Construction Planning & Operations Project Provides Baker Students Useful Experience

By: nicholasg

Cornell’s Baker Program in Real Estate is known as the most comprehensive, well-rounded Graduate-Level Real Estate program in the country. The courses that Baker students take at Cornell’s College of Engineering, in addition to the vast resources of the School of Hotel Administration and Johnson Graduate School of Management, provide one of those advantages. The first of these courses – part of Baker’s core curriculum – is Construction Planning and Operations with Dr. Paul Carr. Professor Carr began teaching at Cornell in 2001 after more than eighteen years as C.E.O. of Bernier, Carr and Associates P.C., an integrated Architecture and Engineering firm. Each year, Professor Carr’s vaunted, realistic Group Site Project is the highlight of the course for Baker and non-Baker students alike.

The project is a hands-on immersion into the planning and construction process. In Fall 2014, the project involves the planning and construction of a new Municipal Building, Highway Garage, and Fire Station for the Town of Watertown, New York. Early in the semester, students form groups, and delve into the process immediately. After only two lectures, groups are assigned Phase One – the task of designing the new facility, assuming the identity of Design/Build firms to pitch their plans to the Town Council (in this case, Dr. Carr and the class). This stage of the project requires that groups collaborate with other groups, as larger units comprising three groups are formed, with each small group designing one of the three facilities. Achievement of a successful conceptual design demands that students consider construction costs, site layout, infrastructure connections, and many more variables. Importantly, the nature of the project allows Baker students to experience real-life delegation of tasks, assigning appropriate sections to members in the City & Regional Planning Program as well as Engineering. The collaboration amongst different programs requires that groups make an effort to meet several times per week to prepare materials for presentations and assignments.

In Phase Two, students prepare a detailed cost estimate for the Fire Station after being handed merely the specifications, blueprints, and a pile of subcontractor estimates.   Phase Two requires many hours of interpreting, measuring and establishing the cost of materials available to source.  Delegation is once again mandatory, with sub-groups estimating concrete, masonry, carpentry, labor, and other major cost categories.  Other crucial portions include vendor selection and establishing a project timeline.  After two weeks of marathon sessions, groups prepare a detailed cost bid package encompassing the entire project based on materials, labor, and total duration.  The practical realism of Professor Carr’s curriculum emerges as groups are required to seal their bids, sign sworn Non-Collusion statements, and attend an in-class reading of the bids, just as contractors on public projects are required to do.

Phase Three requires that students prepare for a simulated, real-life construction arbitration. Hard work goes into preparation to assume the roles of attorney, expert witness, and plaintiffs. Students are required to strategize, prepare detailed statements, and be ready to show comprehension of the subject matter whether they are on the stand or grilling their colleagues. The ability to defend one’s price and/or cost basis in fact will prove valuable later in the program and in student’s careers. When combined, the three phases provide a comprehensive, challenging initiation into the construction process for Baker students. In learning to properly create a proposal, read plans and estimate costs, and defend those costs in arbitration, students gain a comprehensive initiation into cost control, the ability to recognize when other parties are trying to take advantage of them, and the ability to anticipate problems during the crucial construction period – when mistakes likely result in losses.

Each year, several Baker Program students come to Cornell intending to start a career in Real Estate Development. Adept developers are well-versed in architecture, community relations, real estate law, finance, and management, among other things. The Baker Program’s incorporation of Professor Carr’s Construction course provides a key advantage to these students over the long-term. Professor Carr’s course lays the groundwork to take the next step into being a truly hands-on developer who can manage the entire process more effectively. Even for those who do not intend to pursue a career in real estate development, Professor Carr’s course and Site Project provides invaluable management training, reinforcing core concepts of real estate and business. After all, concepts such as cost control, delegation of tasks, and being able to manage a project successfully are skills that are applicable to any area of real estate and the broader business world.

To find out more about courses in the Baker Program in Real Estate please visit