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Blog: An In-Depth Look at Vetting Architects

Editors' note: In March 2014, students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison approved a $223 million referendum to overhaul the campus recreation facilities, badly in need of improvement. Since then, the recreation program has been busy planning, fundraising, vetting architects and much more. As the project progresses, Alex Peirce, UW-Madison Rec Sports Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications, will be offering an inside look at the process of coordinating such a monumental planning effort.

Approximately 18 months after the selection process began, in September 2015, it was announced that HOK and Workshop were the firms selected for our project. A lot happened in that 18 months, and I’ve done my best to summarize the process here:

 1.     Do your research.

This is a critical step and one that is ongoing throughout the selection process. It’s so important that I’ve created a separate section (which you can view here) on how we collected information about the architects interested in our project. 

 2.     Develop a project description and program statement for the architect.

Our Rec Sports team worked with campus to create a proposal for architect and engineering design services (AE). In this step, we detailed the programming needs, goals of the project, current challenges, and technical requirements for the site.

 3.     Submit request to the system and state.

Campus submitted the proposal to the UW System administration, which then approved the project and then passed it to the state’s Division of Facility Development (DFD).

 4.     Post the project for AE application.

DFD published the proposal to its website for AE solicitation. You can think of this as a “job posting” you would find on a company’s website. 

 5.     Collect AE résumés.

Interested AE firms submit their credentials to DFD. Most firms submit a résumé or portfolio of their past work, including a list of qualifications for this specific project. They will also include information about who will be assigned to the project from their firm. In Wisconsin, a national firm is required to partner with a local Wisconsin firm so that there are two firms actually working on the project.

 6.     Create a short list.

The selection committee used a screening form to narrow the search to the “top three” firms. Firms were ranked on a scale from 0 (Poor) to 3 (Excellent). Mandatory requirements included:

  • More than one AE in firm
  • In business for three years
  • Permanent Wisconsin office with major direction and production of services
  • Designed and completed a higher education indoor recreation/athletic facility (minimum requirement: $34.4 million or 125,400 sq. ft.)

The committee looked for firms that had experience designing projects of similar scope and with experience designing a competition pool.

Point system

Because the state process requires national firms to partner with local firms, our selection procedure also includes a point system. Lower point values are favorable in the selection process. Firms receive points based on the dollar amounts of outstanding projects. The closer a project is to completion, the fewer the points it earns. It’s possible that firms could be disqualified based on points alone, regardless of their experience or portfolio.

 7.     Meet with the final three firms.

The final three firms visited our facility and met with members of our leadership team, DFD, and the Department of Administration. That’s right, everyone in one room at the same time. We offered a tour of the current SERF to show constraints of the site and challenges in the current facility. The group also reviewed the specs for the bid documents.

 8.     Interview firms on the short list.

The final three AE firms interviewed with the selection committee. As part of the interview, each firm presented on a list of specific criteria predetermined by the committee. Topics covered in the presentation included:

  • Rough layout for the project (renderings, images, etc.)
  • Identification of a project manager, construction administrator, sub-consultants (HVC, fire suppression, plumbing, etc.)
  • Feedback on budget
  • Plan for pool construction and design
  • Review of firms’ qualifications for the job

The committee then had the opportunity to ask questions relating to:

  • the adequacy of the Project Description, Program Statement, budget, and schedule (and to give information on how they would address any inadequacies)
  • the team’s approach to the project planning, design, and aquatic design
  • potential challenges for the project and proposed solutions
  • current trends or core ideas that could be incorporated into the design and how the firm has incorporated these ideas into other projects
  • the team’s allocation of resources and capacity to perform the project
  • identifying the key individuals who will serve as day-to-day contacts throughout the project and their anticipated time commitment
  • quality assurance plan

 9.     Vote.

Each member of the selection committee may cast ONE vote for the firm of their choice. These votes are submitted to the Wisconsin Secretary of the Department of Administration, who ultimately decides the team that will be assigned the project. 

If you have questions about specific steps in the process or would like more information or insight into our experience, please comment below or email me at alex.peirce@wisc.edu.

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