Magazine article Techniques

How to . . . Select a Planning and Design Consultant

Magazine article Techniques

How to . . . Select a Planning and Design Consultant

Article excerpt

A SERlES ON HOW TO IMPROVE ENVIRONMENTS FOR LEARNING CONTINUES WITH GUIDANCE ON SELECTING AND HIRING AN ARCHITECT OR PLANNER.

IN THE LAST EDITION OF TECHNIQUES, WE outlined the process for creating a facilities master plan-the first, and perhaps most important step toward defining future direction for your institution or district. The article, titled "How to Prepare a Facilities Master Plan," noted the importance of engaging planning and design professionals throughout the process. This month, we offer guidance for selecting and hiring an architect or planner, as well as insight regarding consultant fees and what you can expect for the money.

There are four major steps in building or renovating facilities: planning, design, construction and operations. Since there are multiple delivery methods for the last three steps, we will address them in a subsequent article. This article is dedicated to planning-specifically, what to look for and how to find your planning professional.

Finding a Firm

The process for hiring a professional consultant typically begins with issuing a request for qualifications (RFQ). Most states (43) require a qualifications-based selection process. The Brooks Act mandates qualification-based selection for professional services for federal work. Most states have modeled state laws (Mini-Brooks) after the federal process, defining the requirements for qualifications-based selection for professional services, including planning and design.

In the qualifications-based process, planners and design professionals are evaluated based on qualifications and demonstrated ability to perform. Thus, the selection process is not based on fee, or the lowest bidder.

Typically, an RFQ is published as a legal advertisement for two or three weeks in a newspaper of general circulation. RFQs usually request the following information from interested firms:

* history of the firm;

* general experience;

* specific experience in CTE;

* key staff that will be assigned to the project (individual resumes); and

* references for existing and past clients.

Often, but not always, interviews are conducted with two or three firms deemed most qualified. An interview can be very expensive for a firm to prepare and deliver. Therefore, if you have a strong preference for a firm, or if one firm's qualifications are clearly superior, interview your top-rated firm, and, if the chemistry's there, pull the trigger. Try to avoid putting others through the expense of time and money, if possible.

Once a decision is made, you'll work with the selected firm to finalize a scope of services, fees, deliverables and timelines. If you can't come to terms, then you move to the next most qualified firm to work up an agreement on scope, fee and terms.

Before You Jump In

One important note: before you issue an RFQ, do your homework. Ask around to see who your contemporaries have used and what the experience was like. Go to state and national meetings to see who's presenting on relevant topics. It's best to have a general idea of who you're interested in speaking with, as well as what you think is important, before your RFQ hits the street. If there are specific firms you want to hear from, let them know ahead of time, and send them a copy of the RFQ so they don't miss it.

You'll be amazed at the number and quality of responses you receive, so it's wise to do some screening before you publish the RFQ. Marketing is the second largest function of a design firm's operation. Writers, graphic designers and salespeople are employed and trained with the express job function of generating compelling sales materials and presentations. We've seen marginal firms win projects using sophisticated technology and sales "shows" that wow the client through the sales process. Once your RFQ is on the street, it may be much more difficult to cut through the marketing fog and get a genuine perspective of the firm and people that will be potentially working with you. …

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