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New law could help Nebraska state park construction projects

July 8, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska’s state parks could see faster construction of cabins, aquariums and other amenities under a new state law designed to save time on projects and possibly reduce costs.

The new law will allow the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to hire a project’s designers and builders at the same time, instead of bidding out parts of the job separately.

The “design-build” approach typically allows one firm to take on the whole project, ensuring that all players work collaboratively while avoiding last-minute design changes.

“It’s a very effective tool for specialized projects,” said Sen. John Stinner, of Gering, who introduced the law and has approved design-build projects as a former school board member. “It’s a more efficient way to get projects designed and built in a timely fashion.”

Stinner said the design-build approach particularly makes sense in rural areas that have a shortage of individual contractors. Lawmakers and Gov. Pete Ricketts approved the law in March, and it’s scheduled to go into effect later this month.

Game and Parks officials requested the law in hopes of using it on future projects, although they’ll continue to bid out some work in the traditional way, said Tim McCoy, the commission’s deputy director.

McCoy said the design-build approach tends to reduce the number of times state officials must ask for a project redesign due to problems identified by the construction firm.

“There are some places where we think this can really provide us some benefits,” he said. “I don’t know if there will be a huge dollar savings, but the efficiency is really what we’re looking for.”

One example, he said, was a recent effort to build an aquarium at Schramm State Recreation Area in Sarpy County. McCoy said the project faced additional design costs and had to be reworked because one of the contractors didn’t get input from a consultant that specializes in aquarium projects.

“The designers wished we had that ability” to offer design-build projects, he said. “It would have made it a lot easier.”

McCoy said the commission will likely use design-build for special projects, such as a planned “raging river” ride at Mahoney State Park, but will stick to traditional bidding for routine work, such as adding roofs or upgrading water and sewer systems. The latter projects need to go slower because they’re required to get permits from state health and environmental regulators, McCoy said.

The commission has been adding new features as Nebraska’s state parks and recreation areas grow increasingly popular, with a rising number of visitors. In 2015, the commission unveiled a $35 million plan to create recreational parks along the Platte River that would allow children to scale rock walls and splash around in floating playgrounds.

The new law gives greater flexibility to state officials and contractors that work on projects, said Jean Petsch, executive director of the Associated General Contractors’ Nebraska Building Chapter. Petsch said the private sector has done design-build projects for at least 20 years, and the service is also allowed for public school districts and the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

“Different projects have different schedules, different budgets and different needs,” she said. “It’s that flexibility that is the big advantage.”


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