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:
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?
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
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
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
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.