HISD Invites 85 Firms to Review Architect-Selection Process

Elvis Eaglin, senior manager in Procurement, oversees the transfer of RFQs in January.

HISD’s 2012 bond program garnered unprecedented attention from architectural and engineering firms when the district asked for qualifications last December to design 40 schools slated for renovation or construction.

A total of 85 firms responded by the Jan. 15, 2013 deadline, giving the district a diverse pool of choices as it began selecting firms for the first 24 schools, plus renovations for middle school restrooms and athletic facilities.

“We’ve been impressed by the quality and experience of the companies seeking to do business with the district,” said Leo Bobadilla, HISD’s chief operating officer. “When you have that many choices, you have the opportunity to work with firms that really represent the best of the best.”

To date, the district has selected architects for 29 projects, with decisions yet to be made for 16 schools. On Thursday, Aug. 1, HISD administrators are inviting all 85 respondents to an information presentation to discuss the selection process to date, including ways companies could improve any future proposals.

The goal of the session is to help the firms better understand how HISD evaluates qualifications.

“HISD promised a thorough and transparent selection process,” said Sandy Hellums-Gomez, a Thompson & Horton attorney who has overseen the selection process to ensure legal compliance.

To assist in the preliminary review of qualifications process, administrators solicited the expertise of professors from the University of Houston, Rice University, and Prairie View A&M University schools of architecture.

HISD also took the added step of inviting members of each school’s staff and community to hear presentations from up to three finalists selected for each project.

The firms did not know what schools they were being considered for ahead of time and were simply asked to speak about 21st century learning and their strategies for engaging communities in the design process.

After presenting for 10 minutes, each firm took questions from the community group. In between presentations, the community groups had the opportunity to debrief and discuss what they heard. At the end of the evening, district administrators asked the community groups to provide the selection committee with feedback on all of the firms.

Their feedback helped guide the district’s final recommendations, which were presented to the Board of Education for its approval.

Robert L. Sands, Jr., HISD’s officer of Construction & Facility Services, said that the amount of time and effort put into the selection process is unprecedented and underscores the district’s commitment to a fair and open process that delivers the most highly qualified architect for each school’s unique needs.

To date, HISD has heard oral presentations from approximately three dozen firms. All firms, including those not invited for presentations so far, will remain under consideration for other 2012 bond projects, including the 16 remaining schools.

All the firms were evaluated using several criteria, including experience, quality of services, and commitment to HISD’s stated goals for participation by minority and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBEs).

Gordon Quan, chairman of HISD’s Asian Advisory Committee, said he applauded efforts to inform the business community, including M/WBE firms, about HISD’s evaluation process and the qualifications being reviewed.

“I think this meeting would be helpful in assuring M/WBEs that the process is being conducted in a fair manner,” he said.