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Care and Feeding: Working on the Schematic Estimate


The schematic estimate is the most useful work product of a consulting estimator. With good input, and a carefully prepared estimate, the owner, design team and estimator can communicate to each other the project scope, expected quality level, schedule and projected costs. Cost decisions can be made before excessive effort detailing the project is expended. A good schematic estimate including appropriate contingencies and allowances should be an accurate predictor of your final bid cost or overall project cost. It should represent the intent and design decisions from the whole team, including owner and all design partners.


Appearance does not matter. Plans may be hand drawn, marked up, cut and paste of similar projects or some other format. The documents should include some narratives, and may include email conversations, notes from meetings and phone calls or other informal documents. The goal is to convey the total project scope, with as much definition is available.


Overall project parameters such as design and construction schedule, procurement method, contract type, and owner versus contractor responsibilities need to be carefully defined.


Program requirements should be fully understood and laid out on the floor plans. Existing systems and conditions should be fully explained via narrative or as-built plans. Structural systems proposed should be included in at least a narrative form, Mechanical systems should be identified with a narrative description and equipment lists with preliminary sizing. An Electrical single-line diagram indicating the large equipment, point of connection, and the distribution strategy should be provided. A definition of the lighting intent should be provided, which should include proposed control systems, decorative or monumental light fixtures, and the expected fixture types for the bulk of the system.


Architectural finishes, partitions, ceiling and other items require at least definition of the type of item required, if not the actual product.


Project logistics information is also crucial. Hours of access, distance and routes to parking and loading areas, limitations on contractor activities, and owner requirements for subcontractor staff all impact costs.


Owner and contractor responsibilities need to be defined in a matrix to make certain that no items are missed – confusion here will add costs later.


Fire ratings, egress pathways, and expected solutions for rated glazed areas should be included.


Owner responsibilities on the Architectural side can be an area of confusion all the way through construction at times, so a serious effort should be made to define this as early as possible.


Many owners and buildings have preferred contractors for various items, these firms should be made available to the estimator to enable their valuable input - often the preferred vendor will be the only viable source for cost and design information.


Schematic estimates are the first true estimate of the design in the traditional design phase process. They are the most valuable to the project team for making scope and cost decisions. The extra effort required to answer as many questions as possible will result in a better process for the rest of the project.

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