Builders Exchange of Michigan: When is it most beneficial to the schools to have an architect on board, when considering putting a bond on the ballot?
Matt Slagle: At least 18-months before the vote. We start the bond process with facility assessments, which gives us the opportunity to walk through the buildings and provide the district with an idea of need and cost. Then, we spend time talking with the community to gauge an accurate representation of what they want in their district.
BX: What sort of vetting process do you usually go through when a school is looking to hire an architectural firm?
MS: We are lucky to have long-standing relationships with many of our clients. About 18-months prior to the vote, we will connect with them to begin the process. For new clients, we typically participate in the Request for Proposal process.
BX: What’s your first priority when talking with school officials about the current and future building’s needs?
MS: Prioritizing the needs of the district and assessing the facilities properly. There’s no reason to build a fine arts center when you have a leaky roof.
BX: What are the main concerns from the school when dealing with renovations/additions or new buildings?
MS: A warm, safe and dry environment for the students.
BX: How much of a role do you play in helping the school for a potential bond going to ballot, when hired prior to the vote?
MS: We help in the district in whatever way they find helpful. We typically hold community presentations and attend board meetings to give the community a better idea of how the district could change if the bond passes.
BX: How do you feel that community input determines your plan of action, when it comes to prioritizing different aspects of a school project?
MS: We always want to listen to the community. The bonds that fail are usually the ones that didn’t do enough to find out what is important to the voters in the district.
BX: Do you feel it’s important for the school district to have a lot of visibility for their bond proposals?
MS: Absolutely. However, the school district can only provide information to the voters, which is another area where we can help. We work in the community to form Yes! Committees who can tout the benefits of a bond. Since we are working directly with voters, we often have a good idea on the pulse of the proposal. If we see pushback from the community, we will tell the district and help them form a new plan.
BX: Why is it important to have a variety of bidders for a school project?
MS: The state requires competitive bidding. We need at least three bidders, but we like to have as many in each category as possible, to get the best price and quality for the school.
BX: In what way do you feel bond projects differ from commercial building projects?
MS: The planning process. It helps to develop a great working relationship with the district, which is what I love about working with schools.
BX: If you could give one piece of advice to a school system that is considering updates/renovations, what would it be?
MS: Start with a real facility assessment and ask the community what they want. It would be unfortunate to build an auditorium only to have the gym roof fail or the boiler stop running.
This article was originally featured in the Spring 2019 Bonds Issue of The Source, our bi-annual magazine mailed to thousands of project owners, architects, engineers, and all BX members! The Fall 2019 Technology Issue has arrived in your mailboxes! Have questions or feedback about The Source? Let us know!