Aspen selects Boulder firm for Burlingame’s next phase
ASPEN – Despite the argument that awarding a local architecture firm a multimillion-dollar contract for the second phase of Burlingame Ranch keeps the money in the valley and locals employed, the Aspen City Council voted 3-2 on Tuesday to give the job to a Front Range company.
The reasoning among the council majority was that Boulder-based Oz Architecture came in $1 million lower than Aspen firm Poss Architecture and Planning. The bids were for the initial design phase of the city-developed affordable housing development, located off Highway 82 across from Buttermilk.
The services proposed by both firms weren’t enough of a difference for a majority of the council to decide that fiscal responsibility was the overriding concern – especially with a project that has had controversy surrounding the costs of its first phase and the anticipated public scrutiny of it in the future.
Mayor Mick Ireland said he couldn’t justify spending an extra $1 million in light of the fact that the city had to lay off 12 employees last year and there wasn’t enough compelling evidence to prove that Poss would do a better job than OZ.
“This is a very difficult decision for us,” he said. “We have a local firm that has earned a lot of trust and respect but in the interest of the taxpayers’ money” he couldn’t justify the extra costs.
“In my little world, $1 million is a lot of money for me,” Ireland said.
Ireland also said that if the city wants an affirmative vote from the electorate – possibly this fall – to approve tens of millions of dollars in bonds to pay for the construction of the project, spending an additional $1 million wouldn’t gain their confidence.
“[Selecting OZ Architecture] is gaining the confidence of voters that we are managing our money and willing to take chances,” he said.
Poss’ team testified before the council that having been in charge of designing the first phase of Burlingame, they have the experience necessary to get community consensus – as well as buy-in from the 97 families who live there – to properly design the remaining 258 units.
Stephen Holley, a principal with Poss Architecture + Planning, said the entire team of architects and consultants examined the job, and the initial contract proposal for the design phase would save the city in the long run, especially considering the issues that crop up at the point of construction.
“It’s the best value down the line,” Holley said. “We feel our fees get you there in a confident manner.”
When asked by City Councilman Dwayne Romero what the breakdown of the work was, Holley said the team estimated that the project would require 23,000 man hours at an average rate of $109 an hour.
Holley pointed out those costs represent 2 to 3 percent of the project’s total budget, which is estimated between $65 million and $80 million.
“The bulk of your money is on construction, and that is where you need to find savings, which our team can do,” he said, adding that Poss’ bid is still under the city’s budget for design.
“That is a fixed rate you will receive all the way through 2013,” when the project is expected to be completed, Holley said.
Bill Poss, owner of the company, said the city’s request for proposals wasn’t based on a low-cost bid system but rather the firm’s qualifications.
“We know what it takes … $1 million, I understand is a lot of money, but that is what it’s going to take,” he said, adding his firm knows intimately how to deal with an opinionated community and bring the project to fruition on budget.
“We’re spending money up front to save money in the end,” Poss said. “You do all of your homework up front … it’s how you get there.”
Burlingame resident David Guthrie, who also is in the construction business, said it’s important to get more architectural involvement up front on a project. He added that he doesn’t condone using an out-of-town firm because he hears from community members at basketball and football games of how they are out of work, and they are the people who support community-based programs throughout the valley, Guthrie said.
OZ Architecture was recommended by a selection committee, of which five of its six members are senior staff members in City Hall.
The committee estimated that 70 percent of the money given to Poss’ team would remain the Roaring Fork Valley; 10 percent would stay locally by OZ’s team.
OZ Architecture’s bid for the initial contract for design and construction was $1.6 million; Poss’ was $2.7 million and another local firm, Charles Cunniffe Architects, was $3.1 million.
Eduardo Illanes, principal of OZ, said his firm has extensive knowledge and experience in designing projects in Colorado mountain communities, including Snowmass’ Base Village.
“We know how to tailor our work according to the community we are in,” he said.
Romero and City Councilman Steve Skadron informally voted to give the contract to Poss Architecture + Planning.
Romero said he was compelled by consultant Leslie Lamont’s arguments when she said the Poss team has a better ability to obtain community consensus to finish Burlingame in a timely manner.
“That component is the most difficult and therefore the most important,” he said.
Skadron said while he is a “stickler” for fiscal responsibility and there was compelling arguments from both firms, he had to go with his gut and support a local firm handling a project of this magnitude.
Councilman Derek Johnson said he had to rely on the expertise of the committee.
“$1 million is a lot of money,” he said. “We have six people on the committee, and I have to default to their expertise.”
Councilman Torre said he wasn’t convinced that Poss’ firm would do any better or less of a job than OZ, and had to defer also to the committee’s recommendation.
“It’s the typical Aspen argument – it costs more so therefore it must be better,” he said.
The council is scheduled to formally approve the contract with OZ Architecture on Jan. 25.
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