Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What will $100 get you?

It will get you:

  1. A silk dress for summer,
  2. 48 truffles in a keepsake box,
  3. A manicure and pedicure at a top-notch spa in downtown Denver, or
  4. An hour of my time

I found this out yesterday when I received news that a small project I'd been working on with Gregg went on hold. We (well, mostly I) had done a mad scramble to get the owner, a small hospital in the foothills, some floor plans and code analysis information that they needed to take their case to the state health department and ask for permission to do an unusual kind of joint venture with a group of doctors in Colorado Springs. The state looked it over and felt like it wasn't quite right, so now the hospital and the doctors are going to have to meet another couple of times to figure out what they want to do now. In order to do their joint venture, it seems, the rooms and service areas that get leased to the doctors have to be closer together than we originally planned, and that's going to require some serious renovation. So, the owner called me up and said to stop work for now until they knew what they wanted to do.

I called Gregg (who was on vacation yet again--he was just gone for a week during the week after Memorial Day) and informed him, and then I asked what I should do with the intern working on the project for me. He said to pass him off to Mickey, and then he instructed me to have our accounting department run a project report. "It should have all the hours spent on the project so far," he said. "We can go over it when I get back on Monday." Okey-dokey, said I. A few hours later, I found the report from accounting in my mailbox, and there it was in black and white--$100 an hour for a Shorty's time.

Now, I suppose I should feel like a playa--nay, a baller--askin' peeps to peel off that kind of cabbage roll for da P-I-X-I-E, but bear in mind that my paycheck only sees a little more than a quarter of that, and then there's taxes, medical, and 401(k) to be taken out of that before it ever hits my bank account. I also found interesting that the intern, with about a year and a half's worth of experience bills at $60 an hour, and Gregg, a vice-principal at Design Associates, bills at $175 an hour. Today, when I began working through some fee proposals for Jann, I found out that she bills at $140 an hour.

Again, these sound really impressive. However (there's always a however), remember that the rest of my $100 an hour that doesn't make it into my paycheck goes into rent, utilities, building maintenance, professional and property insurance, healthcare matches, 401(k) matches, and a little bit of profit as well, for both the partners and me (more them than me, but I do get a little). It was rather eye opening to find out what they charge for me with my architect's license and 8 years of healthcare experience.

Also interesting was trying my hand at fee proposals on Jann's behalf. She was going to be in the meetings from hell all day today, so she asked me to take a shot at fee proposals for a few projects at MHRC. (Ah, good old MHRC.) If it's a smallish project, like remodeling several rooms and not affecting any structure and not too much ductwork, plumbing and the like, we'll budget for it as an hourly thing. Based on how much it looks like we'll have to do, Jann and I estimate how much it will take us to do meetings, drawing stuff, doing code research, going to the site and taking pictures and making sketches of existing conditions, and so on. Then, we have to budget about how many hours a week we'll be spending doing OAC meetings, reviewing shop drawings, answering RFIs and various owner concerns in the field. Add to that the fact that the client is MHRC, a notoriously high-maintenance client. Hence, I added on a few more hours a week than I usually would.

Hourly pricing is for small projects, though. If the project is larger, like a new building, a new addition to an existing building or a full renovation of a building's floor (moving a bunch of walls and doors and plumbing pipes and mechanical ducts), we'll charge a percentage of the construction costs. For example, if we estimate that the cost to add on a cardiovascular clinic to an existing facility is $20 million, we might charge about 7%, or $1,400,000. If we're remodeling an existing 15-year-old patient floor and the construction estimate is $5.5 million, we might charge 8%, or $440,000, a little more because remodeling is generally harder than building anew. If you've ever remodeled your own home, you know there are inevitably surprises in the walls, the floors, etc. If we're remodeling a clinic and office floor into a patient floor in a 30-year-old building and the renovation cost is priced at $9 million, we might charge 9%, or $810,000, because severe remodeling (like changing the code-defined occupancy and function of an area) and working in a building that's fairly old (yes, not even as old as me) poses even more possible difficulties. Inaccurate or nonexistent CAD or paper drawings (as-builts), asbestos, bad floor-to-floor heights*, difficulties making the program match up in the given space and meet all the codes, especially ADA...those all mean more work for us.

So, it was quite the experience to see how we price what we do. Jann and I will review my first pass at this tomorrow morning.

*Floor-to-floor height is the height from the top of one floor slab to the top of the floor slab above it. Most medical buildings and hospitals these days are at least 13'-4" floor to floor, with floors that have operating rooms on them running about 15'-0" floor-to-floor to allow for the equipment and extra ductwork that has to go in the ceiling. Some of the floor-to-floor heights in older buildings I've done, at least 30 years old, range from 10'-0" to 12'-0". It's a pain in the ass getting anything in there other than a few lights, cable trays for power and data connections, and a few 8x18 ducts.

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