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Four Steps to Get Your Capital Project ‘Shovel Ready’

by Michael Paul | April 28, 2020

Economic stimulus will be a key focus for the Canadian government once COVID-19 mitigation measures are lifted. As part of that effort, billions of planned infrastructure dollars will be invested in capital projects that can be approved quickly and create jobs immediately.

Federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna has spoken publicly about accelerating funding for projects starting this construction season. With that aggressive target in mind, municipalities, education, non-profit and healthcare organizations and other owners should start getting their projects ‘shovel ready’ now by focusing work on these four key areas:

1. Selecting the right project

It’s likely that your organization has multiple projects identified for future construction, and being able to fast-track one or more of them would be a real benefit for your stakeholder communities. The question is how to select the projects most likely to receive stimulus funding.

A good approach is to prioritize projects that can be started quickly (i.e. are ‘shovel ready’) and also offer the greatest economic impact. A hospital, for example, might have plans to reroof one of its buildings and replace the HVAC units at another. While both of these lifecycle projects can happen quickly, the roof replacement is probably the better project to put forward, as it will employ more workers for longer and likely use more materials manufactured in Canada. Another option is to bundle several lifecycle projects together under one application – say new roofing, HVAC units and windows for an aging facility, benefiting all those who use the facility and bringing it up to current environmental standards at the same time.

Lifecycle projects are good funding candidates because they can be completed quickly. However new construction projects typically have a greater economic impact and deliver longer-term benefits to the community. Owners can accelerate these planned capital projects and secure larger funding amounts by selecting those that are:

  • aligned with their organization’s strategic or corporate objectives;
  • have demonstrated stakeholder support; and
  • have preliminary approvals, budgets and schedules in place.

By choosing a capital project that meets all of these criteria, you’ll be putting your best foot forward in the application process.

2. Completing pre-design work

Another way to get your project to a truly ‘shovel-ready’ stage is to complete all of your pre-design activities. As all owners know, a considerable amount of work has to happen on a project well before an excavator ever touches the ground. Take the time now to complete any site selection work, and finalize land purchases or legal land requirements. Get your geotechnical and/or environmental studies done for new construction or designated substance surveys for existing buildings. The more work you can get finished in the weeks ahead, the more appealing your application for funding will be because you’ve reduced the risk of potential delays in the process.

3. Identifying the best delivery method

The next question to ask is how you’re going to deliver your project. The delivery method you choose will affect the pace of your construction, so this is an opportunity to take a strategic approach. While most owners are familiar with the traditional Design-Bid-Build model, where you complete your design first, then procure, then construct, there are other options to consider when speed is also a key factor.

Construction Management and Design-Build are two alternate delivery methods you’ll want to investigate. While they involve very different contractual models, they are fairly similar in terms of sequencing because you are doing design concurrent with your construction. With the Design-Build methodology, it can be a bit more complicated to get a design builder onboard, but again, that procurement work can be done now. Timed correctly, you can hold off on awarding the work until your funding is secured, at which point you’ll be ready to start construction quickly.

4. Initiating early construction work

This last set of activities is a good way to advance the state of your project before applying for stimulus funding, however it also requires a thorough evaluation of the risks and rewards.

With most projects, there is early construction work you can start now, including: design work; demolitions and site grubbing; contaminant remediation (where necessary); pilings and foundation work; and the pre-selection and/or pre-purchasing of long-lead materials – especially critical in remote communities where supply routes are limited or weather dependent. Tackling this early construction up front could vault your project to the top of the list when it’s time to choose funding recipients. That’s the reward. The risk comes down to the fact that work done before stimulus dollars are awarded is unlikely to be covered, so will probably have to be funded by your organization.

As we saw following the 2008/09 financial crises, infrastructure investment is an effective way to help kick-start our economy. Project owners will play a vital role in our post-pandemic recovery by getting their projects as close to ‘shovel ready’ as possible now, and creating thousands of new jobs once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Above are four key areas where owners can focus first to help secure funding for projects that will benefit communities across Canada. The next step is getting to work on the application process to ensure your project has the best chance of success.