BIM for Schools – An Obligation to Taxpayers

Will this new school benefit from
 the huge potential of BIM?

We noticed last week that Kitsilano High School here in Vancouver, BC is going through a $60 million replacement project.  As Building Information Modeling (BIM) integrators, we should be aware of any new project of this magnitude, but this one jumped out at me since both of my boys attended this venerable institution and I spent many hours in the classrooms and halls under all kinds of circumstances – mostly good ones.

Only the existing facade appears to be what will be
 left of Kitsilano School

What occurred to me, as with most projects of this size, was: wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to utilize a proper BIM process right from the start? Given the site, I am sure that there will be a lot of visualization requirements and construction challenges.  Using BIM effectively can greatly improve this area and provide significant additional benefits.

Given the current climate in institutional construction, it is expected that the design team will volunteer to use a “BIM process” and the construction team will claim to use BIM as well.  However, will the owner, the Vancouver School Board, see the true gains that should be inherent in a proper BIM process? Do they understand the benefits that BIM can provide to them? How far or close will they be from the top benefits?

  • Will they see a digital prototype of the project before prices are released and shovels hit the ground?
  • Will they reap the benefits of a streamlined construction process?
  • Will they see fewer RFI’s and construction-based change orders, and more importantly, will they see their budget reflect this?
  • Will they be able to evaluate design decisions without having to visualize 2-dimensional drawings in a 3-dimensional world?
  • Will they be able to make changes as a result, without costly delays?
  • Will they be able to test the building prior to construction for such things as energy performance, acoustics, program alignment, structural and seismic analysis?
  • Will the contractor be able to maximize off-site fabrication as a result of the accuracy of the design, thus saving time and increasing safety on-site?
  • Will the Vancouver School Board receive an intelligent model at the end of the process capable of providing data for all of the following:
    • energy modeling
    • asset management
    • maintenance, repair and equipment replacement management
    • space allocation planning
    • renovation work
  • The BIM could even become a teaching aid, to help students and the general public understand the process of design, construction and operation of their school
    If they are not receiving most or all of these benefits, then they are not using a true BIM process and thus, they are not getting full value for the tax dollars being spent.  A proper BIM process should save money during construction and provide a better-performing building.  With the money saved from this, the board can invest in a truly intelligent digital prototype which will save them millions over the lifetime of the building.

    It is commonly accepted that design and construction costs account for barely 25% of total life-cycle costs for a building.  It should be the obligation of the school board and their providers to find ways to minimize these costs.

    So, if we are looking at a $60M school, that would amount to costs of approximately $180M over a 50 year life.  Therefore, if a 5% savings in construction costs can also result in a 5% savings in life-cycle costs due to BIM, we would now realize a savings of over $10M as a direct result of utilizing BIM.
    Our concern now is that many institutional – and even some commercial and residential – owners are light-heartedly asking for a “BIM” deliverable on their projects.  However, they do not explain what this BIM is nor why they want it.  In the end, they get drawings possibly generated from a Revit model rather than a true BIM.  Those supplying the models are not stopping to ask what the owner wants for fear that they will be underbid by their competition who has no intention of providing the value behind BIM at all.
    It is imperative that owners who are catching wind of the fact that BIM can result in a more successful project also understand that there is an up-front time and cost (we like to call it investment) required in order to stand a chance of delivering the huge long-term benefits.  These costs, as indicated, are small compared to the potential results, but as long as people are promising something for nothing, there will be buyers and we will never see the true capabilities of the BIM process that has so much promise attached to it. What are your thoughts? Do savings over the life cycle justify larger initial costs?
    Bob Heyman


    Bob Heyman is the President of Summit Technologies. With over 10 years of experience in architectural practice and over 22 years consulting and supporting design professionals, Bob has extensive experience in helping companies to optimize the design and construction process.

    One Response to BIM for Schools – An Obligation to Taxpayers

    1. Institutional owners need to leverage IPD, BIM and the lean processes that support and enable the use of those tools. Savings of 10% to 25% on planning design and construction costs are only the tip of the iceberg. The real value comes with such owners save money EVERY year on operations and maintenance costs by leveraging BIM enabled facilities and infrastructure.

      It's a travesty that institutional owners, especially public owners, have resources like Bob and his team at Summit walking the halls, but they fail to tap those resources. This happens, I think, because the mechanisms by which institutional owners procure planning, design and construction services are soooo terribly broken.

      Institutional owners need to adopt Integrated Procurement Programs that modify the legal framework within which built industry services – delivered throughout the life cycle of the facility – are delivered. The costs of doing so, as Bob mentions, are absolutely minuscule when measured against the costs saved over the life cycle of BIM enabled F&I.

      It is soooo frustrating to watch institutional owners make these mistakes over and over and over again. I'm on the fund raising committee for my local school board and I've presented on these tipics until I'm blue in the face. The state architect's office will not budge and the officials running the good old boy network refuse to change. We built a new elementary school last year "old school style" and it ran $1.0mm + over budget. Geee. I wonder why.

      Anyway, great post Bob and keep fighting the good fight.

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