Friar Associates has been chosen as the architect for the Rocky Hill High School renovation project.
The firm won out over firms with more experience in such undertakings. Friar has conducted only three high school renovations, compared to at least a dozen by rival Kaestle Boos and 22 by Fletcher Thompson. But the Farmington-based firm's extensive knowledge of the school's design, acquired through its four years of working to shepherd the renovation referendum through to eventual passage, led to its selection by the Town Council for the contract.
"As the old expression goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it," explained Councillor Larrye deBear.
Councillor Phillip Sylvestro offered a further colloquialism to justify the town's decision. "You don't change horses mid-stream," he advised.
Friar managed to procure the deal even though both Kaestle Boos ($1.63 million) and Fletcher-Thompson ($1.73 million) undercut its $2.2 million bid.
Sylvestro proceeded to hail the conformity of Friar's design plans to the "educational specifications" in the report by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges that initially jeopardized the school's accreditation, their proposed expansion of the media center by 3,000 sq. ft., and their ideas for the implementation of "swing space" during the three-year project, or the shifting areas of the building where some classes will have to be moved while construction is underway.
"In my view, Friar got it right. They demonstrated a superior understanding of the ed-specs. And those folks know exactly what they want to do with swing space. Two of the three firms were just winging it," he declared.
The Council ultimately awarded the contract to Friar by a vote of 6 - 0, with two abstentions and a recusal by Councillor Timothy Moriarty, but not before a Democrat-Republican split emerged between members.
GOP councilwomen Nadine Bell and Catherine Vargas felt that they did not have sufficient information to make an adequately-informed decision among the firms. The councillors wished for a "matrix or rubric" from the Public Buildings Commission, which initially interviewed the competing architects, as an evaluative tool in making their determination. Both women abstained in the final vote.
Republican councilman Frank Szeps, meanwhile, highlighted PBC's disagreement with the School Buildings Committee, whose recommendation of Friar ultimately led to the Council's backing. PBC had supported Kaestle Boos for the bid.
Szeps said that he was "caught off-guard" by the reversal and termed it a "curve-ball." "I thought it was a done deal," he remarked quizzically.
However, deBear clarified that PBC only "makes a recommendation" and that the Council is charged with making the final call after considering the input of both PBC and SBC.
"PBC had recommended Kaestle Boos, but solely on pricing," Town Manager Barbara Gilbert elaborated.
Councilwoman Barbara Survilo appealed to her Republican counterparts in their own language. The town should be "as fiscally conservative as possible" in administering this project, she maintained. "Friar knows what needs to be done and what we need to get out of our money," she continued, referring to the 45 M allocated for renovations by the referendum.
Sylvestro explained that the extra hours allotted by Friar in its proposal, devoted to comprehensive structural review, would "keep change orders down to a minimum," referring to the plan adjustments that are an ever-present reality in large-scale construction projects, due to unforeseen design complications in an existing facility. Thus, even though Friar's upfront charge was the highest, it should save money in the long-run by reducing unplanned contractor costs, he contended.