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City prepares for digital construction filings

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By summer, Springfield Deputy City Manager Fred Marty anticipates that a new software platform aimed at streamlining construction and development will be in place.

Marty said the city will be the first jurisdiction in Missouri to launch Avolve Software’s ProjectDox ePlan system, a fully digital platform for submission and review of construction plans.

The software, used in roughly 80 U.S. jurisdictions, already has been purchased with $200,000 from the city and $50,000 from City Utilities, Marty said, and a visit by the software design team the week of Jan. 16 will be the first step in implementation, with completion expected by June or July.  

ProjectDox is part of the city’s ongoing efforts to improve the city’s building and development services, Marty said.

After speaking with roughly 80 project owners, developers, designers and contractors, Marty discovered that timeliness – the length to move a project from preapplication to construction – is among the factors that can hamper development. Since late 2010, the city has committed to a 10-day turnaround period after a preapplication hearing has been held and a plan is submitted.

“We’ve been at an 85 percent to 95 percent satisfaction rate inside our 10-day goal,” Marty said. “We haven’t been missing the ones outside the 10 days by more than a day or two, unless it was some kind of major thing where we had to go back to the developer.”

The city presents its progress regularly to groups in the building industry and to the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s Development Issues Input Group.

“We appreciate the fact that they are willing to be transparent and open about that, and they certainly have made great improvements in terms of getting those projects out and approved in a timely manner,” said Rob Dixon, the chamber’s vice president of business assistance and staff liaison to the development committee.

Marty said the city started exploring the idea of converting to an electronic system to ensure that the 10-day timeframe could be maintained as the building market gains steam.

He said ProjectDox will expedite the sharing of information and feedback about project changes, because various departments and individuals involved will be able to log into the password-protected system to offer feedback, make comments or submit changes.

Billy Kimmons, an architect with BK Architects LLC and a board member for the American Institute of Architects Springfield chapter, attended a local meeting with Avolve officials after the city selected the software.

He thinks the online platform has several benefits, including cutting down on drive time to city offices when plan changes are needed.

“I can submit a change and re-upload the drawing (and) it will (overlap) the two drawings – the original and the new change – and the software will highlight what changed and indicate that to the plan reviewer,” Kimmons said. “It’ll help them see modifications.”

The system also enables the city to move to online permitting for construction, and designers won’t have to print multiple copies of their plans.

Chuck McCann, owner and president of Springfield Blue Print & Photo Copy Co., said the volume of large-format printing for his company and others in the industry has shrunk in recent years.

“We do other large-format color for trade show displays and banners, but (printing’s) probably about 20 percent of our business,” he said. “We sell equipment and supplies for the equipment and provide some different plan rooms (for) people to have electronic files.”

He said about 4,500 people are registered for the company’s online plan room at SpfdBlue.com, and the company plans to roll out additional Web-based products in 2012.

“Times are changing, and we’re changing with the times,” McCann said. “People are getting more electronic files, but a lot of them still want a hard copy. … Maybe they just get the electronic files and buy a printer or plotter from someone like ourselves and then print out the stuff they need at their offices.”

After the mid-January visit, Marty anticipates there will be time spent on discovery, and about 90 workdays to go through the processes and work out any hiccups.

With ProjectDox, Marty is confident that the city can shorten its 10-day turnaround by as many as four days.

“We’re not prepared to say that our new goal is going to be six days, but … we’re going to be able to keep up to our 10-day standard as the market improves,” he said.

Right now, there’s no charge to users of the ProjectDox software, Marty said, but eventually, the project fee schedule may be adjusted to cover maintenance and software licensing costs.

The new platform also is a medium to spread the message that new developments and commercial projects are desired in Springfield.

“We know there are a lot of places you could go …  but we want (new developments) in Springfield … because it means jobs. It means revenues, and it means being able to support our community better,” Marty said.[[In-content Ad]]

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