3 Fire Stations, 2 States, 1 Team: Lessons Learned from CMAR and Design-Build

Top takeaways from the recent DBIA panel discussion

Overland Park Fire Station #48, a McCownGordon Construction project

Leveraging more than 20 years of partnership, McCownGordon and SFS Architecture recently collaborated on three municipal fire stations on both sides of the Missouri-Kansas state line. Representatives from the design and construction team participated in a panel discussion with the owners of the projects to share fresh insights and lessons learned.  

While all three projects comprised the same project type and the same project team, there was one major difference—the delivery method. The City of Overland Park utilized the construction manager at risk (CMAR) delivery method, but Central Jackson County opted for the design-build approach. How and why were the respective delivery methods chosen? What was successful? Were there challenges? Read on to learn the disparities between the employed delivery methods and gain valuable insights for future endeavors.  

Overland Park Fire Stations 41 & 48: The projects & the delivery methods

The City of Overland Park, Kansas recently completed both Fire Station 41 and Fire Station 48. Fire Station 48 accommodates the community’s recent growth while Fire Station 41 replaced the existing station to address deficiencies and allow continuity of operations. 

The City’s top two priorities were the health and safety of the firefighters as well as incorporating gender-neutral spaces within the facilities. The new stations include red, yellow and green zones to mitigate health risks associated with the firefighting profession. This new method of zoning allows the carcinogenic elements firefighters come in contact with to stay in the red zone, separate from their living area which is considered the green zone. The stations have gender-neutral lockers, showers, and bunks to utilize space efficiently. 

While the City of Overland Park employs three building delivery methods (CMAR, design-build and design-bid-build), the City chose CMAR for both projects. Tony Rome, Facilities Engineer & Project Manager for the City of Overland Park, noted the CMAR delivery method worked exceptionally well for both stations. The CMAR delivery method fosters early involvement from the construction manager during the design phase, which allows valuable input on constructability, cost estimating, and scheduling, and leads to improved project outcomes like schedule and budget savings, long-term performance for the building, and most importantly, overlooked challenges that could be detrimental to project success. 

Having completed 25 projects together, McCownGordon and SFS seamlessly integrated as a team to immediately drive value for the City. “When building these two stations, it really helped to have the architect, designer and contractor in the same room early on,” said Rome. The most prevalent advantage of onboarding McCownGordon early included early procurement of long lead time items such as generators, switchgear and automatic transfer switches to lock in pricing and avoid schedule delays. “Our long-standing-relationship with SFS allowed for early collaboration in turn adding value for the City by identifying creative cost-saving solutions to protect the City’s budget and schedule,” Arlen Kleinsorge, market leader for McCownGordon stated.  

Central Jackson County Fire Station 6: The project & the delivery method

Across the state line, Central Jackson County also completed a new fire stationFire Station 6. McCownGordon and SFS Architecture used inspiration from the City of Overland Park projects and leveraged their knowledge and expertise to bring the County’s goals to life. One of their goals was to create a fire station with a long life cycle that increased efficiency, in turn, increasing community safety. The floor plan was designed with the following in mind: 

  • Low-maintenance building system
  • Increased response times
  • Contamination control through implementation of red, yellow and green zones
  • Gender-neutral spaces
The design and construction team balanced durability with a comfortable living environment. Central Jackson County, having not completed a new station in over two decades and with minimal commercial construction experience, recognized the paramount importance of assembling a trustworthy team for Fire Station 6.  The County opted for design-build, which allowed them to combine architectural and construction services under one contract. McCownGordon and SFS merged into one design-build team providing flexibility in project phasing, and greater project value, allowing the team to get to market quicker and beat the rampant inflation at the time of construction. “The McCownGordon | SFS team guided us through the design-build process which provided ample time to explore options to drive value and save costs,” Chisholm Nally, Assistant Chief for Central Jackson County Fire Protection District stated. “They answered our questions and helped us nail down our choices to ensure the project finished on time,” he continued. 

The power of early collaboration 

The panelists attributed the resounding success of these three projects to early collaboration and team chemistry. The team shared additional insight into which method worked the best for these projects during the question-and-answer portion of the session.  

Although both delivery methods have their differences, from the preconstruction standpoint, the early engagement and partnership remain consistent. “Both methods are extremely collaborative, and working with the design team allows time to evaluate roadblocks, hear the client’s priorities and identify opportunities to deliver the project quicker,” noted Jeff Frank, preconstruction director at McCownGordon. Leveraging McCownGordon’s extensive preconstruction expertise, the team provided robust analyses and evaluations, equipping the project owners with the precise information needed for intelligent decision-making. 

The project delivery method chosen in each instance drove the success of the projects and determined how much support the contractor and architect could provide throughout the process. “Both delivery methods gave us the freedom to be the designers which allowed us to collaborate well with McCownGordon,” Lindsay Tatro, project manager at SFS stated. “It really starts with that even partnership, and I think we had that with both delivery methods,” she continued. 

Choosing the right delivery method, the right design team and the right construction manager is essential for your project’s success. “Bring the contractor on board as early as possible regardless of which delivery method is chosen; I cannot think of one disadvantage,”  said Kleinsorge. 

Delve into an analysis and comparison of the four major construction delivery methods, including CMAR and design-build at the link below. 


The panelists at the DBIA-MAR Conference included:

  • Tony Rome PE, Sr. Civil Engineer, City of Overland Park, Kansas 
  • John Heffernon, Battalion Chief, City of Overland Park 
  • Chisholm Nally, Assistant Chief, Central Jackson County Fire Protection District 
  • Jeff Frank, Director of Preconstruction, McCownGordon Construction 
  • Arlen Kleinsorge, Market Leader, McCownGordon Construction 
  • Kwame Smith AIA, Principal, SFS Architecture 
  • Lindsay Tatro AIA, Project Manager, SFS Architecture
  • Brian Garvey AIA DBIA, SFS Architecture (moderator)