In the end, there could be only one.
That was the decision by Cheshire’s Next Generation School Building Committee last week, as the group decided to recommend one architectural firm to handle the design of the two new elementary schools planned under the first phase of the Town’s school modernization project. The Committee had previously discussed whether to choose one or two firms to design a new Norton and an as-yet-to-be-named school on the north end, however, after due consideration of each of the four finalists’ proposals, the Committee voted to recommend Tecton Architects to do both of the schools.
The firm, which has offices in Hartford and Westerly, Rhode Island, was unanimously endorsed by the Committee members at its March 9 meeting. The recommendation has now been passed on to the Town Council for final approval, a matter the group is scheduled to address at its meeting on March 14.
During the Building Committee meeting, Committee Chair Richard Gusenburg described the steps in a process that started back on Jan. 9, with the initial Requests for Qualifications (RFQ).
“We got very lucky,” Gusenburg said, in that a total of 12 architectural firms “showed interest in both projects.” That meant the Committee had 24 booklets with information about the firms to analyze.
The Committee was permitted by state statute to select as many as four firms, but not more, as final candidates. The finalists were Tecton, along with SLAM Collaborative, JCJ Architects, and TSKP Studio.
“This was a very detailed process,” explained Gusenburg. “Much of it is (determined by) state regulations. We worked very closely with our Town Attorney as we went through this process.”
Using a weighted evaluation system, “(the Committee) picked four firms that we felt really looked like they would match our needs very, very well,” said Gusenburg.
Those firms were sent Requests for Proposals (RFP) and given a month to “gather their ideas about what they might want to do with our project,” as Gusenburg put it.
Next, the Committee, accompanied by representatives of the firms and occasionally also school and construction personnel, conducted a series of on-site visits to the schools designed by the various firms. The Committee also conducted reference checks on the candidates.
The final four came to Cheshire’s Town Hall to participate in 90-minute interviews, which the Committee conducted over two evenings. Gusenburg mentioned that some of the firms were impressed by the time allotment, reporting that they had received as little as 20 minutes from other school building committees.
Gusenburg also explained that the site visits and the interviews constituted 65% of the score for the firms. After all the interviews were completed, the Committee looked at the pricing from each proposal. That factor made up the remaining 35% of the score.
Committee Member Chuck Neth took the lead on developing the weighted scoring and making sure the firms’ quotes were comparing “apples to apples.”
The firms, he explained, generally broke their fees down into seven categories, including schematic design, design development, construction management, technology design, close-out and moving allowances.
“When we looked at the proposal costs last week, we were just looking at the bottom-line cost for what was in the book,” said Neth. Then, he added back the costs that were broken out by some, but not all, of the firms. Neth detailed how he had “gone back through and made sure that we had everything from everybody so that the bottom line for everybody is the same.”
“At the end of the day it does not change much for proposed costs. The way the weighting works is, we take the lowest cost and that receives the full complement of points that was available (35 points),” Neth stated.
Having Tecton do both of the schools, although technically two separate projects, does come with cost savings as well. Their proposed fees were $3,545,089 to design a new Norton and $4,109,640 for the north end school.
“We decided that we’d like to have some continuity in what was going on in town, and that teachers and community members could look and say in the end that they have two schools that are not exact but comparable in many, many ways and by having one architectural firm we’ll make sure that that happens,” Gusenburg said.
“We’ve come up with a company that has a nice vision of where we’re headed with our two schools,” he added.
The Committee will embark on a similar process to determine an Owner’s Representative in the coming months.