De Soto USD 232 Board to have two firms design bond projects
After a sometimes-bitter debate, the De Soto USD 232 Board of Education voted Monday to have two different firms design the first two projects in the $75 million bond issue district voters approved Nov. 4.
Pending coming fee negotiations, the board agreed by a 6-1 vote to have Hollis Miller, who has been the district’s architect for more than a decade, design the expansion of Mill Valley High School from an enrollment capacity of 1,000 students to 1,400 and awarded Horst, Terrill and Karst Architects of Topeka and Overland Park the contract to design a new elementary school in Shawnee.
Both schools are to be finished by the start of the 2010-2011 school year. The third project in the bond issue, expansion of De Soto High School from an enrollment capacity of 750 students to 1,000, is to be finished a year later.
With that extra time, the board agreed to review the performance of the firms before selecting the architect for the De Soto High School project.
The decision was clearly a compromise between board members who wished to stay with Hollis Miller and those who wanted the district to find a new architect. It came after a motion to award all three designs to Hollis Miller was withdrawn despite seemingly having enough support to pass.
At the fulcrum of the debate was Don Clark, who asked early in the discussion if his fellow board members would be open to awarding individual projects to different firms.
Most board members said they were because they came away impressed with presentations given last month to the board by Hollis Miller, HTK and ACI/Frangkisser Hutchens Inc. of Leawood, Kansas City, Mo., and St. Louis. However, a number of board members expressed a preference for either Hollis Miller or HTK.
HTK’s strongest supporter was board member Tim Blankenship of De Soto. Although he said going into the presentations his assumption was the designs would be split among the three finalists, HTK’s superior quality assurance and board update processes convinced him it was the best qualified firm, he said.
HTK would have a Web site on the projects board members could view and would send updates by other electronic means, Blankenship said.
He was also impressed when HTK explained a process of regularly scheduled quality assurance internal reviews supplemented by external reviews with engineers and contractors.
“I was most impressed they stated all that without knowing the question was coming,” he said. “The other two firms just said, ‘We have meetings.’”
Board member Randy Johnson, who objected to Hollis Miller’s long association with the district in his 2005 campaign for the board, said it was no secret he opposed awarding the firm further contracts. As a compromise, however, he said he would support awarding Hollis Miller the contract for Mill Valley if HTK would get the new elementary school.
Also supporting that motion was Bill Fletcher, who also questioned the district’s relationship with Hollis Miller in his 2007 campaign for the board. After sitting with Blankenship on the district's original architectural firm vetting committee and listening to last month’s presentations, he became convinced all three firms were qualified, he said.
However, Fletcher said it was time for the district to change it policy of entering into long-term arrangements with one firm to working with different firms on different projects.
In supporting the first motion to split the contracts made by Johnson, Clark said he was confident Hollis Miller could better meet the tight timeframe of producing a design for Mill Valley High School’s expansion so that an August 2010 completion could be realized because Hollis Miller did the school’s original design and a subsequent expansion.
The motion failed with only three votes. Blankenship opposed the motion out of his conviction HTK should be awarded the contract as the most qualified firm.
That view received a boost when HTK scored highest on a ranking sheet Board President Larry Meyer, Shawnee, passed out as a way to help the board make a decision.
The ranking procedure brought an objection from Johnson, who said he was “railroaded” into making a decision on boundary changes made before the opening of Horizon Elementary School when the board ranked different options. He insisted, and other board members agreed, a vote be made on awarding the architectural designs.
Despite HTK’s ranking, Blankenship’s motion to award the design of all three bond projects to the firm failed 3-4. Clark, Meyer, and board members Janine Gracy and Jim Thomas all ranked Hollis Miller as the best of the three firms and all said it was best prepared to meet the tight design timeframes for Mill Valley and the new elementary school.
In the strongest support of Hollis Miller made during the discussion, Thomas said the firm’s services went far beyond architectural design. It played a role in the formation of the district strategic plan and moved the district to planning on enrollment rather than on a time schedule, he said. He also praised its part in the extensive remodeling of Lexington Trails Middle School that was completed in one summer.
That set the stage for Clark to make a motion to have Hollis Miller complete the designs for all three projects in the bond issue.
As the vote on the motion was about to start, Blankenship said the board appeared to be bypassing the agreed-upon qualification-based process and said Clark was voting for a firm that contributed to his 2007 campaign.
An angry Clark responded that Blankenship’s opinion that HTK was the most qualified firm wasn’t shared by all on the board and restated his support for Hollis Miller doing the design on the Mill Valley expansion was based on the schedule and its having designed the original school and its expansion.
“Bring anything else you want. It’s a very simple thing to us,” he said before calling for a five-minute recess.
Returning form the recess more composed, Clark asked to withdraw his motion, again stating he would support splitting the bond’s designs among Hollis Miller and HTK.
The motion, nearly identical to one that failed on a 3-4 vote earlier in the meeting, carried 6-1 with only Meyer voting no.
The board will now negotiate fees with both firms for the designs. Should those talks with either firm fail to produce a satisfactory arrangement for its agreed upon project, the district will start fee negotiations for that design with another finalist.