A trustee questioned the bid selection process, said it didn’t “smell right.”
By Zachary-Taylor Wright
The board of trustees debated the process for bid selections and approved contracts with 12 architecture firms for the Capital Improvement Plan at the special board meeting Aug. 24 at Killen Center.
John Strybos, vice chancellor of facilities operations and construction management, said the district advertised for the purchase of architecture, engineering and master planning services and received 43 proposals by June 27.
Strybos said a selection committee of five college employees and four district facilities employees was created to score the qualified and competent candidates that bid.
According to a presentation from Dr. Diane Snyder, vice chancellor for finance and administration, there were 44 criteria items the selection committee used to rank the 32 firms, including the “offeror’s ability to provide services” and the “offeror’s performance on Alamo Colleges District projects (or other higher education).”
Snyder said the selection committee members score the firms individually, and her department averages the 9 scores to put the firms in order by rank.
The 10 highest ranked firms were selected for each of the 10 colleges and regional centers, and the two succeeding firms were selected for additional work.
District 1 trustee Joe Alderete questioned the bid selection process by asking why the top 12 were selected if 32 firms were deemed competent and qualified.
Alderete advocated that college presidents should determine who designs and builds their college’s buildings.
Alderete referenced a computer science instructor who showed a great lab and their classroom. He said the classroom was designed by the instructor who wanted flexibility to teach rather than being limited by a classroom design with two “massive” tables.
Snyder said the district accommodates teaching flexibility with flexible furniture options.
District 6 trustee Gene Sprague said user-groups, such as instructors, have input in the design of classrooms. He used the radio-television-broadcasting program as an example, saying the program instructors greatly modified the design of their facilities after meeting with architects.
Alderete said the college presidents should have the opportunity to pick the architects they can best work with because “after all, they are the presidents of the college. They have the experience with this … ”
Snyder said facilities should be involved in the assessment of bids because they can aid in determining the qualifications and competency of a firm, allowing them to be fair and promote competition.
District 3 trustee Anna Bustamante argued that the criteria ranking is still opinion-based.
Alderete proposed the district still use the 32 firms identified as being competent and qualified but allow the college presidents to pick 12 from the full list.
District 8 trustee Clint Kingsbery asked what the point-spread was between the top ranked firm and the lowest ranked firm.
District 2 trustee Denver McClendon asked if the board would be able to see the raw evaluation numbers either in closed or open session.
He argued that the trustees are elected officials representing a constituency, and they need to be able to be confident in the selection process when firms who were not awarded contracts approach the trustees.
Snyder said the district does not typically air the ranking numbers publically. She said she had hoped the board would understand from her presentation that the selection process is mathematical. She said she would consider the district’s selection process a “best practice.”
Alderete told Snyder she would want to know the point-spread if she worked for one of the architecture firms that weren’t ranked in the top 12.
Alderete “guaranteed” there are plenty of architecture firms that would argue they are as good or better than Ford, Powell and Carson Architects and Planners Inc. He argued that the district is an educational system that should be supporting younger architecture firms.
District general counsel Ross Laughead said state provision requires the district to choose the most highly qualified services; he said the state provisions require the district to select the top ranked firms rather than selecting from all competent and qualified bids.
Alderete said the board should see the criteria used to rank the firms to determine if they were ranked properly.
Sprague rejected Alderete’s notion. He said seeing the rankings could lead to questionable interference from the board, including raising rankings that they deem close enough.
Sprague said actions like this have gotten the board in trouble years ago. He said previous college presidents provided input during the bid selection process.
Sprague warned that the board was “treading in some really dangerous water” by asking to see the full list of ranked firms, saying this board is smarter than those who interfered with the bid selection process in the past.
Alderete said he agrees with Sprague, but was suspicious of the bid selection process and said something didn’t “smell right.”
Chancellor Bruce Leslie said he experienced a similar situation in Houston, where board members interfered with the bid selection process. He warned that allowing college presidents to select whatever bids they wanted would mean the district was not abiding by the law.
Leslie said the district needs to protect itself from that litigation risk.
Bustamante was offended by the comparison to Houston and said that is not what happened in this district.
She said she didn’t recognize most of the 12 firms selected, but one of the selected firms is working with Southside Independent School District where she works.
Bustamante said she is not happy with the firm’s design and said they are not a good architecture firm. She said she assumes there will be room for design input once the firms are selected.
Board Chair Yvonne Katz, District 7 trustee, said the selected architecture firms will discuss how they want to design facilities based on how the space will be used for the next 50 years.
Alderete argued that the list didn’t appear right. He said he feels very strongly that involving the college presidents in the bid selection process is the fairest method and that would not cause interference by the board.
Alderete said he didn’t understand how placing that responsibility on college presidents was unfair because they guard the district’s most important commodity, which is the students.
McClendon asked if there was a problem with the board being exposed to the full list of rankings.
The board convened into executive session to review the list of 32 competent and qualified firms.
After reconvening after the impromptu executive session, Katz said the board discussed the questions presented during open meeting and determined that six of the firms selected were new to the district and six of the selected firms had worked with the district previously.
The board unanimously approved the 12 contracts with architectural firms, including Ford, Powell & Carson Architects & Planners, Inc.; Alamo Architects, Inc.; Barnes Gromatzky Kosarek Architects, Inc.; O’Connell Robertson; WestEast Design Group; Overland; Lake/Flato; RVK, Inc. and Lopez Salas Architects, Inc.; Page Southerland Page, Inc.; HKS, Inc./Robey Architecture Team; PBK Architects, Inc.; and Pfluger Architects.