Improved Processes for State Building Projects Topic of Talk Among Architects & BGS

By Joel Page and Carol Miklos

On August 1, a group of architects representing firms that perform state project work met in Montpelier with Vermont Buildings and General Services Department leadership to discuss how the contracting and project procurement process for such work might be improved. The meeting took place as the result of BGS’ reaching out to AIA Vermont to ask us to assemble a group of architects appropriate for the meeting.   

AIAVT Secretary Joel Page, AIA, Scott and Partners; Rebecca Arnold,AIA, Arnold and Scangas Architects; Jesse Beck, AIA, Freeman French Freeman; David Roy, AIA, Weimann-Lamphere Architects;  and Stephen Smith, AIA, Smith Alvarez Sienkiewycz attended the meeting. The BGS group comprised Commissioner Chris Cole; Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Fitch; Principal Assistant Erik Filkorn; Director of Design and Construction Bob Rea; Director of Purchasing and Contracting  Deb Damore; Project Manager/Supervisor Mike Kuhn; BGS Project Manager/Supervisor Joe Aja; and Project Managers Lauren Washburn and Sandy Vitzthum.

The BGS group began by explaining that in the hopes of improving its internal process and ultimately the structures that get built for the state, they have reorganized the department into five working areas: Policy, Planning, and Use; Design and Construction; Operations and Maintenance; Energy and Security; and Contracting.

The BGS also explained potential changes they hoped would be viewed as improvements:

  • Using the Internet to create a streamlined and more accessible procurement process. They would expect this endeavor to take 24 to 36 months;
  • Creating a “Future Project List” that would be issued to the architect/engineering community for improved planning purposes;
  • Improving project process and flow by developing a “Project Evaluation Form” to be completed by the architect/engineering project team;
  •  Reviving a Project Standards Committee that will review and update the BGS Design Guidelines. This committee will send out a draft of the proposed revisions to AIAVT for comment.

The state’s current method of contracting was a major topic of the meeting. BGS leaders said they were moving towards the use of retainer contracts based on fee limits. The Vermont Agency of Transportation uses a similar type of contracting process. Also, a small project, retainer-contract proposal has been issued, the state group reported, and a larger project contract proposal is under consideration and may soon be issued. BGS’ intentions are to streamline and simplify contracting processes and better disperse opportunities among the state’s architecture firms.

Jesse Beck, AIA, urged the department to consider using standard AIA contracts in lieu of its current contracts or, at least, adjusting current contracts to reflect industry standards.

“The state’s current contracts are of concern for architecture firms in several ways,” Beck said.  “For example, the insurance requirements listed in articles 1.1.28 and 1.2.2 may not be virtually insurable. If we can get insurance for them, it likely places an excessive burden on us.”

A second concern about contracts was brought up by Rebecca Arnold; it was focused on the Errors and Omissions clause. “As written, I’m afraid that, too, places too great a burden on an architecture or engineering firm. While I realize the clause is not frequently enforced, it’s not standard in the industry.”

Many of the architects also voiced concerns about the post-contract process. Frequently, the length of time required to process change orders to contracts is too long. Sometimes the wait is up to six months for payment. Architects urged the BGS group to streamline the state’s change order review and approval process.

Both BGS and the architect groups agreed the meeting was a positive first step and intend to keep the discussion moving forward.