Design-Build – the US Army Corps of Engineers Way

November 7, 2018

Denison DamDesign-build (D-B) is one of the primary project delivery systems used in the construction industry. In D-B, both design and construction services are contracted by a single contractor. In the traditional D-B method, the design is completed while construction is ongoing. The biggest values of D-B can be saved time in procurement and a potential for value engineering review and project phasing.

To date, our D-B experience leans heavily toward food and beverage development projects and transportation infrastructure. Although our involvement in USACE D-B is more recent, some key differences between its application in the commercial sector and the USACE approach have emerged very quickly.

  • Generally, USACE does not authorize construction until 100 percent of the design is approved.
  • A USACE D-B project generally requires multiple design reviews, often at 65, 95 and 100 percent.
  • USACE designs must meet the requirements of all applicable USACE engineering manuals, regulations and technical letters.
  • USACE D-B requests for proposal are generally much more prescriptive than those for non-governmental clients.
  • USACE may require an independent technical review or peer review of the design relative to project size.
Design-build was used for the design and replacement of two tractor gates at Denison Dam in 2015
Mead & Hunt first Design-build was used for the design and replacement of two tractor gates at Denison Dam in 2015.

Military Construction (MILCON) Design-Build

Mead & Hunt first completed a D-B contract for a fire station at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Fort Polk and USACE Fort Worth District were very satisfied with the final design and construction, deeming the project a success.

Still, the architecture-engineer team learned much through the experience, including these key take-aways:

  • The ability to reduce design fees in USACE D-B is limited because USACE generally does not accept reducing the number and detail of drawings, and saving time by overlapping design and construction phases
  • Communication among the end-user, contracting officer, builder and designer required extra attention and effort.
  • To fully realize the benefits of D-B and be profitable requires a design team dedicated to D-B projects that has solid experience with the builder.

A Civil Works Design-Build Case Study

Next Mead & Hunt tackled a civil works D-B project in 2015 as the D-B team engineer for the design and replacement of two tractor gates (one flood and one emergency) out of the six sets at the Denison Dam in Texas. Denison Dam, a Tulsa District USACE project built in 1943.

Alltech Engineering out of Minnesota, who had replaced three previous sets of gates, was the selected contractor. Alltech selected Steel-fab, Inc. for gate fabrication because they had also fabricated the previous gates. Analysis for fatigue and fracture according to the USACE Engineer Technical Letter 1110-2-584, Design of Hydraulic Steel Structures was essential. This manual contains extensive requirements for evaluating and documenting fracture critical members of hydraulic steel structures. This design also required a peer review by another District.

Ultimately, Denison Dam received two new tractor gates designed for:

  • 126 feet of head, earthquake loading and closure under flow
  • Gate slot refurbishment
  • New flood and emergency gate dogging devices
  • New work platform for dogging device installation and maintenance.

READ FULL ARTICLE in The Military Engineer

Miro Kurka, PE, PMP


Col. Miro Kurka, P.E., PMP, F.SAME, USA (Ret.) knows water is an incredible resource. “I like leading teams and managing water infrastructure projects that make our citizens safer, wealthier and happier.” A retired U.S. Army officer, he managed the Corps of Engineers’ program in Tulsa, Portland and Afghanistan for 30 years. He enjoys traveling and meeting people.

Read more posts by Miro Kurka, PE, PMP