Aspen’s $1 million decision: the architect for Burlingame
ASPEN – The Aspen City Council Monday will have to make the unpopular decision to either select a local architectural firm to design a city-developed housing project or pick an out-of-town company that is willing to do the work for $1 million less.
The majority of the council last month informally decided to award a $1.6 million contract to Boulder-based Oz Architecture to design the final phases of Burlingame Ranch, located off Highway 82 across from Buttermilk.
But when questions arose about whether Oz might have under-bid the project or wasn’t providing the same level of services as its competitor, the Aspen-based Poss Architecture + Planning, the council put the decision off so city officials could gather more information to back up their recommendation to select the out-of-town firm.
Poss’ bid was roughly $1 million more than that of Oz – coming in at $2.7 million to design the remaining 167 multifamily units and single-family homes at Burlingame, where there are currently 91 units built.
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The city’s request-for-proposals process (RFP) last fall attracted 20 architectural firms, and the selection committee narrowed the candidates to three – Oz, Poss, and Charles Cunniffe Architects, another Aspen firm whose bid came in higher than Poss.
While it appears that Oz’s proposal didn’t have the level of detail requested by the city’s RFP, the selection committee – predominately comprised of city staffers – is confident the firm met all the requirements.
In its proposal, Oz didn’t fully itemize the hours required to complete the job, or list every individual on the design team and what their hourly rates were, which the RFP asked for.
After Councilman Dwayne Romero questioned what Oz’s rates were and how many hours it would take to complete the job, the architectural firm was given the opportunity to clarify.
That information, given to city officials, will be presented to the council Monday. Oz’s hours and rates were broken down by officials and appear lower than what was originally proposed. That’s because city officials calculated the hourly rates by dividing the fees by the estimated hours, which results in an average rate, according to Chris Everson, the city’s affordable housing project manager and a member of the selection committee.
He added that Oz wasn’t given an opportunity to lower its rates or adjust its original proposal.
“We’re not negotiating with Oz, and we’re not negotiating with Poss,” Everson said. “We haven’t solicited anybody to revise their rates, or revise their proposals or revise their fees in any way since we closed the RFP process.”
In a memo to council, a comparison of hours and rates between Oz and Poss have been broken down. Poss is proposing 22,819 man hours, while Oz has proposed 15,210 hours. The calculated average rate for Poss is $109, and Oz’s is $96.
“More hours doesn’t necessarily mean more scope of services,” Everson said.
While hours and rates might have fluctuated, Oz’s bid amount has remained the same.
“The bottom line didn’t change,” said Scott Miller, the city’s capital asset director and member of the selection committee.
Assistant City Manager Barry Crook said hours of work wasn’t a focal point for the selection committee but, instead, how much confidence the city has in Oz to complete the job as defined by the contract’s scope of services.
Oz’s original proposal didn’t get into the level of detail for scope of services that Poss’ plan did, but Miller said it was flushed out in an interview with the firm’s representatives and the selection committee, and is covered extensively in the contract.
“We feel we were tasked with getting the best deal for the best price,” Miller said.
The contract, which is up for approval tonight, locks the architectural firm into a fixed price, meaning the council would have to approve any additional costs.
“They are on the hook to design what we asked them to design,” Everson said of Oz’s proposal and the contract.
Everson said that while both Oz and Poss presented great proposals, it boiled down to Oz having more experience in building affordable housing projects, and the guarantee its team could do the same amount of work for $1 million less.
“I totally understand the concern of under-bidding, but we just don’t see it,” he said. “It just means Oz is hungrier for the work.”
The selection committee said in its recommendation that Poss was a viable alternative if the council wanted to select a local firm, thus keeping more dollars in the community.
“We can work with either of these architects really, really well,” Miller said. “We don’t have a horse in this race.”
Crook said the savings realized by using Oz translate into roughly three additional housing units for local families.
“If it means saving $1 million, I’ll accept that criticism,” he said of selecting the out-of-town firm. “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”
Mayor Mick Ireland said it may be an unpopular decision but it’s taxpayer money at stake.
“Our job is to serve the public interest, and the public has an interest in $1 million,” he said.
Oz’s bid includes more than $100,000 in travel expenses, including teleconferencing, hotels, meals and airfare.
Everson said the city will work with Oz to reduce those expenses, including putting the out-of-town team members up in the city’s Marolt housing complex, which has empty units available.
“We’re not going along with them on the expenses ride,” he said.
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