"On time and on budget." These are words anyone involved with a State Historical Fund project loves to hear. The words, though, can only be uttered after careful planning and consideration well in advance of a project's kick-off. The budget can make or break a project.
Despite the fact that SHF grants are made for specific dollar amounts, the contract between the SHF and a grant recipient is really for a specific scope of work-a scope of work that can, and should, be accomplished for a proposed sum of money. Key to the success of a project, then, is an accurate budget that relates to a well-conceived scope of work based on the needs of the building or structure.
Budget errors are one of the most common mistakes that SHF applications staff find when processing applications. To a reviewer who scores applications, an error-filled budget reflects the applicant's ability to manage a project. Even if an applicant has added numbers correctly, these numbers need to have a sound base. Putting a budget together using "guestimates" is asking for trouble later on. Your project needs a bit more attention.
To help you put your best foot forward, a professional cost estimator can take much of the guesswork out of the process. Someone with skill and a solid background in preservation or construction can calculate the quality and cost of all labor, material, and equipment needed to complete certain tasks. This can be accomplished by actually walking through a structure and making observations or by going over a set of plans and specifications. In fact, the SHF can help fund historic structure assessments to develop construction drawings, job specifications, and budget figures in advance of a restoration or rehabilitation project. From these estimates, reasonable bids - what a contractor will actually charge to perform the work - can be developed.
You may use standard tools and guidelines to estimate a project's cost, but conditions particular to the project should also be considered. Though the cost to re-point masonry may be set at a certain rate per square foot, the location of that work can be a factor. Re-pointing masonry at ground level is one thing, but re-pointing three stories above ground level presents new costs, such as scaffolding and safety equipment. If the area to be re-pointed is in one location, such as a specific corner, the final cost could differ from a patch-work of spots spread out around a building.
Project location and environment could also affect the budget. Lumber costs and availability in a large city may vary from those found in smaller, more remote areas where materials may have to be trucked in. One SHF project actually required the use of helicopters to lift materials to a remote site at an elevation of 10,000 feet. Construction at high altitudes might have a short construction window due to weather while construction in other locations of the state could, under favorable conditions, be accomplished year-round.
Even the best-laid plans can go astray, particularly in historic buildings, which often present unforeseen setbacks. A contingency-typically 10 to 15 percent of the project total-can help a project get over such unexpected hurdles. Materials might be in supply when a project is being considered, but by the time of implementation a shortage might occur that could change the price of this material. A specialist may need to be hired to address a particular problem. And unless this person is especially generous, their services will call for the appropriate fees, lodging, and per diem costs.
Finally, just because a building is historic, the bids and estimates that budgets are based on should not be. Figures should be as current as possible. A budget that is two or three years old might be deficient when it comes time to pay the actual costs. And, as mentioned, the grant recipient is contracting for a scope of work, so any overages could become their responsibility. However, SHF advisors want to see projects completed successfully and will try to help those who end up in this predicament. But for all parties involved, "on time and on budget" should be the goal from moment the application is prepared to the final ribbon-cutting ceremony.