Reference Manual 21 -- Chapter 7

Note: This page contains Chapter 7 of Reference Manual 21 that accompanies Director's Order 21, Donations and Philanthropic Partnerships. Users of RM-21 are strongly encouraged to check this page for updates before utilizing previously viewed, printed, or downloaded materials.

Updated August 21, 2018

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7.0 Partnership Design and Construction Projects

The NPS traditionally uses appropriated funds to design and build facilities, structures, exhibits, and trails in the national parks; awards the design and construction contracts; and provides project management oversight. Increasingly, design and construction projects in national parks are being funded, in whole or in part, with private money. Many of these funding partners would like to take part in the design and construction process and, in some cases, in long-term operation of the resulting asset.

While philanthropic support provides the NPS with the opportunity to address visitor needs and improve facilities more quickly or to a level of quality that appropriated funds alone may not allow, the resulting asset will be owned by the United States. As such, the asset must meet NPS standards and the NPS must consider long-term operations and maintenance needs. The Partnership Design and Construction Process intends to create common expectations between the NPS and its partners. It is a robust process that requires time, attention, and commitment from both NPS and its partners.

Partnership Design and Construction Projects require the development of various agreements. Agreement reviews and approvals are separate from NPS Development Advisory Board (DAB) reviews and approvals but contribute to the full understanding of the project and partnership. Although each project and partnership arrangement is different, all should have a Memorandum of Intent and may need one or more of the following agreements:

Your Regional Partnership Coordinator can assist in determining which agreements and attachments are necessary for the partnership project you are considering.

Partnership Design and Construction Process

The Partnership Design and Construction Process, described below, provides valuable guidance for all Partnership Construction Projects irrespective of their dollar value. The process is mandatory for all such projects with an estimated net cost of $500,000 or more. This dollar threshold aligns with the DAB’s current policy for all NPS construction projects. Regional Directors are responsible for ensuring that Partnership Construction Projects in their respective regions follow the Partnership Construction Process. For projects with an estimated net cost of $500,000 or less, it may be appropriate to use a Donation Agreement. Consult your Regional Partnership Coordinator for more details about how to use this template.

Section 9.1 of NPS Management Policies contains additional information on construction and facility planning and design. Guidance on NPS construction is also available from Regional Construction or Facility Management staff, WASO’s Construction Project Management Division, and the Denver Service Center.

The Partnership Design and Construction Process guides a partnership project from its initial conception through project definition and development, to implementation. Partnership Construction Projects are reviewed and approved at various stages, as generally described on the Flowcharts and Table below.

NOTE: Some actions on the Flowchart are sequential; others are concurrent.

Flow Chart – Design Competition and PCP August 2015 (pdf)
Flow Chart – Design and Construction August 2015 (pdf)

Block Number



Prior to Block 1

Park has identified the Project Concept in park planning documents and in a PMIS statement.

This reflects the Park’s need for the project.

Block 1

Park contacts its Regional Partnership Coordinator and Construction or Facility Manager.

Parties hold kick-off meeting / discussion to identify the details of the project and discuss the requirements of the Partnership Construction Process. “Parties” should also include WASO and/or DSC staff, depending on cost, scale, or other factors.

A Partnership Questionnaire may be useful in facilitating these discussions. Contact your Region’s Partnership Coordinator for current questionnaire.

Block 2

Park develops a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) (template) with its Partner and submits it to the Regional Director (RD) for his/her conceptual approval.

A MOI describes the project, funding, roles and responsibilities, capabilities, authorities, reviews, and agreements needed. The MOI describes who (NPS or Partner) will manage the planning, design, and construction. By approving the MOI, the RD agrees to provide Regional staff assistance as needed.

Blocks 3, 4, and 5

Park and Partner develop agreements as needed to reflect the partner’s role in fundraising, managing the design/construction contracts, and/or operating (or covering long-term operations and maintenance (O&M) costs).

In preparation for Concept Review by the NPS DAB, Park and Partner develop project scope, Class C cost estimate, O&M costs, and other information described on the DAB website (internal).

Consult with your Region’s Partnership Coordinator when developing agreements. S/he can provide the current agreement template and help ensure Regional and WASO approval.

Block 6

(1st DAB review)

DAB assesses the project’s long-term viability, costs, and scope and makes a recommendation to the Director. If approved, project moves ahead in the Partnership Construction Process.

Block 7

Park and Partner finalize Partnership Agreements and submit them for Regional and WASO approval.

Consult with your Region’s Partnership Coordinator when developing transmittal memos. S/he can provide advice and the current agreement transmittal template and obtain RD’s signature.

Block 8

Develop Schematic Designs, Value Analysis, Class B estimates, and other materials required by DAB.

Refer to DAB website (internal) for details.

Block 9

(2nd DAB review)

DAB assesses all aspects of the project and makes a recommendation to the Director. Consult with WASO Construction Program Management Division if project scope or budget changes after DAB/Director approval. Check DAB website (internal) for more details.

Block 10

NPS and Partner sign Partnership Agreements.

See DO21, section 3.1.3 for approval / signature levels.

Block 11

Design and construction documents are finalized and approved by the NPS.

Block 12


The DAF authorizes Park and Partner to advertise a request for bids for construction services. At this time, all Partnership Agreements must be executed (fully signed), all DAB requirements met, and total project funding must be in hand.

Project Reviews

Partnership Construction Projects are typically reviewed by DAB at the Concept phase and at completion of Schematic Design.

1. DAB Concept Review: MOIs must be signed by the Park, Partner, and NPS Regional Director prior to Concept Review.

  • Projects estimated at $1 million or more (net) are presented to the Servicewide DAB for Concept Review. DAB makes its recommendation – to approve, to approve with conditions, or not approve the project – to the Director.
  • Projects estimated at $500,000 - $999,999 (net) are presented to the appropriate Regional DAB for Concept Review.
  • Concept Reviews assess the project’s viability long-term. Reviews focus on the anticipated funding sources, life-cycle costs of the project – including any additional staffing, operational or programmatic costs associated with the project -- and how those costs will be covered. If the park cannot cover those additional costs, the park and Partner will need to identify how costs will be covered, such as through Endowment or Investment funds, NPS-approved revenue-generating activities, or re-focusing park resources.
  • Concept Reviews also assess the proposed facility’s (or structure, exhibit, trail) size and cost, as reflected in Value Analysis documents; the Park’s need for the project; the project’s effect on cultural and natural resources; climate change effects or impacts on the design and location of the project; accessibility and other factors.
  • The Park’s submission materials for DAB Concept Review must include the signed Memorandum of Intent and other materials listed on the DAB website:
  • The Memorandum of Intent (MOI) describes the proposed project, experience and background of the Partner, roles and responsibilities of both parties, authorities associated with the proposed project, Class C cost estimate, PMIS number and Park priority, anticipated financial investments by Park and Partner, agreements needed, and other pertinent information. The project concept should already be identified in an approved park general management plan and/or other park planning documents and referenced in the MOI.

2. DAB Schematic Design Review:

  • Schematic Design Reviews are conducted after Schematic Designs have been completed and assess any changes to project scope, funding source, or cost from previous DAB review(s); project schedule; compliance status; final schematic design documents; status of agreements and other factors.
  • Projects estimated at $1 million or more (net) are presented to the Servicewide DAB for Schematic Design Review.
  • Projects estimated at $500,000 - $999,999 (net) are presented to the appropriate Regional DAB for Schematic Design Review.
  • The Park’s submission materials for DAB Schematic Design Review include signed or final draft partnership agreements and other materials described on the DAB website (internal).

7.1 Design Competitions

Design competitions are held periodically to generate creative ideas and community and donor interest in proposed park improvements. Competitions are typically funded by park partners, and may be managed by either the NPS or the partner. In either case, the NPS needs to be fully engaged in design competitions and is responsible for reviewing and approving decisions and media associated with the competitions. Design competitions may also be held for the design of new memorials and associated facilities at national parks in the District of Columbia and its environs; those must comply with the requirements of the Commemorative Works Act (40 USC 8901-8909).

Since design competitions often lead to the construction of new or expanded NPS facilities (or structures, exhibits, trails, landscapes), proposed competitions must be presented to the DAB in advance of any competition activities.

In 2013 the DAB requested that the WASO Construction Program Management Division and the Office of Partnerships and Philanthropic Stewardship develop a clear process for parks and regions to follow. That process is described in the “Design Competition Flow Chart.”

Please NOTE:

  • The process for Design Competitions flows into and coordinates with the Partnership Construction process, as described above in Section 7.0.
  • NPS Design Guidelines will be developed and will include provisions that are specific to NPS and federal design and construction standards and requirements, such as climate change, sustainability, and accessibility. In the interim the NPS will use the General Services Administration’s Design Guidelines and modify as needed.

In 2014, a Development Advisory Board Guidance on Design Competitions memorandum was sent to Regional Directors. That memorandum and a MOI template for Design Competitions are provided below.

Last updated: September 7, 2018