THE ECONOMIC CONTEXT

“Excellent design is not the same as elaborate

or expensive design. Some excellent design may

in fact compensate for smaller square feet

and less expensive materials. A poorly designed

project cuts the chance of success and

increases the risk. It is also very expensive to

go back and correct design problems later.”

—Eleanor White, Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency

 

More than any other factor, economics drive

decisions related to the design and construction

of Forest Service facilities. Decisions are often

based upon the short term, such as the lowest

initial costs. While this sometimes leads to

the wrong decision, there is no denying that

economic pressures are real.

 

Project-cost analysis must recognize the long-term

value represented by greater durability, improved

function, and lower energy and maintenance

costs. We need to replace our short-term

economic decisions with best value analysis.

 

Best value analysis represents the economic

equivalent of design solutions that respond to

ecology and other contexts. Best value analysis

examines effects in two areas that influence

design: short term and long term. Table 3.2

explains the differences between short-term

and long-term considerations.

 

Table 3.2 Short- and Long-Term Considerations

Short-Term Considerations include:

Initial investment

Immediate need for space

Quantifiable environmental impacts withinthe immediate area of the project

Known measurable potential human health impacts

Short-term or current year maintenance needs

 

Long-Term Considerations include:

Project budgets are what percent of overall cost of the facility?

Life Cycle Costs

Potential for future adjustments in facility use

Attention to long-term environmental impacts and those occurring off-site

Emphasis on human health (present and future generations)

Emphasis on long-term maintenance and ease of upgrade

Response to regional or national trends

 

The most successful projects are built with

long-term considerations in mind. For example,

it may seem to make sense to select on-grid

electrical power for a campground simply

when the source is locally available and has a

lower initial cost versus an alternative energy

source. But what about long-term costs?

What is the cost to future generations because

power was generated from a nonrenewable

source of fossil fuels or from dam construction

required to generate additional power? Does

the least-cost alternative create a positive

message about Forest Service stewardship

of resources?

 

Another example might involve the selection

of low-cost paint and floor coverings for an

administrative office. Does the low cost of the

finish compensate for such potential problems

as poor indoor air quality, potential employee

health problems, and a short life for the

materials before they wind up in a landfill?

 

Issues to consider:

Type of facility: What will the facility be used for?

Will it be highly visible to the public? Will it be for

administrative or utilitarian use? The cost to

construct a visitor center or office differs greatly

from the cost of a warehouse or utilitarian

structure.

 

Planning budget: How much money is available

to scope out the project? When might the

project be funded? Are there alternatives to new

construction, such as remodeling or adaptive

use of an existing structure?

 

Design budget: How much is available to complete

the design and contract package? Is there an

urgent timeline to use available funds? Are funds

available to research alternative building systems

and materials?

 

Construction budget: Are sufficient funds

available to build the facility? Besides building

square footage, what other values are important

to assess? How will siting and design contribute

to image and function?

 

Maintenance budget: What is the current

annual maintenance budget? Will the budget

for maintenance and staff sustain the design

objectives? Are sufficient funds available to

provide for the quality of maintenance staff

needed to sustain design objectives?

 

Operation budget: How much is available to

operate the facility? What are projected utility

costs? Is the facility expected to last 10, 30,

or 100 years?

 

User impacts: How will the facility affect the

public and Forest Service employees? Will it

create a productive work area and a healthy

built environment? Can recycling be incorporated

into building design? Is it vandal resistant?

 

Owner perspective: Is the owner the Forest

Service or a private individual or organization?

What kind of economic return does the private

owner expect? How might this affect design,

materials, and construction?

 

Facility reuse or “deconstruction”: Will the

facility be demolished or reused at the end

of its life? Can it be remodeled or renovated

to meet changing needs?

These questions suggest considerations to

include in a best value analysis.

 

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