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DSA Procedures and Final Certification

The following information is copyrighted (2001) and was written by
Mike Wassermann at Capital Program Management, Inc. The information is beneficial
to all team members involved with school construction projects. A link to Capital
Program Management is provided below.

Failure to obtain timely DSA final certification is one of the most common and worrisome issues in public school construction. Horror stories abound: projects never closed out, board members receiving letters warning them about being held personally liable for failure to obtain DSA final certification, architects and district personnel searching for long-lost documents. DSA has closed and every day continues to close an alarming number of projects that lack final certification. Although a closed project can be reopened for $150, with the provision of the missing documents, it is very difficult and time-consuming to return to an old closed-out project and identify the required documents. Sometimes documents are required that were never created in the first place; sometimes they are impossible to obtain. Yet without completing this final step in the approval process the entire project is considered “non-conforming” and the district and its board members are put at unnecessary risk.

All of this angst is unnecessary. Projects can be and are being closed out within a few months of completion. The common wisdom is wrong: it doesn’t have to take years to accomplish this task. But accomplishing closeout quickly takes a focused effort by the district and its architect. By understanding the requirements you can learn how to take a proactive role and obtain DSA final certification in a timely manner.

The project architect must actively pursue final certification by adhering to all the procedures discussed, and not considering the project complete until DSA says it’s complete by issuing the final certification. Although the architect is chiefly responsible for obtaining DSA certification, some documents must be provided by the school district, the district’s project inspector(s), the district’s special inspector(s) and the district’s independent testing laboratory. Ultimately, it is the owner’s responsibility to make sure the architect, inspectors, testing laboratories and all applicable contractors follow the necessary procedures to obtain final certification.

Toward this end, consider incorporating in your Owner/Architect Agreement a provision requiring the architect to obtain DSA Final Certification. A stipulated percentage of fees should be held back until certification is obtained. The agreement should also incorporate language requiring the architect to work with the project inspector and testing laboratory to obtain necessary documentation and maintain project controls to ensure DSA Final Certification is received. Similar language should also be included in the Owner/Construction Manager Agreement, if applicable. Furthermore, the Owner/Project Inspector Agreement should include specific tasks and deadlines, as outlined below, to ensure that all required documents are provided in a timely fashion.

Another key to obtaining DSA Final Certification is to make sure all correspondence to DSA is correctly and appropriately addressed, keeping copies of all everything for your records. All correspondence sent to DSA must have a letter of transmittal clearly referencing the DSA file and application numbers and project description. To avoid sure trouble, never send DSA correspondence referencing more than one application number. The school district must be copied on all correspondence sent to DSA by the architect, inspector, and testing laboratory. For your own protection, it is important that every school district maintain a separate project file for each DSA application number, with copies of all related correspondence sent to DSA correctly filed. The checklist provided below should also be included in the file and used as a tool to monitor progress.

Following is a step-by-step review of the requirements for obtaining DSA Final Certification. The school district/owner’s role is to ensure that the architect, inspector, and testing laboratory adhere to these requirements. If a district is using a construction management firm, most of these tasks would be the CM’s responsibility, however for clarity we will assume that the owner is monitoring the process.

· DSA Approval of Construction Documents:
The architect is responsible for submitting all “school” projects estimated over $25,000 to DSA for review and approval. “School” projects are defined as construction projects that students will be occupying or affect areas housing students. DSA may waive review for certain projects under $100,000 if they receive a letter from a structural engineer certifying that the structure is not affected. When the architect submits a project for approval, the application asks for estimated project costs; these estimated costs are used to determine the plan check fee. The fees must be paid before DSA will review the documents.

The owner must verify that DSA has approved the bid documents before any project work begins. DSA’s approval should encompass stamped plans, specifications, Testing and Inspection list (SSS103), and all addenda. Special note: because the addenda approval is often obtained after bid, it is sometimes overlooked until final closeout. It is important for the owner to verify the architect is following up in a timely manner with DSA for approval of all addenda. If addenda were issued without DSA approval, the architect must issue a change order to incorporate DSA’s approval.

If at all possible, projects should not be bid before obtaining DSA approval of complete plans and addenda. Although DSA has allowed projects to bid without approval, DSA approval of construction documents, including addenda, must be obtained before starting any work. The risk of bidding prior to DSA approval is that DSA may require significant changes that would greatly affect bid pricing and schedules, due to delays in obtaining DSA approval. Also, any revision made to obtain DSA approval subsequent to bid requires change orders to the contractor.

· Contract Information Form 102:
DSA requires a “Contract Information Form” to be completed and signed by the Architect of Record for each contractor and for the CM (if applicable) prior to the start of construction. Known as a “102,” this form must include name and address of contractor, scope of work statement, which bid alternates have been awarded (if applicable), and amount of the total contract. A copy of the subcontractor’s list must also be attached. The owner must monitor and verify that the architect submits this form to DSA and provides a copy for your files before construction begins. While DSA does not approve a form 102, it will advise if corrections are necessary. DSA uses this contract information to adjust their plan check fees at project completion.

· Inspector Qualification Form 5:
DSA requires that a certified inspector be assigned to all school construction projects, to provide continuous inspections of all work included in the contract. DSA has developed a certification program with four levels of classifications. Inspectors are tested and certified to perform inspections based on project type. An individual certified by DSA for a specific class of projects must still be approved for use on a specific project. Following is a brief description of project classifications:

Class 1: Typical of high schools, community colleges, some middle schools and other major, complex, DSA projects. A Class 1 inspector can inspect any school or community college project.

Class 2: Typical of elementary schools, some middle schools and additions. A Class 2 inspector can inspect any class 2, 3, or 4 projects.

Class 3: Typical of small additions (under 2,000 square feet) of wood frame construction, modernization, or alteration projects. A Class 3 inspector can perform inspections on class 3 or 4 projects only.

Class 4: Building placement and related site work for factory-built, single-story, relocatable buildings. A Class 4 inspector can perform inspections on portable projects only.

Owners should confirm their project’s classification before selecting an inspector, and should verify potential project inspectors’ DSA classification status to ensure they are currently certified for the appropriate project classification. This information can be verified on the Department of General Services web site at www.dgs.ca.gov/dsa. Once verified, the owner should carefully check all references and check with DSA for prior employment with school districts that may not be listed as a reference. While DSA does not screen certified inspectors and doesn’t provide recommendations, it provides list of prior projects. Finally, the architect and structural engineer should interview the candidate.

Before submitting a “form 5,” the owner should enter into a contract with the inspector that stipulates specific job duties, reporting requirements, and compensation. The contract should be contingent on DSA approval of the candidate.

DSA requires an “Inspector Qualification Form” to be submitted for approval for each inspector on a project; DSA must approve the inspectors before construction begins. The form 5’s must be submitted in duplicate, but a third original is recommended for the district’s file. Note that “Special Inspectors” (such as welding inspectors and masonry inspectors) must also complete these forms before work can begin on their specific project areas. A “Structural Tests and Inspections” form SSS 103 (T & I list) is included in the DSA approved specifications that indicates what, if any, special inspection is required for a project.

The owner must give the inspector and testing laboratory the following information:

  • Project name (same as on the 102)
  • DSA file and application numbers
  • Contract amount (total of all contract amounts included on the 102’s under the DSA application number).

The owner must review the three original, completed, and signed form 5s from each inspector to verify accuracy and completeness. The owner then forwards the forms to the architect for their signature and that of their structural engineers. When all necessary signatures are obtained, the architect must forward two originals to DSA for its approval, sending the third original to the district to file. As always, the owner must ensure that the architect forwards these documents in a timely manner and gives the district a copy of the transmittal to DSA, with a copy of the signed form 5s for filing. DSA will return one of the originals with signed approval, if acceptable. Once DSA has returned the approved form 5, the owner must distribute copies to all parties.

· Testing and Inspection:
DSA requires that specific portions of construction and materials used be tested and witnessed by approved testing laboratories and their special inspectors. A “T & I” list is included in DSA-approved specifications and clearly indicates what special inspections are required for a specific DSA application number. Typically these include structural concrete testing, compaction testing, rebar testing if larger than #4, structural welding, and masonry materials/installation.

The owner must provide the testing laboratory with plans, specifications, and the T & I list. Form 5s are required for special inspectors for steel and masonry, and DSA must approve these forms before any associated work can be performed. The owner, architect, and project inspector must monitor the lab and the contractor to make sure the special inspections are performed. “Final Verified Reports” are required from the lab and from all of the special inspectors who witnessed work, as required by the T & I list, in order for DSA to provide “Final Certification.”

The testing laboratory is responsible for submitting test reports for all required material testing directly to DSA, copying the owner, architect, and project inspector. The owner should carefully review these reports to ensure no non-conformance issues are raised. If any test results indicate non-conformance, the owner must resolve the issue with the architect, who will work with the testing laboratory. Appropriate must be noted in writing from the testing laboratory to DSA.

· Semi-monthly Reports:
DSA requires the project inspector to file “semi-monthly” reports throughout the duration of construction. The owner should monitor the inspector to make sure these reports are filed in a timely manner. The project inspector must address the semi-monthly report to the architect, copying the DSA field engineer and the owner.

The owner should read these reports carefully to verify that if any issues are raised regarding non-conformance, they are tracked on subsequent reports until resolution is specifically addressed. Also, if any DSA “Field Trip Notes” (from a DSA field engineer) were issued during the report period, the owner should verify that the project inspector addresses the status of items listed on the “Trip Notes” on subsequent reports until resolution is specifically addressed.

· Daily Reports:
DSA requires the project inspector to maintain “Daily Reports” for every day construction is performed. Although DSA does not require the reports to be distributed, the Inspector/Owner Agreement should require distribution of the daily reports on a next-day basis to the architect and owner. The reports are an invaluable tool in assessing daily project status, critical issues, documentation for claim defenses, and in fulfilling prevailing wage rate requirements. The owner must verify that the IOR maintains adequate Daily Reports and that any issues raised are properly addressed until they are resolved. These reports should include: weather information, number of personnel on site, hours worked and in which trade classifications, any visitors to site and purpose of visit, description of work activities performed, and what materials arrived on site. Most important, the report must include an entry for any new or ongoing problems/issues and monitor the status of resolution.

· Quarterly Verified Reports:
The quarterly verified report is an affidavit from the project inspector that gives DSA and the owner a current inspection status for each quarter. Although DSA no longer requires the project inspector and contractor to submit Quarterly Verified Reports (Form 6), it is a valuable document to have on file in case a replacement project inspector is required. When a project inspector is terminated, they typically issue a “Terminating Final Verified Report.” Because it is not always possible to obtain this report, however, the quarterly report can provide a clean transition for a replacement inspector and prevents an individual with a contract dispute from holding the Terminating Final Verified Report “hostage.” Without this affidavit, DSA requires the new project inspector to re-inspect the project, including destructive testing. Thus, for the district’s protection, the Inspector/Owner Agreement should require the submission of these reports, due the first day of November, February, May, and August.

· Field-Trip Notes:
DSA field engineers make periodic site visits and issue “Field-Trip Notes,” typically giving a copy of this handwritten report to the project inspector before leaving the site. It is imperative that the project inspector immediately fax copies to the architect and owner, since there are usually items that require the inspector, architect, and engineers to respond.

Because DSA field-trip notes are a significant source of problems in obtaining final certification, the architect should respond to all field-trip notes in writing. Both the project inspector and architect should jointly sign the response. While this is not a DSA requirement, it is very important to have on file in order to obtain final DSA certification. DSA’s perception that it lacks a response from an architect to a field-trip note is the most common reason for a project to encounter difficulty obtaining final certification. As the owner, you should thus make sure field-trip notes are addressed in a timely manner.

It is also very important for the project inspector to address the DSA field-trip notes in the daily and semi-monthly reports, including a copy as an attachment. Each unresolved item must be carried on the semi-monthly report until fully resolved. Copies of the architect and project inspector’s joint response letter should be attached to the inspector’s semi-monthly report to close the item.

DSA will not always respond to the architect’s letter if the response is acceptable. However, sometimes DSA stamps the architect’s letter “approved;” this is preferred, and you should request the architect to seek such clear approval. If the architect obtains the approval stamp, the approved letter should be distributed to all parties and copied in the DSA closeout file. If DSA is not satisfied with an architect’s response, it will typically mark up the letter and return it to the architect for further response.

· Change Orders:
The California Building Code, or CBC, requires that any changes or modifications to the contract requirements obtain DSA approval prior to implementation, via a formal change order process. However, since this is not practical, DSA provides the architect with “Preliminary Approval” of critical items to accommodate construction schedules, requiring that a formal change order follow. DSA typically allows the architect to leave out “no cost” or time items, provided they have no effect on any life safety or handicapped access requirements.

The change order must contain specific information about the revision. At a minimum, DSA requires each change order item to provide a detailed description of the change, including references to contract drawing and/or specifications, attached revision drawings if applicable, and calculations, if applicable. In addition, a reason for the change is required, as well as information about cost and time impacts on the project. The change order must be signed and stamped by the architect of record and any engineer whose scope of work is affected by the change.

It is not unusual if the DSA fails to approve a change order the first time it is submitted. DSA frequently requires additional information, drawings, and calculations from the architect. The owner must monitor the change order process to ensure all change orders obtain DSA approval.

· Deferred Approval:
DSA requires that some proprietary manufactured items (such as special window systems, unusual handicapped lifts, elevators, bleachers over five rows, and fire suppression systems) be approved subsequent to project approval, once contracts are let and it is known which manufacturer is providing the items. If any “Deferred Approval” items are required on a project, they are listed on the cover sheet of the drawings. DSA requires that approval be obtained before installing any deferred item.

The owner needs to make sure the architect obtains DSA approval of all deferred approval items in a timely manner. Without this approval, final certification is nearly impossible to obtain, and it is very difficult to get retroactively. The contractor needs to submit all deferred approval items ASAP, since the architect must first review and approve the submittal with no exceptions noted, and stamp and sign the submittal package before submitting to DSA. The DSA review and approval process takes a minimum of six weeks, and must be completed before execution of deferred approval work.

· Weighmaster’s Certificate:
The CBC requires full-time “batch-plant” inspection by the testing laboratory whenever structural concrete is being prepared, or allows a waiver after the first inspection if the plant is fully automated and has current certification in accordance with CBC requirements. Since all major concrete suppliers are typically fully certified, a “Weighmaster’s Certificate” is required by DSA after all structural concrete has been supplied. It is the contractor’s responsibility to provide this certificate.

If a plant is not certified, the testing laboratory must be present at the plant whenever structural concrete is being supplied for a specific project and must include a statement regarding inspections on their “Final Verified Report.”

The owner needs to make sure that the contractor, testing laboratory, and architect work together to ensure that concrete batching is properly executed. The testing laboratory must verify if the contractor’s proposed concrete supplier is certified. If so, the contractor must submit the “Weighmaster’s Certificate” to the architect before contract close-out. The architect then forwards the certificate to DSA, the project inspector, lab, and the owner. If the supplier is not certified, the architect must ensure that the lab provides the necessary inspections and references to such inspections on its Final Verified Report.

· Final Verified Reports:
DSA requires a “Final Verified Report” (form 6) to be filed in duplicate by the Architect/Engineer, all prime contractors, project inspector, all special inspectors and the testing laboratory. This cannot be done until all work is 100% complete and all change orders have been issued.

The owner must ensure all final reports are submitted to DSA, with no disclaimers or exceptions. It is best if the owner collects the reports from all parties and submits them together to the DSA field engineer, with a request for final certification.

· Laboratory Affidavit:
DSA requires a final laboratory affidavit. The affidavit must state that all testing and inspection was performed in accordance with the approved plans and specifications. The affidavit must be stamped and signed by the PE. Although DSA does not always require this document in addition to the lab’s Final Verified Report, the owner should request it to ensure a smooth closeout.

· Recorded Notice of Completion:
DSA requires a copy of all prime contractors’ recorded Notice of Completion. The owner is responsible for forwarding the notices to the architect, who sends them to DSA as soon as they are available.

· Final Certification:
DSA issues a “Final Certificate” once all CBC and DSA requirements have been satisfied. The Owner/Architect Agreement should require that the architect request final certification in writing from DSA once all items on the attached checklist have been submitted, and that as an attachment to the letter the architect include copies of all required correspondence. Until receiving final certification, school district board members can be held personally liable for the project and future funding from OPSC may be jeopardized. As noted earlier, a project is not complete until DSA says it’s complete – and issues a “Final Certification.”

We hope you find this information helpful for your project. We have implemented this system on many projects and have obtained DSA final certification on all of them in record time. For any questions, suggestions, or corrections please contact Mike Wassermann at Capital Program Management, Inc. mike@capitalpm.com or call me at (916) 553-4400.



  1. Has DSA approved plans, specifications and all addenda?
  2. Has the “Contract Information” form 102 been filed by the architect for all contractors (and CM if applicable)?
  3. Has the “Inspector Qualification” form 5 for the project inspector been filed with DSA and approved by DSA?
  4. Has the “Inspector Qualification” form 5 for any Special Inspectors been filed with DSA and approved by DSA? (For welding or masonry inspections if applicable.)
  5. Has the Inspector of Record, project inspector, filed “Semi-monthly Reports” for every period during construction?
  6. Has the Inspector of Record, project inspector, filed “Quarterly Reports” for every quarter during construction?
  7. Have all “Field Trip Notes” from DSA field representative been addressed by a joint signature letter from the architect and project inspector and also resolution addressed in the project inspector's semi-monthly report?
  8. Have all change orders been approved by DSA?
  9. Have all prime contractors submitted their “Final Verified Reports” form 6 to DSA?
  10. Has the project inspector submitted the “Final Verified Report” form 6 to DSA?
  11. Has the testing laboratory submitted the “Final Verified Report” form 6 to DSA? (Also any special inspectors that may have been used.)
  12. Has the testing laboratory submitted the “Final Lab Affidavit”?
  13. Has the architect submitted the “Final Verified Report” form 6 to DSA?
  14. Has the contractor submitted and the architect forwarded the “Weighmaster’s Certificate”?
  15. Have all recorded “Notices of Completion” been forwarded to DSA?
  16. Have we received “Final DSA Certification”? Note that the architect needs to request this in writing from DSA when all of the above items have been completed. Copies of all required closeout items should be attached to the letter requesting final certification.


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