Peer Review: What is it?

Nov 9, 2011 by

At the Special Meeting, one of the requests of Friends of Glen Providence Park was for Media Borough Council to conduct a peer review of the 3rd Street dam and bridge design.

What is peer review:

While this is a foreign concept for most of us, peer review is common in engineering. As John Harrison of Schnabel Engineering said at the Special Meeting on Oct. 13, all projects have some form of peer review done, and ours is no exception, as PennDOT will conduct a technical peer review of the design to make sure that it is, first and foremost, safe. The kind of peer review that we are requesting is more specific the environmental impact of the dam.

When clients are not experts in the field of services that they are requesting, it is common to seek a second opinion. Think about those times when someone is facing a major surgery. A second opinion from a qualified doctor is always recommended. This is really the same idea.

Who does peer review:

We would like the Borough to contract an independent design review to look at how to reduce the destruction of park land in the dam design. Our cursory inquiries have strongly suggested that there are, in fact, some possibilities worth exploring, and we feel that a professional expert’s opinion is worth the money. Some design alternatives might come to light that reduce the impact on the park and reduce costs.

Why do peer review:

We need this sort of review because Media Borough did not ask Schnabel Engineering to minimize the impact on the park when they first contracted them in 1998. This may have been an implicit part of the understanding, but there is no statement on record declaring preservation of the park as a goal or need. With a long-term structure like a dam, which may last 100 years or more, it is important to investigate all the options thoroughly, especially when impacting historic public park land.

Who pays for peer review:

Of course, money is an important question. While John Harrison mentioned a cost of $40,000 for a design peer review, our understanding is that the cost would be markedly less, more to the tune of $10,000 or less. The Borough would have to pay for this out-of-pocket, but this is a small fraction of the $250,000 the Borough is spending on design fees as well as the $4+ million price tag. This is not ‘free money’ that is funding this bridge, by the way. All of Pennsylvania taxpayers are funding this bridge.

“Engineering design is a process. It is a combination of science and art, where there is no single correct solution to any problem…The goal of the design review is to ensure that the engineer(s) have considered the options sufficiently and taken all the requirements into account in making their design choices.” – Graham Stoney,

In sum:

Because the initial goal of the Borough was simply to replace the road, and not reduce the impact on the park, we feel that an independent design review is a prudent path for Media Borough and Delaware County to choose. The expense is minimal relative to the costs of the project, and should the review reveal cost savings as well as a means to save park land, a peer review would be invaluable. Regardless of the findings of an independent review, Media Borough can move forward more confidently with an expert second opinion.


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