Kenneth Mayfield
Kenneth Mayfield

Concerned that the foxes are guarding the henhouse, Dallas County Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield has asked county staff to use third-party project management contractors to oversee county construction projects instead of architects.

Attorney Charles Basil, managing partner of the litigation department at Reiner, Reiner & Bendett, in Framingham, Conn., explains: “When the architect is the project supervisor, his duties require the correction or rejection of work, even if the defect is due to his design error.”

Mayfield, commissioner of County District 4, cited excessive fees related to change orders as reason for the policy change. According to a report in The Dallas Morning News, one off ending project was a parking development that incurred $919,322 in additional fees. Neither Mayfield nor Dan Savage, the county's assistant commissioners court administrator in charge of construction projects, returned requests for an interview.

Architects initially took over the project management function after the county disbanded the office charged with the task in the late 1990s, when a dearth of municipal projects made the office obsolete. The latest proposal would bring in outside project managers to ensure “objective” oversight.

While most local architects don't object to the additional oversight, they don't want to be cut completely out of the process either, says architect Betsy del Monte, principal of The Beck Group in Dallas. “Architects add the most value when allowed to play a part in managing the entire project,” she asserts. “Most third-party project managers do not have the depth of understanding of the project that an architect brings to the project.”

Adds Denise McWatters, Beck's general counsel: “When the architect is also the project manager, the project is more likely to be completed within the budget and schedule that the owner desires, since design issues can be identified and resolved more quickly in the field.”

But adding project managers won't necessarily reduce liability, Basil notes. “While generally a construction project manager and an architect are held to similar theories of liability [breach of contract and negligence], the standard of care for a construction manager may be less than that of the architect, especially in the areas of latent design errors or specifications that may be more apparent or chargeable to an architect supervising the project.”

At press time, county staff indicated they would attempt to follow through with the commissioner's request, though it was unclear whether they would cut out architects entirely or simply add a third-party contractor to the process.

“I can't imagine that they would seriously consider doing away with architectural firms' services for construction administration,” says Bill Collins, an architect at GSR-Andrade Architects in Dallas. “But I could be wrong.”