|Common House costs - correction||<– Date –> <– Thread –>|
|From: Witten & Fitch (lllcrocker.com)|
|Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2000 20:39:17 -0700 (MST)|
I was alarmed to read the letter that Roger Bermin, of Pathways Cohousing, posted on this website regarding our role as architects in the design of their commonhouse. I would like to correct the misinformation presented. In so doing, I intend to reestablish our professional reputations, but I also hope more clarity on these complex code and pricing issues will help other communities in their work Roger was responding to a question (posted by a member of Solterra) regarding the size and cost of other communities' commonhouses. He responded by saying the Pathways commonhouse was way over budget for the following reasons. His responses are in quotes; My corrections (rebuttals) are in italics. "The builder and architects hadn't consulted with our city inspector when the original guestimated budget was made. " These original estimates were not made by the architects. We were not even hired when the original guestimates were made. The Contract that Margo Jones, Architects signed with their community states very specifically that we are not responsible for cost estimating, but that we would provide all information necessary to the Kohl Construction for them to provide estimates. We generally work with an independent cost estimator and I might recommend that approach in the future Ted Parker of Kohl Construction and I met with the Northampton Building Inspector during the schematic design phase. This was done at my suggestion, because commonhouses are a new phenomenon and are not even a "use group" within the State Building Code. In my experience, it is a good idea to check in with building officials early on in a project, because everyone interprets the code differently. I was surprised that the inspector insisted that the basement be handicap accessible because of the laundry. I spent at least 20 hours of my time consulting with the Massachusetts Access Board regarding this, writing letters, and ultimately had the building inspector overruled. This action saved their community $20,000. The State Access Board has ruled that no lift will be required until such time as Pathways makes their basement "open to the public". They do not consider the laundry use "open to the public" unless they let guests or renters use it. Obviously, they will cross this "private/public" line in the not-so-distant-future. In anticipation of this, the working drawings call for the floor framing to include a future opening for a lift. "Apparently every city has its own codes, and some cities are more strict than others. ?[Amherst] codes are a lot less strict." There is only one Massachusetts Building Code and rarely any stricter local code ordinances. The only significant difference from town to town is how the local inspector interprets it. An architect has to be careful here: if you disagree with an interpretation and feel it is too onerous for your client, do you just go along with it or risk angering a powerful official by questioning him/her, or even overruling him? I know the Building and Access Codes quite well, and chose to take this risk as I felt it represented the very financial interests of Pathways Cohousing. As long as we're talking about code issues, there are two other items that I believe are very unclear (in Massachusetts anyway) for commonhouse design. They concern guest rooms and toilets. a. The Inspector told us that the Pathways' guest rooms (R-1Residential Use) had to have their own exit, separate from the rest of the building. I challenged him regarding this interpretation (because I felt we met the requirements for "unseparated mixed-use"), but do not know how this will ultimately be resolved. b. The Plumbing inspector may reject a handicap accessible toilet room, even in conjunction with a second toilet room. While the Massachusetts Access Board is perfectly happy with a single "Uni-sex" accessible toilet, the plumbing code requires separate men's and women's facilities. Commonhouse programs often do not include the few feet required to make both toilets accessible. If the plumbing inspector takes this hard line, I will suggest that Pathways appeal the decision to Boston. I have successfully done this on many occasions. "In Northampton, the inspector decided that we had to build the Common House to commercial standards, which calls for much greater load bearing ability, cast iron plumbing ($$) and other features to meet commercial codes. Lesson? Make sure your builder and architect know your city codes before they budget and start design work." Margo Jones, Architects certainly knew the commonhouse was a commercial building. We carried the price of a structural engineer in our Contract with Pathways, because all commercial buildings require a structural engineer's stamp on commercial building plans. I am unable to find much fault in the work of the development consultant or the builder regarding early estimates. Perhaps Doug Kohl's office did not consider all the implications of a commonhouse at the offset. The client, contracted with him for other reasons, not because he had any prior experience with building a cohousing community. Furthermore, it is normal for anyone in the industry to cycle through the estimation process many times, before she/he gets it right. It takes years to develop a cohousing community; I believe four years had passed since the time of the Pathways' original guestimate. I'm sure the price of lumber and construction labor (yes, we're in a building boom right now!) has gone up substantially since that time. Unfortunately it is also normal for a client to discover (late in the game) that cuts need to be made, because they cannot afford everything they want. Architect's should not promise rose gardens, and should constantly remind clients of this tough reality. And finally Roger concluded as follows: "SO, after we blithely went through the first design process with the architect, and after the builder and architect found out about the codes, the builder came up with a cost of?about $450,000!!" I'm sure Roger did not intend this so literally, but I must ask: Should a client "go blithely along"? Many suggestions we made for cost savings were rejected by consensus by Pathways. Even after the first over-budget-estimate, Pathways decided as a community to add two feet to the width of their great room? This move so concerned me that I spent considerable time and effort showing furniture overlays that proved (to me anyway) that such an addition was not necessary. Please understand, that I do not wish to unfairly criticize the Pathways Community. I state this for two reasons: to reestablish our reputation that was misrepresented within this forum, and to warn other communities regarding the costs of decisions that you will be tempted to make. Margo Jones Architects readily accepted some of the responsibility for the commonhouse being overbudget. As soon as we heard the figures, I was on the drawing board sketching alternative deck and elevation options, and making lists of suggested cuts. Many of these were accepted and changes were made to the drawings at no cost to Pathways. We have always tried to be reasonable, accepting of the "cohousing process", and have not asked for additional fees for additional services rendered.(such as the enlarged greatroom, second floor and basement designs, and many, many "Unit Options" such as bay windows and basement "view-outs"). Developing a cohousing community is an extremely challenging job for everyone involved. As Roger himself said (in a previous internet communication), "the design process went relatively well?I think [Margo Jones Architects and Mary Kraus Architect] did a fine job dealing with 24 different households". I am proud of Pathways Cohousing and commend their community's work in making it happen I am also very impressed with the quality of construction that I see weekly at the jobsite. The community will be a wonderful and beautiful place to live in, and I feel blessed to have had a part in it. Laura E. Fitch Margo Jones, Architects
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