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Facilities Planning

Obtaining Professional Services for Construction Projects


School districts must contract various professional services to complete capital construction projects. Professional services involve architects, engineers, surveyors, and attorneys. Other services involve a clerk of the works and construction managers for various supervision activities.

The General Municipal Law does not require that such services be bid, and generally, school districts do not solicit proposals or bids when procuring such services. However, in a recent review of school district construction practices, the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) concluded that the magnitude of the costs for the kinds of services described above is such that it's in the public interest to secure such services through some form of competitive process.

The OSC also points out that Chapter 413 of the Laws of 1991 added Section 104b to the General Municipal Law: This section requires that political subdivisions (which includes school districts) adopt written policies and procedures for procurement of goods and services in situations when competitive bidding is not required. OSC also points out that even when an exception to competitive bidding applies the courts have generally held that an award must still be made in the best interests of the public. 

An effective way to award contracts for professional services is to award them only after a minimum number of professionals are contacted and asked to submit written proposals. Requests for proposals (RFPs) are traditionally used as a means of obtaining all types of professional services such as architects, engineers, accountants, lawyers, underwriters, fiscal consultants, and other professionals.

An evaluation of an RFP can consider price, plus other factors like experience, staffing, and suitability for needs, and may include negotiations on a fair and equal basis. The award should be the most advantageous to the school district.

The process involves making a request for proposals from various firms or professionals and then evaluating the proposals received. The school district attorney should review RFPs, contracts to be executed with the firm selected, and any other needed items.

The overall process involves three steps. First, a well-planned solicitation effort is needed to identify a sufficient number of qualified firms. To locate qualified firms, you may advertise in trade journals, check listings of professionals, talk to other school districts, etc. Although many firms may be active in a given locality, not all are likely to have the specialized knowledge and experience needed to perform a satisfactory service. A good solicitation effort helps to ensure that these qualified firms are aware of the school district's needs and procurement procedures, and are thereby able to participate in the proposal process.

Second, a well-planned solicitation effort helps to encourage qualified firms to respond to an RFP. Preparing a response to an RFP can be costly. Qualified firms may be unwilling to go to the trouble and expense of preparing a proposal if critical details of the engagement or the method used to select (i.e., quality versus price) are not made clear during the solicitation process.

Third, a well-planned solicitation effort can result in reduced costs through increased competition. Of course, if not properly managed, competition can produce unsatisfactory results. A school district may obtain a poor quality service, for example, if only cost factors are considered in the selection of a firm. However, if a sufficient pool of qualified firms is identified through a sound solicitations effort, school districts can enjoy the economic benefits of competition without sacrificing quality.

Depending on the services obtained and the specific circumstances, procedures will necessarily vary. The specific steps to be followed should be approved by the governing board. The documentation maintained would include how firms were identified for solicitation, the RFP, the criteria for evaluating proposals, the proposals for services received from the various firms, and any other relevant information.

There is no requirement in Section 104-b on the frequency of solicitation. Periodic solicitation can be made at reasonable intervals. For example, a professional could be selected with the option of extending the contract in the second and third years before doing another RFP process.