of advice to the owner: Don't be alarmed if you need a couple rounds of estimates before you come to an agreement with the firm.

Once there is an agreement on the price of the overall project, the firm will draw up a contract drawing (CD) or a guaranteed maximum price (GMP) estimate.

The CD estimate will leave more room for decisions made by the owner or suggestions by the firm in the middle of the project. A GMP estimate might be the best route for the owner with a tight budget. "With a GMP estimate, the owner can be sure the price won't exceed the estimate," says Vaciliou. "If a project comes in at $5 million GMP, but we only spend $4 million, then the savings goes back to the owner." It is the responsibility of the firm to meet the assigned budget.

Price is obviously a big concern for owners; however, Mazur believes that a bigger concern is a miscalculation whereby an owner ends up being charged an additional 20 percent as a result of factors not considered during the planning. A quality design/build firm will pay close attention to each part of the process to avoid such a situation.

But sometimes the scope of the job will change. For example, the owner might decide during the job that a larger cleanroom is needed to accommodate the product, leading to more costs on the part of the firm. A revised contract can be negotiated between the owner and firm. Close communication between the client and design/build firm even during the building process should allow for a smooth transition into the expanded project.

All good design/build firms will listen to you and translate your ideas into a viable project. Look for a good listener, and you'll find a good design/build firm.

RYAN CLICHE is a former managing editor for CleanRooms, and is currently a managing editor for The American Society of Hematology, Washington, D.C. He can be reached at:

Where to find an architect

Several firms provide single-source design and construction management services to the various sectors of the cleanroom industry, including:

  • Camp Dresser McKey (
  • Clean Room Engineering (
  • Clean Rooms West Inc. (
  • Facility Planning & Resources Inc. (
  • Fluor Corp. (
  • Industrial Design & Construction (
  • Luwa, Cleanroom Technology (
  • McCarthy Building Company (

Think before you act

The best way to begin a design/build project is for you to reflect on what you bring to the table: knowledge, experience, needs and personal opinions. You and your architect, a guide published by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), details how to find the architect who will pick up these reflections and carry you in the proper direction.

It makes sense to begin with some self-examination to assess what you already know about your project and what you will establish with your architect's help. A general understanding of where you are, however, will help you select the best architect for the project. Before you start shopping for your architect, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you and those with whom you are talking fixed a construction schedule and budget?
  • What are your design aspirations? What thought have you given to the design message and amenities you are seeking in this project?
  • What are your overall expectations for the project? What are your motivations, both basic and high-minded, and what role does this project play in achieving your overall goals?
  • How much information do you need to make decisions?
  • How much experience do you have in design and construction? Have you done this before? If so, where have you been most successful and where were you disappointed?