How to Select a General Contractor

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This section assumes you use the traditional approach (design-bid-build). The architect and GC in this case are overseen by the charter school representative and are critical players on the development team early on.

Selecting and hiring the right GC is a critical decision to ensure your project’s success. We advise you to select a builder with charter school experience. Also, you want a GC that possesses a reputation for quality construction and a proven record of completing projects on schedule. It may save you time and money in the long run, especially if there are aspects of your project that are unusual.

Seek out candidates who are easy to work with and interact well with your development team, particularly your architect. A positive relationship between architect and contractor will go a long way to saving your school from conflicts during the construction process.

Seven Steps for Hiring your General Contractor

  1. Establish Criteria

Prospective candidates should be evaluated on a level playing field. You must first establish basic criteria on which to make a decision. Criteria for selecting an architect (see Chapter 2) can be adapted to facilitate the hiring decision for your builder.

  1. Identify Prospective Candidates

Develop a long and short list of desirable candidates. Sources for possible candidates include your architect, local chapters of trade and/or professional associations, such as the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the chamber of commerce, your state charter school association, the national and local association of independent schools, and local school districts.  

  1. Contact Prospective Candidates via a Request for Proposals

A request for proposals (RFP), or request for bids, is an effective means of soliciting candidates. The RFP is a written document that describes the proposed project, the types of services sought, the proposed schedule, and any unusual aspects of the project. The RFP also provides specific guidelines for each candidate to follow in the bid, such as page length, types of attachments required, due date, and type of contract preferred. By issuing an RFP, all candidates will submit the same information.

A request for qualifications (RFQ) provides a thorough understanding of the candidate’s credentials. Qualifications from a general contractor provide customer references, a list of pertinent projects, the GC’s years in business, banking relationship, surety for bonding, and financial viability. Even if you have a positive personal interaction with a candidate, qualifications are still critical. When you apply for financing, banks rely on the GC’s qualifications to confirm that he or she will perform the duties outlined under the contract. Ask for multiple copies (including electronic) of the proposals and qualifications so several members of the team or committee can review them simultaneously.

You may want to hold a pre-bid conference, in which you invite all potential bidders to visit the site, so they can get a better feel for the project. This approach may also cut down on your workload, in that you will not have to repeat the same information to multiple parties. Hosting such a conference also helps you identify the serious bidders.

  1. Review Qualifications Materials and Develop a Short List

General contractors can deliver their qualifications package for review before consideration of the bid. When checking references, having a single person make all the calls usually results in a more objective assessment of what is learned. If the owner and general contractor are in the same area, a visit might be preferred. Once all bids are received, rank them using the previously developed evaluative criteria. Then select a short list of three to five firms or individuals for personal interviews.

  1. Conduct Interviews

At least three or four people should be involved in the interview process to solicit different perspectives and mutually decide who to hire. A good approach is to include one or two key board members, the principal/school director, another staff member, and your architect. Invite each candidate to make a presentation about her or his understanding of the project, relevant experience, enthusiasm for the project, ability to work within timing and financial constraints, and other relevant factors. Asking each candidate the identical set of questions will also assist you in comparing “apples to apples.”

  1. Evaluate Proposals and Make Selection

The bids should be ranked and then selected on the basis of the established evaluative criteria. Before finalizing or announcing your decision, remember to check all references thoroughly! Talk to owners and/or architects of previous projects in which the GC was involved.

  1. Negotiate Contract(s)

Contracts are negotiated with the winning bidder. Maintain cordial relationships with the losing bidders in the event that some unforeseen event occurs with the winning bidder and you have to restart the process. Be prepared for requests for debriefings by the unsuccessful candidates, and decide ahead of time about your policy on debriefings and how much information you want to share. Remember to ask your selected contractors to use the industry-standard contract documents produced by the AIA, which are the most widely used contracts in the construction industry. These contracts make it easier to produce quality projects because they facilitate communication among all the parties involved in construction.

In some instances, it may make sense to negotiate a contract with a single general contractor rather than bidding it out to several, especially if there is already a trusting relationship between the charter school and the GC. It may also be appropriate if the project is so complex that it requires detailed pricing analysis for a series of complicated scenarios before decisions are made, or if the GC is part of the team from the beginning. The owner can still accrue the benefits of bidding from a smaller pool of subcontractors by asking the GC to share his or her subcontractor bid results in an “open book” format. A good contractor will share this information with a trusted owner.

Charter schools might also consider the use of bid alternates during the bidding process. For example, you may want skylights in the building, but this design feature might put you over budget. You can ask your architect to include this component as a bid alternate, to provide a specific amount for that design component.

Related link in Essential Resources: Managing Construction Risks

Legal Disclaimer:

Nothing in this material should be construed as investment, financial, brokerage, or legal advice. Moreover, the facts and circumstances relating to your particular project may result in material changes in the processes, outcomes, and expenses described herein. Consult with your own professional advisors, including your financial advisors, accountants, and attorneys, before attempting to consummate any transaction described in this material.