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We can always tell when an aquatics operator was not involved in the materials we get requesting our services.

Typically, there’s barely a page describing the project, and about 10 pages on legal and fee requirements. When that happens, there are two problems: First, focusing too much on fees instead of qualifications makes it difficult to compare apples to apples. Second, without a good understanding of the project on the design/architectural end, you’re likely to lose control of the overall process and the final facility is likely to suffer.

To make matters worse, such projects often cost more than expected because the two parties didn’t have a clear understanding of the scope of the work. The result is a renovation or new facility that does not match the original vision and is less likely to meet the needs of patrons. In this economic climate, those kinds of mistakes threaten the long-term viability of the facility — and the aquatic operator’s job.

That’s why it’s crucial for operators to insert themselves into renovations or new construction — and understand how to use those tools to get the best team. Tools include letters of interest, requests for qualifications (RFQ), requests for proposals (RFP), and the interview process.

Maximizing interest can start with a letter of interest to selected organizations. This letter will help in determining their level of interest; you can also request a statement of interest from them that will further that determination. The letter’s aim is to stimulate interest in the project.

SELECTION & SCORING CRITERIA EXAMPLE
Submittal ItemPoints
  • Ability to provide service
20
  • Qualifications and availability
20
  • Staffing capabilities
20
  • Project experience
20
  • History of successful performance
20
Total100

Next, it’s time to move forward with a RFQ or RFP. One of the primary purposes of both is to accurately describe the project and identify what information is needed to select the appropriate designers and builders.

Interested parties need to fully understand the breadth and depth of the project, which allows them to determine the skill sets needed by their teams. Items traditionally provided in the RFQ and RFP include the project description, location, pre-determined budgets, schedules and owner representative contact information. Items that owners request typically include description of the interested parties, experience on similar projects, approach to this project and key team members.

While the RFQ and RFP typically yield submittal packages of information from interested organizations, the RFQ does not seek the projection of professional design or construction fees. Rather, the intent is to identify the best qualified teams.

Under the RFP scenario, a written fee proposal is requested. This proposal can be part of the owner’s grading and selection criteria. Many times fees for the proposed services are enclosed within a sealed envelope. This can help ensure that fees do not become the primary focus for ranking and selecting your project team. The owner should confirm with local and state legislation regarding the legal restrictions to selecting professional design services utilizing fee-based parameters.

Collected information from the RFQ and RFP submittals allow the owner to select teams based on the best match of the project needs compared with the cumulative qualifications of each team. These teams comprise the pool of candidates that will be requested to submit further information.

After receiving and reviewing the RFQ and RFP, the owner can shortlist the highest-ranked qualified firms for participation in a face-to-face interview. If possible, it is recommended that shortlisted teams be interviewed on the same day, allowing the owner to listen to all responses within a condensed time period. This can provide the owner with the best opportunity to accurately compare and contrast each team’s strengths and weaknesses.

This interview process will allow the shortlisted firms to present, in detail, their teams’ makeup, experience, projects that are similar to the one proposed, approach to completion of the project and their ability to synergize with the owner. As part of the interview process, the owner should allow time for a Q&A period. Ranking of each team may include the following score sheet.

Often, an initial proposal may include services that are not needed for your project. Be ready to negotiate any modifications to the contract that may be necessary.

Remember that an aquatics-related project is unique from a traditional building or other park-related projects. Fees associated with architectural and engineering should be developed based upon the agreed scope and work, and the associated man-hours to complete the project.

Remember, too, that costs attributed to the design of your facility are traditionally a very small percentage of the overall project cost. This makes selection of a team based heavily on qualifications important because it can save you money on the overall project.

If your decision-making for the team selection becomes strongly fee-based, ensure that all score approaches are similar, and be aware of any items that are not included as part of the base project. One example is excluding construction administration as part of the consultant’s base fee (under the design-build scenario) and including it as an additional service. This may lower the consultant’s incentive to keep the design within budget and removes accountability when project bids are overbudget. Also be aware that utilizing a pool equipment provider or builder for design services may result in a nonproprietary approach to materials and equipment, jeopardizing the competitive bidding environment.