Back to the drawing board for architects of Aspen’s Burlingame
ASPEN – Aspen officials are moving forward in their attempt to select an architectural firm to design an affordable housing project after the finalists bidding for more than $1 million worth of work have been given a second chance to make their best and final offer.
The Aspen City Council voted Monday to allow Boulder-based Oz Architects, and Aspen firms Poss Architecture + Planning, and Charles Cunniffe Architects, to clarify their design proposals to build 167 units at Burlingame Ranch, a city-owned development across from Buttermilk.
The decision was partly driven by politics about whether a local firm should be hired even though its bid was $1 million more than the out-of-town company, and partly by the public’s confusion over whether the architects are providing the same level of service for the prices they quoted.
The issue now is whether the city’s competitive bidding process – in this case, the Request For Proposals (RFPs) – will be jeopardized now that all three firms know what their competitors’ bids were and have an opportunity to adjust their proposals.
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Assistant City Manager Barry Crook said the clarifications, which will be asked of the firms in the coming weeks, is not a rebid.
“it’s not really opening this up for a new submittal,” he said, noting the additional layer of scrutiny is not designed so Poss or Cunniffe can meet Oz’s price or under cut it.
“Simply cutting profit or lowering rates is not what we are trying to do … You have to be careful of the rules so people don’t sue us,” Crook said. “Because we are the government, we have this thing called due process.
“We want to make sure people feel comfortable bidding and so we need to preserve the competitive bidding process.”
The additional information that will be requested from the firms – which may result in adjusted bid amounts – is despite that the three of them submitted sealed bids and proposals to the city last fall based on the requirements of the RFP.
A selection committee, made up of city officials and one member of the public, Mark Vogele, the construction manager for the Aspen Skiing Co., recommended in January that the contract be awarded to Oz. Oz’s proposal was nearly $1.7 million and Poss’ was almost $2.8 million. Cunniffe’s proposal came in at roughly $3.1 million.
While the committee recommended Oz, its members also said Poss was a reasonable alternative if the council wanted to pick a local firm, thus keeping the money in the community.
At Monday’s meeting, questions surfaced about whether Oz’s proposal had the same scope of services that Poss’ did, and whether they were “apples to apples” comparisons.
“Staff is clear on it but the public isn’t,” Crook said of the proposals and what’s required for design at the development site.
In the coming weeks, city officials and the newly-hired owner’s agent for the project, Denver-based Rider Levett Bucknall, will further define the project’s scope of services, and create a set of deliverables the firms must address. The architectural firms must then convince officials that they can meet the specifications on time for the prices they quote.
“We believe it’s appropriate to clarify some of the issues raised at the public meeting on Monday,” said Jim True, the city’s special counsel. “There were questions suggesting that the bids weren’t based on the same criteria and we believe the code authorizes us to do that at this point.
“We don’t want to jeopardize the competitive bidding process,” True added. “The purpose is to maintain the procurement process, what’s in the best interest of the city of Aspen and what’s fair to all parties.”
Ultimately, the selection rests with the council, who again will have to decide whether to hire a local or out-of-town firm.
City officials said they hope to have the additional information and a recommendation to the council within a month.
Meanwhile, the principals at both Poss and Oz are waiting to see how the process shakes out and what will be asked of them.
Stephen Holley, a principal at Poss, said he is confident that his firm has provided the appropriate level of service and work necessary to complete the job, and that the bid is an accurate reflection of that. If the city asks for something different than the original RFP, the scope of services might change, he added.
“Until we actually get the scope that they require, that will affect our response,” Holley said, adding he’s pleased that the project’s owner’s agent will be involved in the process.
“It’s going to be an interesting road going forward,” he continued. “The process calls for extensive oversight in order to protect the citizens of Aspen and ensure it’s the right thing to do.”
Kelly Davis, managing partner with Oz, said his firm also respects the integrity of the competitive bidding process and believes the city will be fair. He also said his firm was recommended for a reason, and the difference in cost is attributable to Oz’s efficiency and experience in designing affordable housing developments – not in any shortcomings in scope of services being proposed.
“We remain confident in the findings of the selection process that the OZ team is a more qualified, more experienced and a more cost-effective choice,” he said. “We support council’s responsibility to be certain what they are buying in awarding this contract.
“Since, we have itemized all the requirements of delivering the desired scope similar to what was presented Monday night, and since our competition has publicly argued that their stated fees are necessary to provide the scope presented, we welcome the opportunity to validate our fee against that more specifically defined scope of services and deliverables.”
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