Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Nurturing Your Capital Project: The Path from Concept to Ribbon Cutting

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Nurturing Your Capital Project: The Path from Concept to Ribbon Cutting

Article excerpt

This is the second of a two-part series on the capital project process. The first, "Is a Capital Project on Your Plate? A Guide to Developing Effective Places for Teaching and Learning," appeared in Planning for Higher Education 45 (4), JulySeptember 2017.

Congratulations! Your efforts to pass a bond levy paid off and the final piece of the funding puzzle is in place. Now it's time to bring your hopes and promises from words and images into concrete reality. This is a formidable challenge that becomes manageable by breaking it down into its component steps. The steps are sequential and applicable whether your bond program involves several projects or just one.

Capital projects are one of a kind. They are unique, not off-the-shelf items that have been done many times before. They're tailored to address the specific needs of a specific institution, which is why it takes teamwork, leadership, and sufficient time and funding to nurture them from inception to completion.

The path from concept to ribbon cutting includes five major steps:

1. Determine project criteria

2. Select project consultants

3. Complete pre-construction activities

4. Construction

5. Complete finishing touches

Each step is composed of several parts. This article summarizes each of the steps but does not go into who will participate or how decisions will be made since each institution is unique and has its own way of doing things. Everything is connected, and consequently many decisions should be considered temporary and subject to change as more becomes known. The end goal is for all of the elements to work together in a harmonious whole.

Before going further, we have to make some assumptions about the status of the bond program-what decisions have been reached and what consultants have been hired. For simplicity, let's assume there's one capital project-an educational building with a conceptual floor plan, rough order-of-magnitude budget, and schedule. Does an architect or project manager need to be selected, or will a previously selected architect or project manager be directed to begin? There are several strong reasons that support the wisdom of having a project manager (PM) lead and manage the path of a capital project from concept to occupancy. Now is the time to hire a PM if that wasn't done earlier.

Now that the preliminaries have been addressed, let's proceed by providing a brief, practical summary of each of the five steps.


There can be several months between first setting the decisions, directions, and understandings for the project and the start of actual architectural work. During this period key personnel may be replaced, which often causes changes in previously agreed-to matters. This is why any initial decisions, directions, and understandings should be reviewed, verified, and sufficiently developed before they serve as the basis for further actions.


The project concept is the general intent of the project as identified by the concept drawings and narrative. Project objectives are the directions toward which the project aspires, for example, things like green building, zero emissions, maximizing daylight, minimizing maintenance, and reducing energy. Project goals are the outcomes-the budget, time schedule, and sometimes green building certification that the project is to satisfy.

It's ideal if these criteria are written and agreed to by the principal stakeholders and decision makers. Doing so will set them down for the record, clarify them, and provide the basis and starting point for further development.


Earlier we assumed that our project was a concept with a rough floor plan and budget. This early budget came from estimates based on what was known and what was expected. In the beginning, very little is known about the project and so the estimates are based largely on expectations. …

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