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Robert Ainslie Remembers

Robert Ainslie, DBIA, has specialized in alternative delivery for water/wastewater projects for nearly two decades. Currently, he is Operations Manager for Cambi North America, a leading provider of technology to convert biodegradable material to renewable energy. He has worked for some of the most prestigious firms in the water sector, including CH2M HILL, Brown and Caldwell, and Parsons - most often serving as an expert in alternative delivery methods.

Currently, Robert is overseeing the installation of the first North American Cambi Thermal Hydrolysis Process (THP). When completed next year, DC Water’s Cambi THP will be the largest in the world. By incorporating the Cambi THP in the solids handling main process train, DC Water has been able to reduce their new plant digester capacity by one half while at the same time substantially increasing methane yield (used to generate power), reducing greenhouse gases, and producing a Class A Biosolid. The Cambi THP is expected to reduce DC Water’s annual operating costs by over $20M.

We asked Bob to reflect on his years of involvement with DBIA and the Water/Wastewater sector:

When did join DBIA?
Robert Ainslie: I started my first municipal design-build project in 1996 while working for a general contractor in Florida. However, it was the summer of 1998 before I joined the DBIA.

What was the water market like for design-build at that time?

Robert Ainslie: As I recall, design-build was “legal” in only a hand full of states. Even so, most of those states restricted the use of design-build or alternative project delivery. At that time, Florida was recognized as the most “design-build friendly” state.

What was the first DBIA meeting you attended?

Robert Ainslie: My first meeting was at the 1999 Design-Build For Water/Wastewater Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. I was to present on the topic “Advantages of Design-Build Delivery” at one of the education sessions. This was my first real public speaking engagement, and needless to say I was quite nervous. Not wanting to embarrass myself, I literally spent months preparing and rehearsing for the big event.

After completing my registration I looked over the program and there I was - giving a joint presentation with someone from Malcolm Pirnie on the ethical perception and potential conflict of interest involved in an engineering company performing design-build services for a client. Panic set in. I immediately spoke to one of the DBIA officers and told them there was a mistake on the program. I was supposed to speak on the advantages of design-build. I was told there was no mistake and my session would begin, as scheduled, in less than three hours. I seriously considered either running away or faking a heart attack - anything to get me out of the situation. But, the show must go on and so did I.

If DBIA gave out an award for the worst presentation and speaker I would have been a shoe-in for the award. Yes, my first DBIA conference is one I will never forget.

In your opinion, what is DBIA’s most significant accomplishment over the last two decades?

Robert Ainslie: There have been a number of accomplishments over the past years, each made significant by their combined effect on the North American Design-Build industry. Design-build project delivery in the 1990s was truly challenging. There was no “roadmap” to follow. Both A/E firms and contractors were eager to enter the design-build arena, but once there it became quite obvious that no one really knew how to make such a project successful.

Trial and error was the name of the game, and lessons learned became critical for survival. The DBIA was - and is - the lightning rod for design-build. Best practices were developed, and standardized delivery models and contracts were put in place, all geared to this emerging market and new delivery platform. Local DBIA chapters and the national organization brought practitioners and owners together for their mutual benefit. And so today, in all but a handful of states, alternative project delivery/design-build is not only “legal” but also recognized as a viable delivery option. This represents a true paradigm-shift, facilitated and led by the DBIA.

I am truly proud to be a DBIA member and certified Design-Build Professional.


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