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The Art of Estimating: Volunteer Mike Funk

Mike Funk loves the vast variety of projects he sees on the job. Photo: Allison Rubin

"My work gives nonprofits a plan that is easier to fund, because they’ve gotten a professional look at what they need to do and they know what it’s going to cost," says cost estimator Mike Funk. Mike began volunteering with the Community Design Collaborative soon after its start 25 years ago when Don Matzkin—a friend of his and a founder of the Collaborative—reached out to him for a referral to a cost estimator to volunteer. After agreeing to one project, Mike decided to continue working with the Collaborative. 

Over twenty projects later, when you ask Mike to go over his long list of projects, it’s the “outliers” that stand out because they presented the most unique cost estimating challenges: a conceptual design for rooftop planter systems for PRooF, a feasibility study to adapt a small industrial space for use by Spiral Q Puppetheater, and a master plan for the Pennypack Farm Education Center for Sustainable Food Systems.

Mike earned a degree in Construction Management from Spring Garden College, but immediately after college he stumbled upon a job as a cost estimator. “Cost estimating was not a career I ever aspired to. During school, in the estimating classes it was pretty tedious counting nuts and bolts in detailed documents,” he says. “But when this opportunity arrived it seemed like more of a challenge because I was working with conceptual ideas and sketches to develop the cost rather than a complete set of documents. The challenge was to anticipate the design details from the limited information and develop accurate estimates.”

I have worked on lighthouses, forts, national monuments, World Heritage sites, and pretty much anything that can be built or renovated.

“The other part of the job that I like is that I work on a vast variety of projects, from residential, to research and development labs and hospitals, including new construction, renovations, historic restoration, and site development. I have worked on lighthouses, forts, national monuments, World Heritage sites, and pretty much anything that can be built or renovated.”

Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty
Usually, Mike explains, he receives a lot of information prior to creating an estimate— a meeting with the client or at least a floor plan or a narrative/scope outline —to create a cost estimate. But sometimes, he must use his skill and experience to predict how much a project will cost. “It may just be a single line plan, an idea, or a phone call which says, ‘we want to build 10,000 square foot of residential units, so what’s it going to cost?’”

Once he looks over the construction documents, he quantifies the plans [i.e., what are the building materials and what are the quantities needed]  He then organizes them into subdivisions based on Construction Specification Institute MasterFormat, the standard for organizing specifications and other written information for commercial and institutional building projects in the U.S. and Canada.

Then begins the process of estimating the overall cost: “Once you quantify it you have to price it, and that becomes the art of estimating… The estimator has to look at the database, and adjust it up or down based on the size of the job, the complexity of the job, and whether this is a new development project, or historical restoration, they all sort of have different factors that affect it, the final price that goes into the estimate.” The final step would be to determine the factors to apply for contingency, overhead and profit and any other markups that may be needed to develop the total construction cost.

The Benefits
While Mike calculates the numbers behind the Collaborative’s conceptual designs and plans, he is aware of the less tangible benefits of his volunteer work.  “It makes me feel like I’m giving something back to the community, I get the opportunity to meet new associates in the industry and work with people I may not usually work with during my regular job. 

My work gives nonprofits a plan that is easier to fund, because they’ve gotten a professional look at what they need to do and they know what it’s going to cost. 

Mike adds, “There is also the satisfaction that I’m helping community groups and organizations understand the costs of their plans, wishes and desires and help them along on the path to implementation.”

Profile by Allison Rubin with Linda Dottor.

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