Bernadette Searle, Manager of Capital Projects with York Regional Police, has over 13 years of experience managing their capital projects and facilities. She is involved from land purchase through to the maintenance and upkeep of the buildings. Below, Bernadette shares how she evaluates and selects architects for new builds and renovations.
When selecting a design firm, what are three things you look for?
Aside from the RFP process, I look for compatibility, innovation, and accountability. The design team will be part of our extended family and we are looking to build a lasting working relationship from cradle to grave. The team should be dynamic with the proper expertise, are able to drive our vision to fruition, and who collaborates and works well with all team members, including other organizations. Consistency and continuity within the team are important throughout the project.
In terms of design, we don’t want a cookie cutter approach. We want our buildings to leave a mark and not look like other buildings. The design team, while being cognizant of the budget, should be innovative and provide scenarios in how the dollars are being spent. We believe that through collaboration and sharing of ideas, this leads to innovations which can lead to fiscally responsible design options.
We have a number of relationships to consider when we design a space. We need to ensure how the internal stakeholders, public (visitors), and detainees use the space, and their safety, are considered. We also have a responsibility to the public to be transparent in how the budget for a new building is being spent. So, from a selection point of view, compatibility with all stakeholders, innovation in providing efficiencies and cost-effective solutions to meet the needs and safety of all users of the building, and accountability to driving that vision while being fiscally responsible is key in the success of the project.
What does the process feel like from a client perspective?
Each location is a little different, and even though I feel I know the business, there isn’t a day I don’t learn something new because it is about asking the right question to get to the right answer to get to the right design for the space.
The individuals who use the building(s), from those who manage the front desk to investigators to community service and patrol officers and even maintenance – each have a different set of requirements for the design of the space. And there is a constant state of change as individuals either move locations and/or move up, bringing with them a different perspective and experience from other locations or job roles. Rarely does this group ever have the opportunity to discuss their day-to-day activities and how design impacts their job. The cross-functional meetings held by the architect to collect user requirements brings awareness to how others use the space.
During the cross-functional meetings, it is the architect’s blended experience from previous projects and technical explanations along with the input from various stakeholders are when you see team members have “Aha” moments. These lead to a deeper understanding of the process at a new level, how design impacts various stakeholders, and acceptance of new designs. This is where innovation happens.
I believe in asking the “five whys.” When you ask why five times you are able to dig deep and get to the reasons behind why things are done a certain way. This is key in driving innovation and getting the team aligned to new designs. We look to the architect to capture those moments and incorporate the findings into their designs.
What do you wish design firms knew before replying to an RFP?
First, we would want the architect’s proposal to use the requested format. There are reasons why the format is structured in a certain way. Second, please do not hand in a cookie cutter proposal. More than once, we have come across another potential client’s name within a document. I want to know that the architect firm thinks we are unique and deserving of a unique proposal.
We would like to see an understanding that there is a difference between expectations versus value add. If the RFP requests a LEED design, to say we’re using LEED certified professionals is not a value add – it would be expected.
Lastly, first impressions matter. If the submitted document is not signed or if there are mistakes it doesn’t move forward. If the bidding firm can’t get the proposal correct how can they get the building correct?
What carries more weight – price or experience or team dynamics?
The evaluation is a multi-phased approached approach and we are very transparent throughout the process. If the project doesn’t go to the lowest bidder, we need to be able to justify why.
In the pre-qualification process, we assess if the architect firm meets the needs of the project and if they have experience with similar projects. Once a firm passes the pre-qualification assessment, there is a mandatory meeting with the prospective firms. It is up to the architect as to who they bring but they should have the team that would be working on the project. In this meeting, we review the scope of the RFP, expectations and answer any questions.
Once the architect firm tenders its proposal, the submission process closes and move to the evaluation. We review the submission on a scoring matrix focusing on innovation not price. The submission must score a certain percent to move to the next step.
In the next step, we conduct interviews of the proposed team, including the architects, mechanical, electrical, structural and their spec writer. Requiring the spec writer to attend these meetings is not often done by others in the selection process but if the spec is incorrect it will cost the project money. We need to know your spec writer is the best on the planet. During the interview, we assess not just what they say but how they say it and how they work together.
Based on the interviews, we have a short list of six and go through another scoring matrix. In the final selection, we consider the RFP, evaluation, interview and pricing.