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Taking a Chance on Design-Build


Since the 1980’s the city of Liberty had outsourced wastewater treatment to a neighboring community. Facing rate increases, uncertain future rates, and potential treatment capacity issues, Liberty began studying alternatives. They identified that building their own facilities and discontinuing outsourcing of treatment would save the city $27 million in treatment costs over a 30-year period.  

In an exceptional example of how to gain community support to solve a community problem, the city of Liberty passed the vote to build a new treatment facility with a 91 percent approval rating. With the townspeople behind them, the city then faced the decision of who should build the plant.

“The city initially went with the design-build approach rather than design-bid-build because we had a hard budget that we couldn’t go over,” said Brian Hess, director of utilities for the city of Liberty. “The intent of using design-build was to stay within the funding ceiling and build as much as possible to that funding limit without going over. Therefore we chose a fixed price design-build procurement method.” This is the first facility of its kind in the state of Missouri to utilize fixed-price, performance-based design-build as its delivery method. It’s also the first design-build in Missouri to be approved and financed with the State Revolving Funds (SRF) program.


Design-Build Benefits

The design-build approach was ideal for the city of Liberty for a few reasons. For starters, they had a fixed cost and this method elevated the importance of choosing the right contractors at the upfront. The criteria for making that choice was more about getting the best value, rather than entirely focused on price. In addition, this process allowed the city to provide a lot of input as the project was progressing and to participate with the team on the design and value changes.

“Owners often worry that using the design-build process means they lose some flexibility or control of design,” said Doug Wachsnicht, vice president at Goodwin Brothers, the general contractor on the project. “This approach actually has the opposite result — the owner has more knowledge and control of the design because they know how much everything is going to cost. It really empowers the owner on the design.”

Hess appreciated the collaborative environment. “Using design-build allowed us to select equipment, processes, and layouts for all aspects of the plant,” he said. “Some aspects of the plant were more important to the city staff than others, and we were able to prioritize those with the contracting team so that the contractor could make budget decisions based on the city’s wants and needs.”
Because the key contractors are chosen as a team rather than independent bids, it also fosters a better working relationship during the planning phase and on the jobsite.

“Working with a team in the bid process really makes it feel like a project is a group effort,” said Tom Benassi, vice president of business development at the MMC Contractors Kansas City office. “It feels like we are all in it together, rather than working in silos. Not only that, but because the team has been selected based on individual strengths, you can see that positive effect on the quality of the final product.”


In January 2017, the city of Liberty began operating its new wastewater treatment facility. Throughout the project, the city maintained a high level of transparency with residents. A Facebook page was established to track the progress with updates and photos, Goodwin Bros. maintained a live webcam of the site, and the city made regular posts on their website with updates. The project finished on schedule and on budget, resulting in a successful partnership for everyone involved.

“This project is a perfect example of a city looking out for the best interest of its citizens’ hard-earned dollars,” said Wachsnicht. “Rather than continuing the status quo, Liberty pursued different treatment options and innovative delivery.”

After the success of this project and using design-build, Hess is a believer. “Liberty has used the design-build method on multiple projects and will use it again for future projects.”

The project is up for an AGC Keystone award and has already received an award from the Design-Build Institute of America.