Originally posted Friday, 27 March 2015

Written by Randle Pollock

“I learned early on that while you need to be tough enough to insist on projects being completed properly and in a quality manner, you also need to be fair.” –Dean McCormick

Vice President of COAA’s Board of Directors Dean McCormick brings a wealth of experience and more than 30 years in the design and construction of major projects. As the Director of Design and Construction Services at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, he oversees all aspects of the design, bidding, contract, and construction phases of Iowa State University’s capital projects. He also leads the Design Services and Project Coordination Center units, which provides architectural and engineering design services as well as project management for small projects on campus. He joined the Facilities Planning and Management staff at Iowa State in 1994.

A professional engineer, early in his career Dean performed construction administration activities and project management on major institutional and commercial projects throughout the United States while he was with I.A. Naman + Associates, an MEP consulting engineering firm based in Houston, Texas. Dean received a Bachelor of Science in Construction Engineering from Iowa State in 1981. In addition to COAA, he is a member of ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers) and APPA (Leadership in Educational Facilities).

We recently spoke with Dean about his tenure with COAA, the latest developments within the association, what he is doing at Iowa State—and what he views as our industry’s latest trends.


Randy Pollock (RP): How long have you been a member of COAA, and what prompted you to get involved?

Dean McCormick (DM): I have been a member since 2003. After coming to Iowa State University, I began looking for opportunities to network and interact with peers. I tried a number of organizations, conferences, etc. with mixed results—and mostly without finding a real connection. I “I learned early on that while you need to be tough enough to insist on projects being completed properly and in a quality manner, you also need to be fair.” –Dean McCormick attended COAA’s Spring Owners Leadership Conference in 2003 and immediately connected with several people who were facing the same challenges that I was. I have been a committed member of COAA since then.

RP: What are the biggest benefits of belonging to COAA?

DM: COAA provides an opportunity to network with others in the industry who are facing the same challenges and opportunities that we do at Iowa State. I have not found another organization that provides this opportunity as well as COAA. There is always an answer within the membership of COAA, because inevitably you’ll find someone else who has already faced the same challenge.

RP: What do you see as the biggest challenges for COAA and the industry in general?

DM: The industry has seen significant changes in the 30-plus years that I have been involved. The complexity of the projects continues to increase, concerns and fear of liability have redefined the roles that design professionals and constructors are willing to take, and the pressure is always on to build both faster and better. It is more important than ever for the Owner to be a strong participant in the project. COAA advocates the leadership role of the Owner and provides the tools and training to become the leader that is required.

On trends in the construction of public sector facilities

RP: Architecturally, what are the most significant changes in the layout or types of spaces you’re providing at Iowa State?

DM: The move towards more flexible spaces and spaces that are easily adaptable to a new program is a significant emphasis. Building technology into the spaces, along with opportunities for student collaboration, are also emphases.

On trends in the construction of facilities for higher education

RP: In terms of project delivery or construction-contracting methods, what are the most significant changes in the implementation of your projects at Iowa State?

DM: Iowa is a very traditional state when it comes to project delivery, and most of our projects continue to be delivered in a traditional design-bid-build delivery system. I am firmly committed to the concept that effective collaboration between the Owner, Design Professional, and Constructor is key to delivering high quality projects. Finding ways to build this collaboration into a delivery system that was not designed to accommodate collaboration is one of challenges we face.

On project delivery methods

RP: Which delivery methods have you employed? Which do you most prefer?

DM: At Iowa State we are limited for the most part to design-bid-build and Construction Manager Agency. Around 98 percent of our projects are performed with design-bid-build delivery.

That said, we do look to CM Agency on projects that are large and complex, require an accelerated schedule, and/or require a phased construction schedule. We have recently been authorized to pursue design-build bridging and have a residence hall project underway that is currently in the selection process.

I don’t necessarily have a favorite delivery method. Each project is unique, and the project delivery method that fits the project requirements best should be employed. There are good projects and bad projects in any delivery system— ultimately it comes down to the individuals that are involved and maximizing the collaboration of the project team. Design-bid-build does not eliminate collaboration, but it can be more challenging to build a good team.

On what you are doing now

RP: Do you feel any need to emphasize “buying local/ regional”?

DM: As a state-supported institution, we always have a charge to keep the work local to the extent possible. But more importantly, we have always had great success with local design professionals, contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers. We have built relationships with these firms, and they have a commitment to the success of Iowa State University that cannot be easily imported.

On trends that are impacting the future of your organization

RP: What current trends (demographic, economic, cultural, etc.) are most impacting the future of your work at Iowa State University?

DM: Like most places, we are competing for an evershrinking labor work force to work on our projects. Iowa is a relatively low-growth state, and attracting or keeping a quality work force is a challenge that will need to be met for us to be successful. As we have emerged from an economic downturn, having enough workers to meet the demand has been a challenge.

RP: How does your background shape your understanding of the work Owners do?

DM: Early in my career I was fortunate to work for—and with—Owners who understood the key leadership role they must play and the need to create a collaborative environment on their projects. I learned early on that while you need to be tough enough to insist on projects being completed properly and in a quality manner, you also need to be fair. It is important to examine and understand all perspectives on an issue before taking a stand. Ultimately, the goal is to deliver projects successfully, and the decisions that are made always need to be in the best interests of the project.

RP: With the proliferation of so many different technologies involved in every phase of the construction process, how essential is it for an Owner to possess a strong understanding of all of those technologies and their applications?

DM: It is exciting to see the new technologies that are being applied to the construction industry. I think that the adoption of technology has traditionally lagged in the construction industry, so it is good to see the explosion of tools that are now available. I don’t believe it is possible for the Owner to have a strong understanding of all of these technologies, but we must understand how the application of these technologies will improve our projects. The technology that is available provides an incredibly powerful set of tools, but like any tool kit, understanding the right tools to use is critical. The misapplication or over-application of technology can be detrimental to a project.

As a university Owner, it is incredibly exciting to see the abilities of the recent graduates, who can manipulate technology to the benefit of the project. The pace of change is clearly accelerating. Each new generation of professionals entering the work force is bringing new abilities to apply technology, and those of us in the older demographic will have to give them the freedom to apply their knowledge creatively to benefit our projects.

About the Interviewer
A member of COAA’s national Editorial Committee since 2010 and Program Chair of COAA Texas, Randy Pollock is Science + Technology Director for HDR (www.hdrinc.com). Based in HDR’s Houston, TX office, Randy can be reached at 713-335- 1949 and randle.pollock@hdrinc.com.