by Troy Kaiser
Choosing the right contractor is critical to the success of any paving project. It also has an impact on the long-term performance of your new pavement. Knowing if you are choosing the right contractor can be difficult and risky, especially as companies place more pressure on decision makers to reduce project cost and select the low bid.
Let’s be clear — price is more than likely going to factor into the selection process, but how do you, as the decision maker, ensure the low bidder is the right contractor to build your project? Consider these five steps when selecting a contractor to ensure your project will be properly constructed, completed on time, and within budget.
Step 1: Establish a Sound Foundation
Before you begin the contractor selection and approval process, establish a solid foundation with clear/detailed plans and specifications. Having clear and detailed construction documents ensures that the contractors are bidding on the exact items of work. This allows you to accurately compare one price to another without wondering if a bidder has included all the work you would like to have done. This also reduces the risk of costly change orders due to forgotten items during the construction phase of the project, regardless of which contractor you qualify and select.
Step 2: Qualifying the Contractor and Processes
The simplest way to find out more about a contractor is to have them fill out a prequalification form. Most paving contractors have had to fill out prequalification forms at one time or another, so don’t be afraid to ask potential contractors for this information. The prequalification form will help you understand more about the company, gain insight into the company’s culture and processes, and put you in a better position to make an informed decision. Consider the following questions and topics as part of the qualification process:
- How long have they been in business?
- How many full-time and part-time employees do they have?
- How many crews do they have?
- What is their annual revenue?
- Do they have a written safety program?
- Do they have a quality control program?
- Are they bonded and fully insured?
- Will they have full-time supervision on site to manage the project?
- Can their company work nights and weekends to ensure the job stays on schedule or to minimize disruptions to site operations?
- Does their company produce its own asphalt or concrete, and do they have their own lab for quality control testing?
The following questions may seem tough; however, they are commonly asked and can help uncover potential risk, so don’t be afraid to incorporate them into your qualification process:
- Has your company failed to complete any contracts?
- Does your company have any judgments, claims, or suits pending or outstanding?
- Has your company ever been involved in any bankruptcy or reorganization proceedings?
- Has your company done business under a different name. If so, why was the name changed?
Don’t forget to ask the contractors for bank references as well. A good contractor will have no problem with you talking to their banker for a reference. In addition, a quick call to the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints about the contractor is a good idea.
Step 3: Who’s on the Team?
Once you have qualified the contracting company, it’s time to evaluate the team and consider the following questions before awarding the work:
- What is the anticipated time frame for completion of the project?
- Will their company do all of the work or will there be subcontractors involved?
- What percentage of the work will be done by the subcontractors?
- Who will lead the contractor’s team? How much experience does the project lead have and what is their experience with similar projects?
- Do team members and suppliers assigned to the project have the skills, knowledge, and experience to successfully complete the project? Ask the contractor to supply a list of personnel involved including: supervisors, foremen, material producers, subcontractors, and testing agencies.
- Who will be the 24-hour contact and who is their backup if there are issues, such as traffic control, when the crew is off site?
- Who will be responsible for quality assurance to ensure the contractor is installing the pavement as specified? (This may be an internal employee if they have the skills and knowledge to read specifications and verify installation, or it may be an independent third party.)
Step 4: References
Always ask for a list of recent jobs and references. Most quality paving companies keep a running list of their completed jobs that includes the location and size of the project along with a description of the work completed. Call the contacts listed for the projects and ask the following questions:
- Were you happy with the quality of the work?
- How easy was the contractor to work with?
- If there were subcontractors on the job, were you happy with their performance?
- Was the project completed on time?
- Were there any problems? If so, how did the contractor handle them?
Step 5: Site Visits
Don’t be afraid to make site visits and check the quality of the referenced jobs for yourself. Your standard of quality may be different than the owner or manager of another site. Walk the project and get a close-up view of the contractor’s work, but ask permission from the owner/manager for the visit first. Be your own judge.
This may seem like a lot of work, but when you compare it to the risks and headaches associated with making a poor contractor choice, it is well worth it. Choosing the right contractor can mean the difference between a successful project (one that is a pleasure to be involved with) and a project that seems like it will never end and has disappointing results.