10 Features of Good Construction Documents for Massachusetts Filed Sub-Bids

Public building projects in Massachusetts are subject to unique public bidding requirements for some designated trades. For projects where these trades are subcontracted under a general contract, they are called Filed Sub-Bids, and scope clarity is the highest priority when it comes to developing bidding and construction documents for these Filed Sub-Bids.

Massachusetts General Law (M.G.L. c.149) establishes the requirements for Filed Sub-Bids. Separate Filed Sub-Bids are mandated for certain trade-specific classes of work estimated to exceed an established dollar amount ($25,000 as of this writing). The Filed Sub-Bids are opened before the General Contractor bids, and a list of accepted Filed Sub-Bids is published in an addendum to the General Contractor bidders, who then select and include an approved Filed Sub-Bidder name and amount for each required Filed Sub-Bid entry on the General Bid form. The law includes specific timing and processing requirements and numerous “what ifs” beyond this brief description, and they should also be considered.

Developing specifications and drawings that are responsive to the Filed Sub-Bid laws can be particularly challenging for architects who are not accustomed to sorting out scopes of work between contractors and subcontractors. The written legal requirements are fussy, and, like most codes, they may need to be revisited again and again to make sure the specifications, drawings, and subsequent administration of bidding and construction meet the letter of the law.

The following limited overview includes some features of good bidding and construction documents for projects with required Filed Sub-Bids. These features also apply to projects requiring separate Trade Contractor Bids under M.G.L. c. 149a for projects led by a Construction Manager at Risk (CMR) instead of a General Contractor. (In terms of bidding requirements and related specifications, the “Trade Contractor” under M.G.L. c. 149a is essentially the same as the Filed Sub-Bidder under M.G.L. c. 149.)

  1. The Invitation for Bids in the “front end” of the Project Specifications includes a concise list of Filed Sub-Bids required for the project, indicating the applicable specifications section number(s) and title(s). It is also good for the Table of Contents to designate by symbol or notation the Filed Sub-Bid sections (an asterisk * is commonly used for this purpose, along with a legend or footnote that explains its meaning).
  2. The Instructions to Bidders section includes specific instructions and information related to the filing and processing of Filed Sub-Bids.
  3. Each Filed Sub-Bid section in the Project Specifications describes the scope of work for that Filed Sub-Bid.
    • Ideally, all of the work of a single Filed Sub-Bid is described in a single specification section. However, it is not unusual for one or more other sections to be included as part of the work of a Filed Sub-Bid. In that case, there is usually a “master” Filed Sub-Bid section that covers the scope of that Filed Sub-Bid and includes by reference all other specification sections that are also part of that Filed Sub-Bid. For example, where Masonry is a required Filed Sub-Bid, the main Masonry section may list an Architectural Precast Concrete section as part of the work of the Masonry Filed Sub-Bid, and the Architectural Precast Concrete section would include the words “Part of Masonry Required Filed Sub-Bid” at the top of the first page of the section. Similarly, a main Miscellaneous Metals Filed Sub-Bid section may include a list of other sections (like metal stairs and pipe railings) that are part of the Miscellaneous Metals Filed Sub-Bid scope of work. Likewise, the Electrical Filed Sub-Bid section may include a list of other sections (like security systems and audio-visual equipment) that are also part of the Electrical Filed Sub-Bid scope of work.
  4. Each Filed Sub-Bid section includes a list of required Sub-Sub-Bids within that section, along with specific paragraph references, as required by applicable law in M.G.L. c. 149. These are typically limited to Plumbing, Mechanical (HVAC), and Electrical Filed Sub-Bid sections. For example, Mechanical Filed Sub-Bid sections commonly list sheet metal, insulation, and temperature controls as distinct Sub-Sub-Bids. The bidder names, classes or work, and amounts of these Sub-Sub-Bids are listed in Paragraph “E” on the required form for Sub-Bid. Discrepancies in Filed Sub-Bid specifications regarding Sub-Sub-Bid requirements have led to bid protests and delayed construction starts on some public projects, so the importance of these requirements is clear.
  5. Each Filed Sub-Bid section* includes a list of drawings showing the work of that Filed Sub-Bid. (*The “master” Filed Sub-Bid section in cases where a Filed Sub-Bid includes several specifications sections as described above.) That list of drawings is limited to only those drawings that actually show the work of that Filed Sub-Bid (for example, the Electrical Filed Sub-Bid section would include the complete list of electrical drawings). There is also a reference to “all drawings” or “all other drawings” for conditions or context which may affect or relate to the work of that Filed Sub-Bid.
    • Some architects have refined this information into a table that includes, for each Filed Sub-Bid, a list of “Primary Drawings” that actually show the work of that Filed Sub-Bid and “Contingent Drawings” that show conditions or context which may affect or relate to the work of that Filed Sub-Bid. The table is typically published as a separate section in the “front end” of the Project Specifications, and each Filed Sub-Bid section includes references to that section for the lists of Primary and Contingent drawings.
  6. The “front end” of the Project Specifications includes a section containing a complete list of project drawings by number and name. This is the list referenced as noted above in the Filed Sub-Bid sections to “all drawings” or “all other drawings”. If drawings are added by addendum during the bidding period, the list is also updated by addendum.
  7. Project Specifications include distinct definitions of the terms “furnish”, “install”, and “provide”, and Filed Sub-Bid sections include lists or descriptions of work to be provided (furnished and installed), work to be “furnished” only, and work to be “installed” only. For example, the Plumbing Filed Sub-Bid section may list certain roof drain components as items to be “furnished” only, and the Roofing Filed Sub-Bid section may list those roof drain components as items to be “installed” only. Taken together, the specifications are thus clear regarding who furnishes and who installs those roof drain components.
  8. Project specifications and drawings clearly establish applicable limits of Filed Sub-Bid work and any exceptions to those limits. For example, a limit of plumbing work may be 10 feet outside the building, such that plumbing related work beyond the 10 foot limit is part of site utilities, and the drawings are clear regarding trade responsibility for connections of plumbing work to site utilities. (Considering this need for clarity, I am reminded of a roof drain back-up that resulted on a project where the plumber ended the plumbing work at the specified limit of plumbing work, and the sitework subcontractor started the site drainage piping runs where specified in the storm drainage specification, but the responsibility for connection was not specified, so the two systems were not joined until the roof drain back-up brought the condition to everyone’s attention.)
  9. Each Filed Sub-Bid section indicates applicable responsibilities for specific staging and scaffolding, lifting and hoisting, and temporary heating and weather protection that are not the responsibility of the General Contractor as established in a “front end” specifications section. The Filed Sub-Bid sections are coordinated with the “front end” specifications for consistency. (This is particularly important, because architects who are not familiar with the bidding laws may think these are responsibilities they should not have to specify.)
    • It is customary for a Filed Sub-Bidder to provide staging and scaffolding up to 8 feet in height, and for the General Contractor to provide staging and scaffolding more than 8 feet in height. In some cases it is appropriate for a specific Filed Sub-Bid to include “all staging and scaffolding” for the work of that Filed Sub-Bid, and the Filed Sub-Bid specification includes that requirement.
    • It is customary for the General Contractor to provide lifting and hoisting equipment for a project, but it may be more appropriate for a specific Filed Sub-Bid section to include all lifting and hoisting for the work of that Filed Sub-Bid section. For example, it is common for the Roofing Filed Sub-Bid section to include all lifting and hoisting for the work of that Filed Sub-Bid section. The same is frequently true for the Masonry Filed Sub-Bid and the Mechanical (HVAC) Filed Sub-Bid.
    • By law, the General Contractor must provide temporary heat and weather protection from November through March. However, it is customary for the Masonry Filed Sub-Bidder to include the heating and protection of materials used in masonry work, so those responsibilities are stated in the Masonry Filed Sub-Bid section. The Masonry Filed Sub-Bid specification may specifically require the Mason to provide temporary weather protection of work in progress, such as protective tarping over masonry work at the end of a work day. The specifications are thus clear in differentiating Filed Sub-Bid responsibilities from General Contractor responsibilities.
  10. Architectural drawings clearly indicate Filed Sub-Bid responsibilities for discrete items of work, differentiating the work of one Filed Sub-Bid from another Filed Sub-Bid and from General Contractor work.
    • For example, it is common for one sealant application in a window detail to be included as part of window work (possibly a Metal Windows Filed Sub-Bid) and another sealant application in the same detail to be included as part of the Waterproofing Filed Sub-Bid. Drawing notes on the details point to the specific items and indicate contractor responsibility by referencing the applicable specification section number and/or Filed Sub-Bid name (example: “by 07 0001 Waterproofing Filed Subcontractor”).
    • Another example is the differentiation of Miscellaneous Metal Filed Sub-Bid work from structural steel. It is common for architectural drawings to show both types of work in the same or related details. Drawing notes point to the specific items and indicate either Miscellaneous Metals Filed Sub-Bid responsibility or “structural steel” with a reference to the structural drawings or references to applicable the specification section.

This limited compilation is based on one architect’s 30+ years of involvement with public building projects in Massachusetts.

Posted in Construction Administration, Construction Documents, Project Management, Specifications

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