Intro to Project Submittal & Plan Review

See the DSA Publications or Forms pages for cited documents.


The Division of the State Architect (DSA) reviews projects for conformance with structural, fire/life safety, and accessibility requirements. (Note that all aspects of the projects must comply with all code requirements whether that portion is reviewed by DSA or not.)

School projects must be designed in accordance with Title 24 of the California Building Standards Code. Title 24 is a California amended version of the International Building Code. For qualified historical buildings or structures, Part 8 of Title 24 may apply (see Alternative Plan Review Process for Historical Buildings section below).

School District & Construction Manager Responsibilities: From Pre-Design to Construction Completion & Certification (PowerPoint - 6 MB)

Design Professional in General Responsible Charge (A/E of Record)

Projects must be completely designed and coordinated before being submitted to DSA for review.

State law requires that an appropriately licensed architect or engineer prepare drawings and specifications for all school construction projects. This individual is called the “Design Professional in General Responsible Charge” (referred to throughout this document as the A/E of Record). He or she is responsible for coordinating all consultants, observing construction, interpreting the drawings and specifications, administering required testing and inspection processes, and preparing all change directives.

In most cases only California Licensed architects or structural engineers may act as the A/E of Record of a school construction project. Licensed civil engineers, for example, are not permitted to act in this capacity. Licensed mechanical and electrical engineers may serve as the A/E of Record for projects that are primarily limited to mechanical or electrical alterations respectively.


Initial Project Submittal

Applicants must register for project submittal by emailing the following forms to the appropriate DSA regional office, a minimum of six weeks and a maximum of eight weeks prior to the intended submittal date. No fee payments are required at this stage:

Upon receipt of these forms, DSA will assign an application number for the project and open a DSAbox account in the event it is necessary to share additional documents or information.

Within one week after the initial registration and when DSA requests, the applicant shall upload schematic/progress drawings into DSAbox.

A complete project must be submitted on the registered intended submittal date (see form DSA 3: Project Submittal Checklist (PDF - 1.32 MB). When the project is submitted to DSA on the registered submittal date, DSA will commence plan review within five working days. Please refer to PR 17-03: Project Submittal Appointment Process for detailed information.

Additional information concerning Fire Alarm minimal submittal requirements is contained in GL 2: Fire Alarm and Detection Systems (PDF - 314 KB).

Plan Review

Plan review starts within four to six weeks of initial submittal for most large projects. To manage periods of high workload, DSA may contract with private plan reviewers to expedite the plan review process. The progress of the project can be monitored at the Project Tracking section of our website.

DSA performs plan review in three disciplines: Structural, Fire/Life Safety, and Access Compliance. Three separate experts perform these reviews. Upon completion of plan review, three red-marked "check-sets" will be returned to the A/E of Record. The red marks on the drawings and specifications comprise the complete list of corrections required.

DSA also performs plan review to verify that energy conservation aspects are incorporated into the plans and specifications when incentives for energy conserving designs are requested.

Addressing Plan Review Comments

The A/E of Record can facilitate the back-check process by addressing each comment thoroughly and completely before scheduling a back-check appointment. It is very important that the red-marked check-sets be returned to DSA intact at the time of back-check. If a check set is lost, the project will have to be resubmitted and an additional fee will be charged to re-review it.

DSA recommends that black pencil marks be used to check off comments on the drawings as they are addressed. Notes regarding the manner in which the comments are addressed may also be added to the drawings in black pencil to facilitate the back-check process. Colored marks should not be added to the check sets since such marks may be confused with DSA's comments. Marks that obscure the comments must be avoided. Calculations or other documentation that will be kept in DSA's files should not be written on the check sets since check sets are generally discarded after the back-check meeting.

Questions regarding the intent of comments may be discussed by calling the appropriate plan reviewer prior to scheduling a back-check meeting. Drawings and specifications must be corrected prior to scheduling a back-check meeting; however; additional, minor corrections are usually required during the meeting. Leaving numerous corrections to be completed during the back-check meeting can result in a long and unproductive meeting. When a large number of comments have not been appropriately addressed, DSA may terminate the meeting to give the A/E of Record additional time to make corrections prior to scheduling another back-check meeting.

Back-check and Approval

Once plan review corrections have been addressed by the A/E of Record, a back-check meeting may be scheduled by contacting the DSA structural plan reviewer who reviewed the project. The reviewer's name and phone number is on the first page of the “marked-up” check set.

The A/E of Record for the project should be available during the back-check meeting to authorize changes to the signed drawings. Any changes made to the drawings that are not a direct result of a plan review comment must be brought to the attention of the plan reviewer. Upon completion of the back-check meeting, reproducible drawings are stamped for identification by DSA. It is important to keep in mind this stamping does not constitute approval. DSA will make a “Record Set” copy of the drawings and specifications and return the original to the A/E of record. See DSA Policy 06-01 for details. Not later than five working days after the documents have been approved, DSA shall issue the project approval letter. The project is not approved until and unless DSA issues such a letter.

Absolutely no changes may be made to the drawings after they are stamped and before the record set of prints is made. The approval of the project is automatically void if changes are made to the stamped drawings without DSA approval. All changes made subsequent to approval must be accomplished by submitting revised drawings, addenda, or change orders to DSA for review and approval.

Deferred Submittals

Approval of certain aspects of the construction may be deferred until the construction contract has been awarded. For example, it is not efficient to design elevator guide rails until after an elevator supplier has been chosen. To facilitate the design process, DSA grants deferred approval to the design and detailing of elevator guide rails at the request of the A/E of Record. Design elements that may be deferred are limited to:

  • Access floors
  • Bleachers (seating layout must be shown at time of submittal)
  • Elevator guide rails and support brackets
  • Exterior wall systems - precast concrete, glass fiber reinforced concrete, etc.
  • Skylights (do not defer if Engineering reports, or complete information is available)
  • Window wall systems or storefronts with spans greater than 10 feet
  • Stage rigging
  • Others, as agreed to in advance by DSA

Detailed performance specifications and/or loading criteria for the deferred submittal components must be included on the drawings or in the specifications. The drawings must include a list of the deferred submittal components on the title sheet and clearly state that no work may proceed on the components until DSA stamped approved drawings are provided to the contractor and inspector for the components.

Note: Deferred submittal does not mean that the A/E of Record may refer the design of the component to the contractor. DSA requires that the A/E of Record accept responsibility for verifying that all components (including those granted deferred approval) of the project are properly designed by appropriately licensed design professionals. The A/E of Record is also responsible for coordination of all components of the project. In addition, the A/E of Record is responsible for designating the points of contact of the components on the structure, designing the supporting structure at the points of contact for gravity and lateral forces from the components, and verifying that all interactions (deflection compatibility, drift compatibility, vertical and lateral loads, etc.) are adequately addressed in conformance with current engineering practices and the California Building Standards Code.

Addenda and Revised Drawings

After drawings and specifications have been stamped by DSA but before a contract for construction has been awarded, changes to the plans and specifications may only be made by addenda or by issuing revised drawings. Addenda and revised drawings must be signed by the A/E of Record and approved by DSA. Significant revisions to the drawings may result in a DSA request for additional fees and/or the submittal of a new separate application.

Changes During Construction

Construction must proceed in strict accordance with DSA approved documents. After a contract for construction has been awarded, any changes to the DSA approved documents must be made by change order or Construction Change Document (CCD). Change orders and CCDs must be prepared and signed by the A/E of Record for the project as well as by all engineers delegated responsibility for portions of the work involved in the changes. Change orders or CCDs must be stamped approved by DSA before construction may proceed.

A “Construction Change Document” (CCD) is a generic term for any document issued by the architect to change the DSA approved documents. CCDs may be called Field Orders, Supplemental Instructions, Change Directives, etc. To facilitate the construction process, DSA will review and approve CCDs received by facsimile and return stamped copies by facsimile to the A/E of Record for rapid distribution to the contractor and the inspector. See IR A-6 for further information regarding change orders and CCDs.

Alternative Plan Review Process for Rehabilitation of Existing Non-Conforming Buildings

A nonconforming building is a structure that has not been approved for use as a school or Community College building by DSA.

Evaluation, design, or rehabilitation of existing non-school or non-conforming school buildings may be submitted utilizing the regulations of Section 4-307, Part 1, California Administrative Code and the adopted provisions of Part 10, California Existing Buildings Code. Schedule a pre-application meeting with the local DSA Regional Office in order to discuss the applicable requirements.

Alternative Plan Review Process for Historical Buildings

The California Building Code (CBC) requires that non-conforming buildings converted to school use fully comply with the current building regulations for new construction. However, the State Historical Building Code (SHBC)—contained in C.C.R., Title 24, Part 8 (reprinted in CBC, Chapter 34, Division II)—requires state agencies to apply the SHBC to qualified historical buildings and properties, at the discretion of the school district or property owner, to preserve the historical significance or character-defining features of the building or property.

For more information on this program, the State Historical Building Code, Qualified Historical Buildings, or Title 24, Part 8, please contact the Executive Director of the State Historical Building Safety Board at 916.324.7180.

Expedited Review Process for Relocatable Buildings

An expedited, Over-the-Counter Review process is available for buildings with previously approved “Pre-Check” (PC) plans. An appointment is required. The A/E of Record meets face-to-face with DSA reviewers at the DSA regional office. Site plans are submitted and reviewed; building plans are compared to previously approved PC plans. The process is usually completed and the project approved by DSA within two hours or less. For details see the DSA Policy 07-02: Over-the-Counter Review of Pre-Check Approved Designs document on the DSA Publications page.

Note: Appointment times may fill up during the summer months when DSA experiences a high volume of work.