In the previous piece of this three-part series, Missing a Few Pieces of the Puzzle, we have shown that most of the $3M in architectural fees for the Great Falls High project will in fact be leaving Great Falls and Montana. We also shed some light on the unconventional selection of general contractors for the school district’s multimillion-dollar new construction projects using the Alternative project delivery contract, a process that doesn’t award the general construction contract to the lowest responsible bidder.
The process affords the opportunity to hire the general contractor before the architectural and engineering drawings have been completed, but requires the school district to “make a detailed written finding” that several conditions are met, including that “demonstrable public benefits” will result from its use. The less than detailed written finding appears on the school district’s website. http://gfps.k12.mt.us/sites/default/files/2877_001.pdf..
Most state laws including those of California and Minnesota require state and other governmental units to use a competitive bidding process for contracts exceeding a dollar threshold, usually 80 to 100 thousand dollars. The purpose of the competitive bidding laws explained by the League of Minnesota Cities Information Memo “Competitive Bidding Requirements in Cities, 6-7-17, imc.org-media-document, is three-fold. First, it is intended to ensure that taxpayers receive the benefit of the lowest obtainable price from a responsible contractor. Second, competitive bidding provides contractors a level playing field on which to compete for contracts and third, it limits the discretion of decision-making officials in situations that are susceptible to fraud, favoritism, or other similar abuses.
Locally, serious attention should be paid to the issues of potential
fraud, favoritism and similar abuses such as conflicts of interest and
bias given the recent admonishment by the U.S. Department of Housing
and Urban Development of the City’s CDBG program.
The selection of architectural and engineering firms for major projects
has always been highly subjective. In the case of the GFPS District’s
selection of design firms, this is especially true, but why should there
be cause for concern?
For the Great Falls High $37M project, a seven-member selection committee reviewed submittals by six architectural firms, four local firms and two out-of-town firms. Four firms were shortlisted and chosen for interviews by the selection committee comprised of five District employees and two Board of Trustees members. It is obvious that the seven committee members have some knowledge of school buildings, but none have any professional or experiential knowledge of architecture.
You might say we cannot reasonably expect teachers turned administrators to have training and experience in architecture, engineering or planning, but we can, and should expect them to acknowledge that fact. They are not qualified to judge design concepts, or the firms presenting them.
Is this why the selection committee member’s individual grading sheets are not identified with the name of the grader? Are they admitting to the subjective and quantitative nature of the process? So much for transparency.
Mr. Cahill uses only facile quantitative evidence in his defense of the committee’s selected firms for interviews; how many offices they have, how many schools they have designed, how long they have been in business and how many states are they licensed in.
Is there a better way to select design professionals? Yes.
In “A guide Including Model Local Government Policy and Procedures for Selecting Architects, Engineers and land Surveyors” by the Illinois Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the American Council of Engineering Companies of Illinois and the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers, they state in section 3.3, Putting together a qualified selection committee, “Frequently, the owner does not have staff with expertise for the project. In such cases, it is helpful to enlist the aid of known experts from design professional associations to serve as members of the Selection Committee”.
The University of Washington uses a selection committee of design professionals who are impartial and cannot benefit from a particular architectural commission to judge and recommend firms for university projects. This process has been repeatedly suggested to the GFPS administration, and repeatedly rejected.
The final installment in this series will discuss a Competition of Ideas and Innovation. Stay tuned.