City awards aquatics facility design contract to LPW/TD&H
City Commissioners voted 4-1 to award a contract to the team of LPW Architecture and TD&H Engineering for the design and construction of the planned Aim High/Big Sky aquatics and recreation facility.
The city received a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense toward the estimated $20 million project and the city will use park district funds to pay the debt service on a bond for its share of the cost.
LPW and TD&H did conceptual design work for the grant application but none of those are the final designs for the facility.
The city intends to build a combined aquatics and recreation facility to replace the closed Natatorium and the Community Recreation Center on 2nd Avenue North.
The city received 10 proposals from design teams and an internal city review committee reviewed and ranked the proposals. The committee conducted interviews earlier this month with the top three teams, which included LPW/TD&H; Nelson Architects and Spark Architecture.
City staff ranked the LPW and TD&H team highly and said they interviewed well. The team submitted a strong proposal that met the city’s goals on timeline and budget as well as a understanding the potential soil issues for the proposed 10-acre site adjacent to the city’s soccer park, Steve Herrig, city park and recreation director, said during an Oct. 13 special commission meeting.
Sophia Sparklin of Spark Architecture and Ryan Smith of Nelson Architects raised concerns about the fairness of the selection process.
Sparklin suggested that in the future the city should consider allowing open design teams since once TD&H was exclusive with LPW, it limited their options on finding engineering firms.
Smith said the selection process was questionable in that they and several other firms were invited to submit proposals early on as the city was preparing its grant application. That section of the process included conceptual designs to help the city build its grant application, which was eventually successful in receiving $10 million of federal funding.
Smith said that his firm, and others, submitted proposals with what they estimated as fair fees, but later found out that LPW and TD&H had offered to do the initial work pro bono.
He said that could be considered unethical to give a gift to a government entity that might make it look more favorably on the team for a prospective project.
Smith said the LPW team was qualified but thought it gave them an unfair advantage on the project.
Commissioner Rick Tryon voted against awarding the contract because he felt it had the appearance of unfairness since LPW/TD&H had the initial design contract.
City staff said that they didn’t think the initial design team had any unfair advantage since the process was discussed in multiple public meetings and the federal grant information was publicly available.
City Manager Greg Doyon said staff had outlined the process early on to commissioners and said that he thought commissioners would have steered them in a different direction if they thought there were problems with the process.
Commissioner Mary Moe said that in her experience with the public university system that it’s not unusual to work with an architecture firm for conceptual design before funding is awarded for a full design contract.
Moe said commissioners, the development community and others knew the process months ago and that would have been the time to raise concerns.
“Nobody said anything,” she said. “I think the city went far beyond what was required to make sure everyone got an equal chance.”
Tryon said he raised concerns and wanted to delay the decision to give the commissioners and the public more time to review the proposals.
City Attorney Sara Sexe said that under state laws and city policies, the city didn’t have to go through a competitive bid process, but believed it was in the best interest of the community.
Next, city staff will begin contract negotiations with LPW/TD&H and continue work on the land swap with the Great Falls Public Schools district for the 10 acres near the city soccer park. That land swap will require annexation, zoning and possibly road improvement work, according to city staff.
For background on the aquatics facility project and the federal grant, see our previous stories: