Feature Article - February 2004
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Building Bliss

How to select the best architect and builder for your next construction project

By Kelli Anderson


EVERYBODY TAKE YOUR PLACES

Before adding these new working relationships to your work environment, it is important to have all the key players in your own establishment in place.

"Make sure you have all your recreation professionals—especially a director—in place before beginning the process," advises Penny Kipley, parks and recreation director of the recently opened Gilpin County Community Center in Golden, Colo.

Kipley experienced firsthand the difficulties encountered when the director isn't hired until late in the game.

"We didn't have a director in place from the beginning, and that hurt us—we suffered in the design phase," Kipley says. And later, as change orders resulted to correct design oversights, the project went over-budget.

When key sources of information like the director are missing from the initial planning and analysis, it is virtually impossible for architects and builders—no matter how skilled—to fill in the inevitable gaps. In Gilpin County's case, the job, which used the D-B delivery method, was hampered by the staffing issue but ultimately resulted in a beautiful 43,000-square-foot facility of which the community is proud.

THE DATING GAME

Hiring the architect, however, was a more textbook experience in Gilpin's case. Kipley describes the formation of a committee made up of park and recreation staff, aldermen, and park commissioners who were aided, in their evaluation process, by a CM to sift through all the various contenders.

In many cases, the resulting short list of potential candidates is then issued a Request For Proposal (RFP)—a summary of project specifications and contractual expectations. The subsequent responses are then evaluated based on a variety of criteria such as team dynamic, experience and project ideas.

HOW TO CHOOSE MR. & MS. RIGHT

Whether using the aid of a CM's rating scales in the selection process, using your own community's pre-established system or selecting a D-B firm's one-stop-shopping, there are some universals in helping determine whether the architects, builders or D-B firms are good ones.

First, it helps to know where to look.

"Look locally to see what firms are experienced in the type of project your doing," Neal says. "Look at firms farther afield in [rec industry] publications and attend functions like the NRPA congress or state conferences with people present at those functions." He also suggests asking colleagues who they have used successfully in the past.

One mistake to avoid, however, is letting cost determine your choice.

"When choosing a builder, you have to take reputation, experience with your type of construction project and experience in your local environment into account," says Bruce Mather, executive director with 24 years of experience in facility management at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill. Cost counts but only when factored in with other criteria essentials like these.

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

A résumé will tell you what awards they have won—always a good thing—and will give you a list of references for previous work. And here lies the real gold mine of information. Visiting a referenced site gives you the incomparable insight of talking with the owners about the execution of that project—the good, the bad and the unexpected.

Enough cannot be said in stressing the benefits of actually standing within the walls of a prospective designer's or builder's work.

"I can't imagine a better thing to do than to see them standing in their building with the client they worked with and to see them talk about the successes and the challenges," says Joel Leider, principal with an architectural firm specializing in project planning, SportsPLAN Studio in Kansas City, Mo. "It's the best thing they could ever do."

In the case of D-B firms, be sure to look not only for architectural experience similar in scope but also for firms with a long-established relationship with their architectural team.

"Design-build firms work as a team," says Craig Chapman, head facilities section for U.S. Navy MWR division in Millington, Tenn. "A long A & E (architectural and engineering) partnership lends strength to the process."