Design Professionals – Working With A Design Professional By: Brian Dierze

CATEGORY: Private Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Private Education
DATE: Aug 31, 2023

Under the California Civil Code, a design professional can be any of the following types of professions: a licensed architect, a licensed landscape architect, a registered professional engineer, or a licensed land surveyor. These types of individual professions plan and calculate the design and engineering of a particular construction project.

Schools who undertake construction will need to hire a design professional to prepare the detailed plans for the project.  Once construction starts and the school provides the plans to the contractor, the school becomes responsible for any errors and omissions in those plans in any dispute with the contractor.  Schools may want to consider hiring a design-build contractor or hiring a contractor early on to coordinate with the design professional for a more integrated project delivery approach.  When the design professionals and contractors are able to coordinate with each other early on, the project experiences fewer instances of miscommunication which can lead to costly change orders.  Along with project managers and a contractor, a design professional is a critical component of the team that holds the success or failure of your construction project in their hands.

Generally, design professionals are hired after interviews and face-to-face meetings, as communication and a mutual understanding of the goals and limitations of your construction project are integral to the project’s eventual success.

Design professionals draft the plans and specifications for the construction project and then assist with executing those details.

At the pre-design stage, the design professional will review local zoning and land-use restrictions and assess the project scope, neighborhood, and site conditions.  The formation of design ideas and options arise from this early stage.

Once the school selects the general design idea, the schematic phase begins. Here, the design professional will develop a design proposal that describes the project and its parameters. This includes floor plans, building elevations, and all structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems.  The school should also be able to explore a range of alternative concepts proposed by the design professional. This is the phase where the school will want to provide all of its feedback and make design decisions so that the design professional can revise the design until it reflects a design that the school wants.  Making changes after this stage can become costly to the school.

Next, the design professional builds out a more detailed plan during a design development phase.  During this phase, the design professional works with a cost estimator and a structural engineer who provide details, materials, finishes, equipment, fixtures, and cost estimates for the project.  This stage also involves some back and forth with the school to ensure that the project is within the school’s budget.

The final phase of the beginning of a construction project is the construction documents phase, wherein the design professional drafts construction documents which describe the quality, configuration, size, and relationship of the components and overall project.   The construction documents are submitted to the city or county for review and to obtain a building permit.  The timing for securing a building permit can vary greatly depending on the specific city or county and the project size.  For private schools in California, design professionals must ensure that their plans comply with the Private Schools Building Act of 1986, which requires the following:

  • “School construction plans be prepared under the responsible charge of California-licensed architects, civil engineers or structural engineers;
  • Designs and plans be checked by the enforcement agencies using structural engineers, either on staff or under contract, that are responsible for all design review;
  • During construction or alteration of a school structure, special inspections by qualified inspectors when need is determined by the enforcement agencies. Continuous inspection is not required;
  • Jurisdictions that do not have an enforcement agency meeting the requirements of the Act obtain necessary qualified personnel to meet the requirements by contracting with other public agencies, private sector firms or individuals qualified to perform the necessary services;
  • The projects’ architects, civil engineers or structural engineers exercise general responsibility over construction for compliance with the approved plans. If they are unable, other architects, civil engineers or structural engineers shall be retained to exercise general responsible charge of construction. Any person who willfully violates the Act is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

(See p. 7 of https://ssc.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2020/08/cssc_2004-04_school_safety.pdf.)

The design professional will also deliver a construction set of the construction documents to the contractor to use during construction. Once construction begins on a project, design professionals will help oversee various aspects of the construction process. Specifically, a design professional may be tasked with responding to requests for information that the contractor submits when it has questions about the design, reviewing and certifying applications for payment, attending project meetings, certifying the progression of the work, reviewing and responding to change order requests and other submittals, and acting as an initial decision maker if there is a dispute during the project. The key to a project’s success is hiring a qualified design professional with relevant experience and fostering continued collaboration and communication from inception of the design through project completion.


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