of the ubiquitous TV property restoration programme has highlighted
the all too common scenario of homeowners catapulting themselves
into full scale refurbishment projects, often involving historic
buildings, without a sensible budget in mind. When acquainted
with these 'guestimates' the bemused expression on the face of
Kevin McCloud or Sarah Beeney certainly provides good entertainment
but it does highlight a situation that no client of a professional
should ever find themselves in.
This is not
a new phenomenon. In 1871, Edward Milner, the eminent English
landscape gardener presented Lincoln Corporation with a detailed
estimate for constructing the new arboretum in Lincoln. However,
by the time of the opening ceremony in August 1872, costs had
risen from an estimated £4,207 to £8,000, an eye-watering 90 per
cent increase. Not surprisingly, this did not go down too well
with the committee.
DEAN'S EYE WINDOW, LINCOLN CATHEDRAL
A UNIQUE PROJECT
restoration of this important medieval window was completed
late in 2005 and was unveiled by the Prince of Wales in
May 2006. The complete restoration of a large rose window
is an extremely rare event and historic cost data is non-existent.
Also the project was supported by English Heritage's Cathedral
Grants Scheme and, as such, each phase of work had to be
carefully scheduled out and costed. The success of the project
relied on a highly experienced professional team of advisers
(architect, engineer and setting out specialist) along with
an exceptionally skilled direct works department. Each element,
be it stone or glass, was broken down into component parts
of labour, plant and materials. This allowed accurate composite
rates to be created for each carved stone and panel of glass.
This immensely complex scheme was completed on budget and
the cost of a construction project should be a core skill of any
quantity surveyor (QS). In an ideal world the client consults
with his or her architect, who may then prepare basic sketch drawings
and/or a brief scope of works. At this point the client should
be interested to find out if his or her exciting scheme can actually
be procured for a manageable cost, and a QS should be introduced
into the mix. The whole process ought to be a relatively straightforward
exercise: client defines requirements; architect interprets requirements
and produces scope of works; QS then prices scope of works and
hands estimate to client in a suitably detailed format. Once the
client has absorbed the bad news, the scheme content is refined
until an appropriate budget is established and, hopefully, the
project comes to fruition with the oft-used phrase 'on time and
on budget' being sung from the rooftops upon completion.
process is rarely that simple. There are many issues which stand
in the way of a successful estimate and these factors are even
more apparent when estimating for work involving historic buildings
and structures. Get the estimate too high and your client will
not thank you later on when he could have afforded a larger extension
or more high level repairs. Get it too low and, after a tense
tender opening exercise, you face the unenviable task of telling
your client that his scheme is potentially dead in the water.
So what problems
How do you calculate the integrity of a stone string course when
it is 25m above ground level and can only be seen somewhat obliquely
from a nearby window? A lower string course on the same building
may appear to be relatively sound but is the upper course the
same? Binoculars may assist but nothing compares to standing on
a scaffold and tapping away at a piece of stone. For a tall building
such as a cathedral or church the only way of accessing high level
stonework is by abseiling or, in certain cases, via a cherry picker.
These investigations are not free and not always viable.
and safety concerns A fire-damaged or badly eroded structure
could pose significant risks with the distinct possibility that
some areas may be totally out of bounds. Alternatively an empty
building may have boarded up windows to prevent vandalism, creating
a very gloomy interior. Finally, a 200 year old mill building
may be ankle deep in guano. Leptospirosis is not something you
want to take home with you after a hard day's site visit.
structures/elements It is common to find ferrous fixings buried
within stone ashlar walls, window tracery, columns, pediments
and other structures. The composition of thick walls in ancient
buildings can sometimes only be guessed at. Sloping plastered
ceilings to roof slopes could be hiding extensive timber decay.
A series of cracks in an old brick gable wall could indicate merely
a detachment of a later brick skin away from the older timber
frame behind or a much more serious structural failure. Changes
to the structure could have occurred many moons ago with no documentation
to hand. An ancient building can prove to be a minefield for the
of pricing information A number of 'industry standard' pricing
books are produced each year which are widely used by the surveying
profession. These are predominately geared towards new build or
refurbishment works using relatively modern building materials.
It is possible to extract certain rates but these are to be used
with great caution. For example a current pricing book indicates
a rate of £160/m2 for Westmorland green slates laid to diminishing
courses, while the writer has received recent tenders with rates
of £190/m2, a difference of almost 20 per cent. Similarly, a pricing
book suggests that the raking out and re-pointing of decayed joints
in stonework would be £26/m2 while a recent tender for wholesale
re-pointing to a church has been priced at £54/m2. Reliance on
pricing books alone could therefore be disastrous. For many common
elements found in historic buildings it is not possible to find
pricing information at all, including, for example, wrought ironwork,
giltwork and ornate carved stonework.
Certain structures involve highly specialised materials and techniques.
It is not practical to retain a database of current pricing information
for all elements that might be encountered. Repairs to early concrete
framed structures, restoration of 18th century wallpaper or repairs
to 19th century laminated beams are all typical examples.
status A building may be of great historic value with Grade
I or II* status or may be denoted as a scheduled ancient monument.
This will necessitate consultations with a whole plethora of organisations,
the ramifications of which will not be known until after the production
of the initial estimate.
grants These two categories represent additional costs and
cost-offsets respectively. VAT for historic buildings is a moving
feast and one which needs careful handling to ensure the best
outcome for the client. Establishing the value of any grant aid
available can be even more difficult and usually the final amount
will not be known until long after the initial estimate.
the refurbishment and restoration of a Victorian iron bandstand
(above), an investigative study was carried out before the
tender stage, and this established a budget for repairs
and the subsequent tender information. However, once on
site and after scaffolding and opening up works, it became
apparent that the majority of the cast iron column heads
were badly cracked. There was no way of knowing this from
earlier inspections. After much discussion it was agreed
that the bandstand would be dismantled and repaired off
site in workshop conditions. The consequence was that the
costs escalated significantly. Was this overspend preventable?
Possibly not. A full opening up exercise would have involved
scaffolding costs, specialist analysis, protection/security
measures and the problems of making the structure weathertight
again. It is not possible to second guess all eventualities.
In a case such as this, the contingency figure has to be
THE PREPARATION OF A SUCCESFUL ESTIMATE
of the pitfalls likely to be encountered is half the battle. The
estimator must then plan for the task ahead and adopt some, if
not all, of the following:
This is essential whether or not the building is historic and
if the architect or client does not provide one, then the QS has
the duty of tactfully winkling this out. For example, where is the
line to be drawn on repairs? Are aesthetics as important as weatherproofing
and structural repairs? It is also important that the client's
maximum budget is established at this early stage.
Old plans and elevations are useful, if they can be found. If
not then the architect should be encouraged to produce rudimentary
sketches to allow the production of basic quantities at the very
quantities It is very difficult to prepare a satisfactory
estimate based on unit rates only (that is to say, costs per square
metre, based on the gross internal floor area). These can be used
in exceptional circumstances but are unlikely to produce an estimate
of acceptable accuracy. Basic quantities of wall, floor and roof
areas along with the numbering of doors and windows are all very
useful and allow for some certainty in the pricing.
As discussed earlier, industry standard rates are not collated
and published. The Directorate of Ancient Monuments & Historic
Buildings (the precursor to English Heritage) produced an estimating
guide for directly employed labour up until the 1980s although
this was somewhat limited in scope. It is therefore vital that
the estimator creates and maintains a database of rates using
cost information from previously completed conservation projects.
This would seem an obvious requirement, but a request to prepare
an estimate using two or three e-mailed photographs is not unheard
of. A site visit by the QS in the company of the architect and
other professionals is much more constructive and informative.
In this digital age a building can be comprehensively photographed
during a visit and these images can prove to be extremely useful
when back at the office.
fee Calculating the cost with any degree of reliability takes
time, particularly where conservation work is concerned, and an
adequate estimate is unlikely to be produced without an adequate
fee. No client or funding body should ever rely on an estimate
produced on a negligible fee or, even worse, no fee at all.
materials The incidence of the use of asbestos in historic
buildings is unfortunately fairly common. If at all possible,
the client should be persuaded to pay for a Type 2 survey before
any works commence on site. This is for two primary reasons: firstly,
to estimate the costs of removal of contaminated materials and,
secondly and possibly more importantly, to avoid lengthy delays
(and therefore increased costs) if works are held up on site later
of key professionals and specialists In addition to the architect,
certain projects will require assistance from other professionals
such as structural engineers and mechanical and electrical consultants.
If further specialisms are involved and the client has sufficient
monies, budgetary advice should be sought from suitable firms.
In certain circumstances it may also be useful to consult with
a main contractor with appropriate skills and experience.
If possible, some opening up should be organised. If not possible
due to the need for listed building consent, then opening up at
a later date should be arranged and the estimate updated at that
point in time.
Safe access to high level roofs and walls is extremely useful
and should be built into the client's fee budget.
The process should not be rushed. Adequate time should be given
to allow for information gathering and any necessary consultations.
analysis It would be very easy to assume the worst case and
build an estimate up to an untenable level. Nevertheless a scheme
involving an historic building should have a healthy contingency.
Inevitably there will be surprises, no matter how much investigative
work is carried out. A minimum allowance of 10 per cent should
be included. Specific provisional sums should also be identified
when warranted by the nature or condition of the building.
Last but not least, the surveyor carrying out the estimate should
be well versed in the historic world. As with many business practices
there is no substitute for experience.
With the potential
obstacles identified and a careful checklist of procedures adopted,
it should be eminently possible to produce a clear and robust
early stage estimate to allow the client and his team to make
critical decisions regarding the viability of a scheme. Specific
risk areas can be acknowledged and changes can be introduced before
too much detailed design work is undertaken and the die is cast.
article is reproduced from The
Building Conservation Directory, 2006
BSc (Hons) MRICS is the principal of the chartered quantity
surveying practice Brundell Woolley, with
over 15 years' experience in all aspects of construction
but particularly in the field of the conservation of historic
buildings. Previously with AE Thornton-Firkin & Partners,
he has worked on projects funded by English Heritage, the
National Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as private
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