Guest Columnist

Iowa taxpayers deserve a better way to build public infrastructure

The Elizabeth Catlett Residence Hall on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Thursday, Jul. 6, 2017. (Stephen M
The Elizabeth Catlett Residence Hall on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Thursday, Jul. 6, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

When the Iowa Legislature returns this week, lawmakers will be challenged with historic economic unknowns and budget pressures in addition to the need to create desperately needed jobs to spur our economic recovery. History has proved infrastructure spending is an effective way to jump-start our economy. Social infrastructure including health care (hospitals), education (schools and universities), public facilities (libraries, public safety) puts people to work not just building projects but also in the communities those facilities will serve.

With so much at stake and so little time in this shortened session, our leaders should be focused like a laser on policies that deliver economic results for Iowa taxpayers and workers. Maximizing our existing infrastructure dollars while fighting for possible future federal stimulus is critical. Legislation has already been introduced (HSB 586) to allow state agencies the chance to build better, smarter and with lower costs than we currently can in Iowa. One way we can jump-start our economy is by using design-build on the state’s projects to deliver more for each dollar spent. Design-build is the nation’s fastest growing and most popular way to deliver projects of all types because it beats every other delivery system in cost, schedule, growth measures, construction and delivery speed. Design-build can put Iowa contactors to work weeks, if not months, sooner than other delivery methods such as traditional Design-Bid-Build (DBB) or construction manager at Risk (CMAR). That’s why it’s the delivery method of choice in times of crisis like these because it maximizes taxpayer dollars and gets projects delivered to communities most efficiently. The majority of the COVID-19 emergency response projects nationwide were delivered using design-build. We need that same power here in Iowa.

Design-build has delivered innovative and cost-effective projects in Iowa for decades. Iowa’s Board of Regents has also had impressive success. The University of Iowa recently built two new dormitories. The Peterson Residence Hall used the traditional design-bid-build method and the other, Catlett Residence Hall, used design-build. Utilizing design-build, Catlett Residence Hall was delivered in nearly half the time while also significantly reducing costly change orders. Despite these successes, well-financed special interests are working overtime this week to block the Board of Regents from using design-build. They also want to ensure Iowa remains one of only two states in the nation prohibited from using design-build in all other state and local government agencies.

I’ve been in multiple roles in the construction industry in Iowa for over 45 years and have seen the power that collaboration and innovation delivers on design-build projects. I can assure you, not everyone in our industry is afraid of the change that comes with innovation. A diverse coalition of Iowans including contractors, specialty subs, the League of Cities, the Iowa Chamber Alliance (and many more) support efforts to maximize taxpayer dollars. It’s incredible to think that now, when policy innovation, political bravery and creative leadership are needed more than ever as we face unimaginable economic challenges, Iowa’s most influential builder’s lobby is fighting to reverse our progress. Iowa cannot afford to spend more taxpayer dollars on projects that will take longer to build because “that’s the way it’s always been” or worse because it’s campaign season and money talks.

Iowans can’t ignore project innovation. Especially not now. Our taxpayers deserve better.

Gary Edgington is director of design services for Baker Electric, Inc., in Des Moines.

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