As Ms. Patricia Staebler, SRA, of Staebler Appraisal and Consulting, can attest, when creating construction cost estimates, every property is unique. Unique might not be unusual, but appraising a 124 foot by 244 foot blue and white bold-striped big top proved to be an entirely new type of challenge!
Trapeze artists, tightrope walkers, jugglers and magicians regularly thrill the crowd in this 27,747 square foot arena, sometimes rented for company parties, concerts, galas and events of all kinds. While attending one such event, Ms. Staebler noticed − even in the dark − that the arena’s roof was obsolete.
“When the new owners of the circus called and asked me to appraise the structure, I thought the project would be very interesting,” said Ms. Staebler. “The new roof and insulation were already installed; the roof covering was replaced, but not the trusses. Appraising the trusses would pose a challenge.”
With more than 15 years of construction and cost estimating experience, finding cost information for most elements of the arena was pretty straightforward for Ms. Staebler. She used local costs for the 659 linear feet of masonry wall at the base of the structure and for the 480 square foot ground floor masonry of the concession stand. She also used local costs for the green room’s first floor wood frame, the two precast concrete staircases and the fourteen plumbing fixtures. The old fabric roof had recently been replaced with a standing seam roof, so it was just a matter of requesting that cost from the contractor. But those steel roof trusses…
The challenge to the trusses was the height: The arena is 47 feet tall− nearly five stories! Cost data sources meant for traditional commercial buildings did not accurately reflect the replacement cost of the circus roof.
“I considered measuring the length of the trusses, taking off the dimensions from the construction plans and then applying a price per linear foot, but the result would not have taken the height of the span into consideration, and that span height has a tremendous impact upon the labor cost,” said Ms. Staebler. “I needed a precise construction cost data resource.”
Ms. Staebler regularly uses RSMeans construction cost data, but in this case, she was unable to hit upon just the right unit price line item. She decided to contact RSMeans directly, sending images of the structure along with an explanation of her dilemma.
“I’ve worked at RSMeans for 18 years, and this was the first time I’ve been asked to help with a cost estimate for a circus big-top,” said Bob Mewis, Director of Engineering for the RSMeans division of Reed Construction Data. “In reviewing the images, it occurred to me that, since the curved space frames supporting the roof are not commonly used, the structure might have started as something other than a circus.
“Sometimes when estimating, you need to look beyond the obvious and find the underlying intent or purpose in order to come up with a logical approach.”
After studying the provided information, Bob thought the building looked much like an aircraft hangar. With this in mind, he referred Ms. Staebler to the line item number for aircraft hangars, which also included labor costs.
“Bob called me back with his idea about the hangar within thirty minutes,” said Ms. Stabler. “I immediately saw that this cost information snapped everything into place.”
With this new data in hand, Ms. Stabler was able to put together a detailed and accurate insurance replacement evaluation for her clients.
“Bob’s engineering expertise, combined with RSMeans cost information, was invaluable to me in this cost estimation project,” said Ms. Stabler. “I’ll definitely call upon RSMeans professionals for my next cost estimating challenge.”