Ready to hire an architect? Think RFQ

CarolinaFireJournal - Karl J. Mosbacher IV
Karl J. Mosbacher IV Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects
07/25/2010 -
Has your department recently convinced “the powers that be” that a new Fire, Rescue, or EMS facility is needed? Have you confirmed your funding source for the project? Is there even a glimmer of hope that you may be in line for a new facility sometime in the next few years? If you answered yes to any of the preceding questions, let me be the first to say congratulations! Now that you have one of the most difficult pieces of the puzzle in place, it’s time to move on to the next challenge — soliciting your needs to qualified architects. image

Chances are, if you are a small to medium sized municipal department, or a rural volunteer organization, this is your first building project. You want to get it right the first time, avoiding as much heartburn as possible.  The primary way to accomplish this is to select an architect that is knowledgeable in your project type and that you are comfortable with.

Where do you start?

A Request for Qualifications (RFQ) may be your answer. Before we look at some of the details concerning RFQs, let’s look at what a RFQ is. A RFQ accomplishes two main objectives:  First, it informs design professionals of your department’s needs and goals regarding the project. Secondly, it requests that design professionals interested in designing your facility prove that they are qualified to do so by responding with a qualifications package. 

While an RFQ is helpful in selecting a qualified architect, it can also be difficult and time consuming to develop the document “from scratch.” Knowing this, you may want to consider the following options in getting started:  First, Get your hands on an example document, or “boiler plate” RFQ.  If you are a municipal department, you may have access to several RFQ examples or “boiler plate” documents through your purchasing director or municipal administrator. If you are a volunteer department, or do not have access to RFQ examples, try contacting neighboring departments who have gone through the RFQ process before. Also, firms specializing in Fire/Rescue station design often times have past Fire/Rescue RFQs in hand, or Fire/Rescue-specific “boiler plate” RFQs available.

Having an RFQ example in-hand is a good start, but keep in mind, a RFQ can quickly be rendered useless if the right information isn’t included or the right questions aren’t being asked. When developing your department’s RFQ, consider including the following key components:


Clearly state your purpose in releasing the RFQ.  Briefly describe the project at hand and that your department is interested in receiving RFQ responses from qualified architectural firms.  The introduction also allows you to give a brief history of your department, if desired.

Project scope

Describe your project in as much detail as possible. If you have a specific or even general budget number, include it in this section, along with any information or preferences regarding the size and function of your proposed facility. While you may not have a definitive idea of square footage and the layout of spaces, you can provide the architects with a general idea of what purpose the station will serve, which in-turn will produce RFQ responses that are tailored to your project type.

Project schedule

Provide a list of key dates such as: due date for RFQ responses, potential interview dates (if you elect to do so), award date etc.

Proposal content

In this section, you stop informing and begin questioning.  Be as specific as you please (it is your project after all). Your intent should be to gauge the firm’s true experience with, and understanding of Fire/Rescue facilities. Below are just a few pieces of information to consider requesting:

  • Firm Description

  • Resumes for Key Personnel

  • Examples of at least five similar Fire/Rescue projects designed and constructed within the past five years

  • Current firm workload, and ability to perform work for this project

  • Specific Project Approach for a Fire/Rescue facility of this nature

  • References of clients for whom company and consultants have provided Fire/Rescue facility design services

If your project is receiving federal funding or financing, through USDA or other avenues, consider asking the architect to provide specific examples of past projects that were funded or financed in a similar fashion.

Qualifications submission

State how many copies of the RFQ response you’d like to receive and any preferences regarding page limitations, formatting etc. Re-state the submittal due date and provide a contact name and mailing address.  If you wish to allow questions regarding the RFQ, list a phone number or email address.

General comments

State that respondents are responsible for all costs incurred in preparing their RFQ response and that all submissions will become property of your department or municipality. It may also be wise to state that you reserve the right to reject any and all responses (this rarely happens) in the event that no response meets your standards. You do not want to be held liable for not making a selection.

Once you’ve developed an RFQ document you’re comfortable with, you must decide who you’d like to send it to. One option is to publicly advertise the RFQ online or through a local newspaper. The upside to this is you’ll garner interest from a considerable amount of architectural firms, spread across a large geographical area. The downside is you now have 20 to 30 proposals to go through, many of which may not meet your expectations. A different approach is to develop a small, handpicked list of firms you are familiar with, whether through personal knowledge or recommendations from neighboring departments or municipalities. It may also benefit you to get online and research firms that have significant Fire/Rescue design experience.  This option may require a little more homework, but will ultimately be more time-effective as you’ll have a smaller, more qualified list of firms to choose from.

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