City Council work session, project management selection, April 10, 2017

Members present: All

Superintendent Bill Cleveland and school board member Nancy Ferren greet councilman Patrick McClusky before the meeting. The school board will start from scratch in hiring a program management firm, according to tonight’s action. Harbert will handle parks and police. Park board chairman Chris Meeks is at the right.

In a decision that seemed effortless if not prearranged, the council tonight moved to select B. L. Harbert as construction manager on the new police facility and an ambitious ballpark expansion, both in West Homewood. A few minutes before that vote those projects had been severed from the school system’s even more important plan to expand school facilities to accommodate growing enrollment.

The Board of Education will start the selection process from scratch with a new request for proposals aimed at finding a qualified program and pre-construction manager and–with permission of the council–a demographer.

To a full council–and in contrast to the confusion and conflict that marked last week’s special meeting–the council cordially accepted a plan by Superintendent Bill Cleveland to start the hiring process from scratch and including a demographer “if allowed” and with full, public participation of the whole 5-member school board. The $55 million allotted for schools use from the $110 million bond issue, will be administered through the council’s Finance Committee, while the substance of the project will belong solely to the schools.

Mayor McBrayer on April 3 made a case for partitioning the school system project from city and parks facilities and recommending the job go to Hoar Program Management. The school system this week chose to start the selection process from scratch, and in public. The mayor was not present.

Cleveland said the board had already drafted a new request document, which was being reviewed by the board attorney. The request is more specific to schools than the previous RFP, he said. That RFP, issued as it was from the privately operating “task force” of schools, council and a park board officials, drew five responses, narrowed to three semi-finalists, that were seemingly difficult if not impossible to compare on costs or other merits. The mayor last week had complicated the process by recommending the schools project be handled separately by Hoar Program Management, against the task force recommendation of Harbert International. Meanwhile, four of the six council members not seated on the task force objected to being asked to vote after they had been  barred from the private interview and discussion process. The matter was carried over due to indecision.

Cleveland explained the board’s request document was more of an RFQ (a request for qualifications), so the board may question each company specifically on its school system credentials. The selected firm would program, or do the logistical front end work, on the project, leading in to the pre-construction phase, he said. The firm would handle the bidding process for actual construction, he said. The deadline for responses is April 27 at 3:30 p.m., with a May 1 deadline for showing a contract to the council.

Cleveland also asked if the schools could go ahead and select the demographer, in order to get to work, or, if the council preferred, it could select a demographer on behalf of the BOE.

Questions

Answering questions, the schools chief said the selected firm would work with the ideas coming out of the board’s parent engagement teams. Mr. Wyatt and others said they would give a green light immediately on a request to hire the demographer. School board member Nancy Ferren explained they offered to let the council choose in order to reduce any (further) appearance of fragmentation.

Parks and Police take Harbert

With the school question settled, the council then voted on the single agenda item–to authorize the mayor to hire B.L. Harbert for construction management for the parks and police. Both the police chief and public services superintendent Berkley Squires had already selected architects (Davis Architecture for the parks and CMH Architects, Inc. for the Public Services Building/Jail, which were to be voted on in the regular council meeting to follow. Davis Architecture also has done some work for the park board gratis, including drawings for a proposed entrance monument at Central Park, called the “Gateway Project,” for which the park board requested–but was denied by the mayor–$200,000. Neither those drawings nor ones submitted by Chuck Kelly have been made public.)

The selection of Harbert came as no surprise as the firm had handled the parks’ new Recreation Center and provided the initial land study at no cost to the board of education–work that seemed due to be paid through the task force’s RFP process. However, the recommendation to select Harbert for the entire parks, police and schools project came apart publicly last week with a host of complaints from disenfranchised council members, disagreement between the mayor and task force, and conflict within the task force itself over how to compare bidders. A letter from bidder Hoar Program Management chastising the task force for irregularities in the process, including lack of openness, seemed to be the final blow.

Members of the HPM team were present for the vote tonight however.

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