Episode 14: Architect Selection Process

Three years ago I started writing about reading and understanding building plans so you could understand what your new firehouse would look like and how it might function. Last year I briefly mentioned something about architect selection. Thinking back I realized I put the cart before the horse. image

You can’t look at plan sets if you don’t have an architect to draw them. This issue I will talk about the architect selection process, specifically, how to put together a well-written Request for Qualifications, otherwise known as a RFQ. Warning — there are no pretty pictures and this topic is a little dry and may cause drowsiness.

I’ll be covering the most important topic headings of the index copied here. If you want more information, it will be posted on my website.

The main purpose of the RFQ is to provide you with qualified candidates to interview. Architects are usually selected based on qualifications not cost. The cost is important, of course, and will be considered after the selection committee picks the winning architectural firm. RFQs require the architect to submit costs in a separate envelope. It will be opened after the architect is selected. Then the negotiations begin.

These documents are 20 to 40 pages long depending on state, local and federal regulations that have to be covered. Some have over 50 different topics addressed in the RFQ. I am currently responding to an RFQ that is over two-dozen pages long. Below is the index to that RFQ. The requesting agency could be your fire department or another department that manages contracts and/or construction.

These documents can look very dense. Don’t worry. Architects are used to seeing them, you are not.

You will describe your agency’s history, the current conditions, the scope of work, etc.

There are numerous ground rules that control the process that are shown here.

There is always one person to contact and only that person. No one else will be responsible for answering questions and all questions from the architects will be in written form and will be answered in written form to all candidates. The architect’s actual submittal will be a written response only, no fax, emails, cloud access, etc. You will list what you have now, what you know and what you want in the future firehouse.

Hopefully item “F” should look familiar to those of you who have been following my writings. I wrote about this in the Winter 2014 issue.

Section II describes the schedule
of events.

Event and Date

RFQ issued

Monday, Feb. 22, 2016

Job walk at site address

Friday, March 11, 2016, 10-12

Deadline to submit written questions

Monday, March 21, 2016, 5 p.m.

Final addendum/Response to written questions

Friday, March 25, 2016, 5 p.m.

Submission of Proposals

Thursday, April 14, 2016, 5 p.m.

Evaluation of Proposals

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Finalist notifications

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Finalist Interviews

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Fee schedule negotiations


Agreement Awarded

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Commence project

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Each line item in the schedule will have expanded text to clarify the meaning and intent. It also says you can change the schedule. If you are located near a time zone boundary, it is important to note your time zone in the schedule.

Section III may seem very uptight. It tells the architects how many three ring binders, how many dividers, what size paper, how many pages per section, what computer program to use and even the size of the type for easy reading. Usually it is 12 point. All this makes it easier for you to read and compare the submissions.

Section IV has a long laundry list of things you want to know. You will be asking for contact information, corporate structure and references. You’ll be asking if they understand what you want in the project and how they will deliver it. You are requesting a bio on every member of the architect’s team. As noted earlier, cost is requested but it will be in a separate envelope.

Mixed in throughout the document will be a lot of legal requirements to keep everything in order.

There is a section that will ring a bell for the “Law and Order” fans, Ex Parte. This section dictates that there will be no conversations between the architects and anybody else who may have information that would be helpful. Think of this as the same thing regarding promotional tests. The agency is trying to create a level playing field. It may be tempting for someone in the fire department to share a little information with an architect they really want. If that exchange is discovered the architect is disqualified. I wanted to do that myself because a particular architect impressed me but I behaved myself. Luckily we chose the firm anyway. Again, like our promotions, there are rules for any protests. Like a lot of fire departments there should be a section detailing how an architect can protest any perceived inequities.

Other legal items refer to equal opportunity rules, what happens if the architect defaults on the contract and how the agency can and will terminate the contract. Payment rules are laid out also. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has its own contract form. Obviously, whoever writes the contract has an advantage. Agencies usually use their own and not the AIA’s. The RFQ requires a signed statement stating the person signing the Submittal is authorized to sign the Submittal. Sounds like circular login but it is a legally binding document. Another signature is required on the True Statement attesting to the fact that everything submitted is true. You can imagine why that page is in there, unfortunately.

There are legal questions that ask about criminal records, specifically Bid Rigging and Collusion. The ones I like the best are in the chart below. You need to include them in your RFQ. Of course, I am biased because this topic is what I mentioned last year.

  • Have you ever failed to complete any work awarded to you? If so, where and why?
  • Have you ever defaulted on a contract? If so, where and why?
  • Is there any pending litigation could affect your organization’s ability to perform this agreement?
  • If so, please describe.
  • Has your firm ever had a contract terminated for cause within the past five years?
  • If yes, provide details.
  • Has your firm been named in a lawsuit related to errors and omissions within the past five years? If yes, provide details.
  • During the past seven years, has your firm ever filed for protection under the Federal bankruptcy laws? If yes, provide details.
  • Are there any other facts or information that could affect your firm’s ability to perform the types of services being sought by the City about which the City should be aware?

Section V. Evaluation Factors — This is one of the most important sections. Here is where you tell the prospective architects what your expectations are and how you will be grading them. If their submittal does not speak to everything listed below they don’t get invited to the Big Dance. This section is word for word from the RFQ.

The evaluation criteria listed below will be utilized in the evaluation of the written proposals. Only firms deemed responsible and responsive with proposals in the competitive range may be considered for award. The proposal should give clear, concise information in sufficient detail to allow an evaluation based on the criteria below.

The proposal response shall enable the county to evaluate the responsiveness and quality of the proposal to each of the RFP requirements. Factors determining the best value include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Design, creativity, and innovation.
  2. Ability to meet the mandatory technical and functional requirements of the facility based on past experiences
  3. Ability to meet service level and project management requirements.
  4. References.
  5. Quality and depth of firm’s demonstrated successful design experience and experience with governmental agencies and experience delivering projects of similar scope and scale in reference to the project.
  6. Unique qualifications/competitive edge. Please describe why you believe that your firm is uniquely qualified for this project and what distinguishes your firm from your competitors.
  7. Compatibility of the firm with other team members. Design philosophy and way of conducting business within a mixed-use organization.
  8. Performance on past projects assuring that design meets budget and schedule requirements. Experience in value engineering to assist in maximizing the budget.
  9. Possessing the willingness to listen to the client and to design to the client’s objectives.
  10. Experience with the latest building technologies.
  11. Local experience and relationships with regulatory agencies having jurisdiction over the project.

Some of the criteria are obvious and need no further explanation. Others reflect the concern that a firehouse is a technical structure and not “just a house with a big garage.” That is in quotes because that was what the new administrator from my city’s Public Works Department thought when they took over half way through our program.

I do want to expound on letters G, H, I.

(G) Compatibility of the Firm

Early in our $70 million program we were interviewing firms. One firm imploded right in front of us during the interview. They had brought in a subject expert from their office in another state. Apparently they did not have time to strategize before their appointment time. Two of them flat out disagreed with each other. It was rather stunning. Needless to say, they did not get any work from us.

(H) Performance on Past Projects

This tells them you will be checking their references. Just because they have pretty pictures of firehouses they have built does not mean the firefighters in the buildings are happy. In the Winter 2014 issue, I wrote about Value Engineering. See, I am not making this stuff up.

(I) Willingness to Listen

I don’t think I ever mentioned this but I was a speaker at the Fire Chief Magazine’s Station Style conference for its last five years. One thing was consistent every year. The consensus was that the best attribute of a good architect was a good ear. In other words, they listened. The only way to know if they do is to talk to the previous clients.

Not all departments do this but it is not uncommon to include the scoring matrix you will use. Here is one example. I’ve also seen ones with 12 to 15 scoring criteria.

  1. Understanding of project needs — 10 points
  2. Similar project experience — 50 points
  3. Capacity to perform the work including sub-contractors —10 points
  4. Proposed services and methods to the County’s needs — 10 points
  5. Proposed schedule and ability to work within the desired timeline — 0 points
  6. References — 10 points

When you publish this part you are sending a strong message to the architects of what is important to you. This one is really concerned about getting a design team with a proven track record.

Everybody still awake? I know this was dense but it is an important piece of the process. Hope it helps.

Section I. Introduction/Scope Of Work 4
A. Background Information 4
B. Purpose/Goals Of This Request For Proposals 5
C. Budget Assumptions 5
D. Scope Of Services 6
E. Design Confirmation And Preliminary Design
F. Design Development And Construction
G. Project Manual 8
H. Sub-Consultants 8
I. Bidding/Construction Support Services 8
J. Contract Administration And Observations 9
K. Methods Of Analysis 10
L. Collaboration With County Staff 10
M. Report Requirements 10
N. Desired Qualifications 11
O. Project Contact 11
Section II. Conditions Governing The Procurement 12
A. Sequence Of Events 12
B. Explanation Of Events 12
C. General Requirements 14
Section III. Response Format And Organization 17
A. Number Of Responses 17
B. Number Of Copies 17
C. Formating 17
D. Organization 17
Section IV. Requirements And Submittals 18
A. Letter Of Submittal (One Page) 18
B. Corporate Information (Four Pages) 18
C. References And Experience (Six Pages) 19
D. Project Overview (Seven Pages) 19
E. Compensation (Four Pages, Placed In A Sealed
F. Other Submittals (Four Pages) 21
Section V. Evaluation Factors 22
A. Design, Creativity, And Innovation 22
Ability To Meet The Mandatory Technical And Functional
Requirements Of The Facility Based On Past Experiences
Ability To Meet Service Level and Project Management
D. References 22
Quality And Depth Of Firm’s Demonstrated Successful Design
Experience And Experience With Governmental Agencies And Experience Delivering Projects Of Similar Scope And Scale In Reference To The Project
Unique Qualifications/Competitive Edge. Please Describe Why You Believe That Your Firm Is Uniquely Qualified For This Project And What Distinguishes Your Firm From Your Competitors.
Compatibility Of The Firm With Other Team Members. Design Philosophy And Way Of Conducting Business Within A Mixed Use Organization
Performance On Past Projects Assuring That Design Meets Budget And Schedule Requirements. Experience In Value Engineering To Assist In Maximizing The Budget
Possessing The Willingness To Listen To The Client And To Design To The Client’s Objectives.
J. Experience With The Latest Building Technologies. 22
Local Experience And Relationships With Regulatory Agencies Having Jurisdiction Over The Project
Section VI. Exhibits 24
Section I lays out the basic situation. Some of the 15
subtopics are self-explanatory.
Jim McClure is the owner of Firehouse Design and Construction (FD&C). The mission of FD&C is “to help firefighters, architects and government agencies design and build maintainable, durable, and most importantly, functional firehouses.” McClure’s career in public safety spans almost 29 years. For more information visit, www.firehousedesignandconstruction.com, call 408-603-4417 or email jim@mcclure904.net.

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