Save Money on Site Design

In the design of the site and utilities of a new school, it is the civil engineer's intention to have the students, faculty, and maintenance staff notice the site as little as possible. Site/civil engineers have two goals in site design:

The site should work so well with the school building and the surrounding area that it should seem natural.

The site must support the school building with the necessary utilities and support the students' outdoor activities with the needed fields and facilities.

Both goals are easy to achieve, given a large budget to shape the site as needed. However, it is a mark of forethought and experience to meet these goals as inexpensively as possible, so school administrators can spend more money on instruction.

Alternatives to Concrete

One significant way to save money on an effective site design, particularly here in Hampton Roads, VA, is to use stormdrain pipe materials other than concrete. Polyvinyl chloride (or PVC), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and various metal pipe materials offer excellent alternatives to reinforced concrete pipe (RCP) and can be up to 35 percent less expensive, installed.

Case 1: A school site required that a large drainage ditch be piped under a football field. The typical solution would be to use cast-in-place or preformed box culverts to do the job. The box culverts required were estimated to cost $400 per linear foot. Another solution was concrete pipe. Concrete pipe would have cost $350 per linear foot. Both concrete solutions solved the engineering problems, but did not protect the owner's best interests. Further research uncovered aluminized steel pipe. The pipe section required cost only $190 per linear foot and was also easier to transport and install. This application of alternative pipe materials netted the school budget a savings of more than $80,000.

Case 2: A flat athletic field area requires numerous drainage inlets, since the spacing from each other is limited. Concrete cast-in-place and brick drainage inlets cost $1,200 to $2,400 to purchase and install. New products, such as made-to-order PVC catch basins, can drain almost as much water as the larger concrete versions and cost one-third as much. PVC catch basins can withstand periodic tractor traffic and are perfect for athletic field installation. Typical savings in a multi-field school can top $20,000.

A Moving Experience

It may seem incredibly obvious, but it costs money to move dirt. In many cases, moving dirt is required to make an athletic field playable, or to make the site drain properly. However, earth moving should be kept to a minimum. Sometimes, creative solutions are required to save money on the cost of earth moving.

Case 1: Throughout construction there was more excavation than planned, leaving about 2,500 cubic yards of soil. The contractor submitted a proposal to haul the soil away for $25,000 (a cost of $10 per cubic yard). The owner and design team, not want- ing to add an additional $25,000 to the job, thought to raise the soccer field about one foot. This was easy since topsoil had not yet been spread. It took almost no additional engineering, and provided a place for the dirt at a cost of only $3.50 per cubic yard, instead of $10, netting a savings of $16,250.

Timing Is Everything

It is the site/civil engineer's job to review major site features with the owner or representative and classify them as "requirements" or "nice-to-haves." This will require school planners and school operators to speak as one. If these items are identified early in the design process, a more seamless, tighter design will emerge.

Unfortunately, items are often moved from the requirements list to the "nice-to-have" list to the "not needed" list as the design solidifies and a realistic budget emerges. Changes late in the design process may result in a design that reflects its patchwork nature and is not representative of a whole thought, implemented as such.

Case 1: Midway through the design of a school, the superintendent expressed his concern over the budget. In a meeting with the civil engineer, the superintendent decided he would never have buses coming and going out of the bus loading area at the same time; they would be coming or going. This eliminated 800 square yards of pavement and saved nearly $10,000. It was unfortunate this wasn't discovered sooner, as the opposite side of the school could have used the extra 15 feet.

By definition, site/civil engineers must provide working solutions to a site's grading, drainage, and utility challenges. However, they don't have to save the owner money and headaches. Using alternative pipe materials, watching their site grading, and getting the necessary information at the right time from the owner are only a few techniques a good engineer should employ to design an effective and less costly school site.

Ask your next site design engineers if they are prepared to go the extra mile to save some money in site construction costs. After all, saving money on the site will allow you to invest in instructional resources - and isn't that what a school is all about?

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