At the Fayetteville City Council work session on Monday, Dec. 1, the council tackled aspects of important upcoming construction projects: the site selection for the transit multi-modal facility and the granting of contracts for the next phase in the construction of the N.C. Veterans Park. It was the latter debate that turned into a tempest in a teapot.
The issue brought before the board was the selection of architectural and engineering firms for the park. The selection process was overseen by city staff, who received bids from 14 different companies. That number was short-listed, and five of the companies went through an extensive interview process with the selection team. By a unanimous vote, the team recommended the selection of the Urban Resource Group, a division of Kimley-Horne & Associates, Inc., a Raleigh-based firm. The team brought together by URG includes: Carol R. Johnson Associates, Clearscape, Penn., and the engineering firms of McKim & Creed, Fleming & Associates and S&ME, all Fayetteville-based firms. In addition to this team, the team of Vandewalle and Associates, the firm that created the master plan for the park, is to be awarded a contract not to exceed $2 million for all architectural and engineering services for the $15 million project.
At contention was the inclusion of Vandewalle and Associates in the project. The request made by the city staff was to include Vandewalle in the ongoing phases of construction at a fee not to exceed 20 percent of the proposed $2 million fee.
Councilman Wesley Meredith was the first to question the inclusion of Vandewalle in the ongoing project. “I want to be clear — Vandewalle will be supervising the entire project?”
Craig Hampton, the city’s special projects director explained that Vandewalle would be working on master planning documents, overseeing designs, working with the content team and the creation of displays. In short, they would be working as part of the project management team. Hampton said the majority of their work would be concluded during the first year; however, they would still be involved in Phase II of the construction.
He explained that the majority of the work would be done by the Urban Resource Team, with Vandewalle approving designs and concepts to ensure that they are consistent with the masterplan and theme of the park.
Councilman D.J. Hare questioned why each segment of the A&E team could not approve its own work and keep it within the guidelines of the master plan. He further pointed out that the company is not in North Carolina and that there should be companies in the state who were capable to do the work Hampton said the key to success was in the programming and schematic and design development of the project. He explained that each of the entities in the Urban Resource Group would be working on different parts of the plan, and it would be up to Vandewalle to ensure that each component complemented the other pieces and stayed true to the master plan for the park.
It was questioned whether the city had to stick with Vandewalle as the creators of the master plan or whether it could have looked for someone to do it at a reduced rate.
Hampton explained, on several occasions, to the council that state statutes spell out that architects and engineers are attained through qualification, not through price. He said that Vandewalle had been chosen by the council at the outset of the project and that in order for the park construction to be consistent and true to its approved concepts, themes and ideals, it was the opinion of the staff that Vandewalle should be involved throughout the project.
Councilwoman Val Applewhite questioned whether it was the industry practice to select a firm because they were involved in the initial development or should it have been bid out again.
Hampton explained that it was the normal practice to use the originator of the concept to ensure concept and themes were carried through the entire project and were reflected in all of the work. He explained that as the planners of the park, Vandewalle & Associates met with 200 veterans and interviewed them to find out what was important to them, and then incorporated all of the information into the masterplan and then into a concept, which URG will design with the guidance of Vandewalle to ensure that it meets the concepts and themes.
Councilman Ted Mohn questioned whether Vandewalle’s rates were consistent with industry standards. Hampton said the firm charges $120 per hour for their principal planner; which is much lower than the $200 per hour that is charged by Gantt and Associates, the firm which is in charge of the multi-modal project. “It’s a very favorable amount,” said Hampton.
Meredith questioned whether Vandewalle was the only company considered at the outset of the project. Hampton said a second firm, Public Places, based out of New York, was also considered; however it was much more expensive.
Mayor Tony Chavonne said he didn’t believe the council had a real problem with Vandewalle, but rather it was a problem with “transparency,” in that the project was not sent back out to bid and that the council did not know Vandewalle would have an ongoing role in the project.
When asked about whether or not the project should have been sent back out to bid, City Manager Dale Iman said it was the industry standard to have the master planner involved in all phases of construction.
Councilman Mohn also noted that this was not the first the council had heard of the groups inclusion. He noted that the board was apprised of it in August.