Additional Services: Seen from Both Sides of the Table

Imagine a large, complex project: an educational facility, a hospital or a municipal government complex. Would you be surprised to hear that the final price of such a project was more than originally budgeted? While numerous variables can affect a budget between initial budgeting and completion, such as increase in construction costs in the year or two before a project is under contract, both architects and owners/clients always seek to minimize the possibility of additional expenditures from the outset, especially Requests for Additional Services (RFAS.)

Jeff Bricker, a principal at Page with extensive experience in academic and civic/government projects, facilitated a panel discussion titled “Additional Services As Seen From Both Sides of the Table.” The three panelists were senior facilities directors, two of whom also are architects, with collective facility responsibility for municipality, healthcare and higher education systems. All identified their roles as primary focal points for selecting design professionals, negotiating their fees and contracts as well as overseeing design teams’ adherence to contracts.

While the panelists acknowledged that projects sometime require services that were not originally identified or anticipated by either the owner or architect, the validity and amount of requests can be a source of disagreement between the two parties. The discussion focused on what each panelist felt were legitimate claims and what both owners and architects can do to minimize requests for additional services. 

A point that was quickly made is that all members of a project team share a common goal: a successful project delivered in an efficient manner. Thus, adversarial relationships among project team members only delay or harm the quality of the outcome. Yet, clients sometimes feel that their architects have not been as forthcoming as possible when requesting additional fees for work the design team identifies as beyond the scope of their contract. In this case, both sides may feel taken advantage of.

Rob Roy Parnell, AIA, Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities at Texas State University System, observed he has seen discord over requests for additional services when contracts are interpreted differently. He stated that while contingencies do arise, particularly on renovations, it is a designer's responsibility to understand the agreed-upon scope of work and determine whether something is indeed a legitimate RFAS before submitting a request. All participants agreed that architects should serve as a client's colleague and help keep them informed of developments on the project to minimize surprises. 

Parnell also commented that the timing of submittals of RFAS can sometimes be problematic. Delays in bringing a RFAS to the client's attention can disrupt the client's focus on running their business if they have to temporarily pause to participate in a forensic analysis of how the issue originated. He also observed that some RFAS are not sufficiently explained and that all related communications should be clearly expressed in writing, detailing the cause and why additional spending is necessary.

Richard Vella, Assistant Director / Chief of Design & Construction Division for the City of Houston, recommended that architects keep the project manager continuously informed and notify them immediately of potential RFAS instead of going directly to the client. Spencer Moore, VP of Facilities Management at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, concurred, saying that approach allows the project manager to first partner with the design team to see if the issue can be resolved before determining a request for additional services is required.

A suggestion was made that it would benefit everyone involved if RFAS were discussed at the beginning of a project. Expectations should be established on both sides so that the potential for RFAS could be minimized. Further, RFAS should always be presented as they occur and authorized prior to execution of the work. Allowing RFAS to accumulate typically results in shocked owners who were caught off guard. All agreed that owners don't like surprises, especially when they cost them money.  In addition, the greater the delay in submitting RFAS after services are provided, the more difficult they are to substantiate.

The consensus of the panel was that good communication between the owner and architect is both desired and essential for both a successful project as well as a positive relationship.