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Council members push to redo search for park consultant

Councilwoman Debbi Lester tries to persuade the council to consider an alternative selection process in the Waterfront Park project. City Manager Doug Schulze watches her presentation.  - Cecilia Garza | Bainbridge Island Review
Councilwoman Debbi Lester tries to persuade the council to consider an alternative selection process in the Waterfront Park project. City Manager Doug Schulze watches her presentation.
— image credit: Cecilia Garza | Bainbridge Island Review

Two Bainbridge council members caused a stir this week with a last-minute attempt to restart the search for a consultant for the upcoming Waterfront Park and city dock renovation project.

The city council had been expected to look at a contract for a design firm for the $2 million park makeover, but pushback from a pair of council members threatened to send the whole process back to square one.

Others on the council, however, thwarted the attempt.

“It sounds like you went through a very thorough process with some of the members of the staff, and evaluated eight applications and selected a firm,” Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopolous said to City Manager Doug Schulze.

“And so why are we talking about re-doing the process?”

In a presentation beforehand, Schulze said it had been suggested to him that staff consider an alternative method of selecting a design firm.

Mayor Steve Bonkowski, who joined with Councilwoman Debbi Lester in trying to redo the selection process, said he wanted park design proposals in-hand before considering a contract.

“I was not expecting the design of Waterfront Park to be like selecting a contractor to pave our streets or build a parking lot,” Bonkowski said.

Although city staff had made a selection for a consultant using a “request for qualifications,” Schulze outlined an altogether new selection approach at Wednesday’s meeting that would add another month to the renovation project based on pre-meeting input from some on the council.

The alternative process would select the three top consultants and require each to develop two conceptual plans (a total of six designs) for public comment and community selection.

However, Schulze clarified the difference in the hiring process of paving a street versus a park design.

According to state law, explained Schulze, staff is required to hire the lowest-cost qualified bidder in instances of roadway construction.

For design firms, state law requires that the most qualified consultant be selected before there is any talk about contracts or budget.

Once the most qualified firm is selected, a contract can then be negotiated, Schulze said, and that was how city staff conducted the search for a design firm for the Waterfront Park and City Dock project.

Schulze — accompanied by the interim public works director, project manager and a local architect representing Sustainable Bainbridge —selected Studio Cascade after reviewing consultant qualifications and performing phone interviews.

Studio Cascade rose to the top for many reasons, Schulze explained. The design team is made up of a variety of specialists, including civil and marina engineers, landscape architects and sustainable design specialists, the majority of which carry more than 20 years of experience.

Last, and most important to the council, was Studio Cascade’s involvement with gathering community input.

The team specializes in the public process and has won several awards for the programs they implement to gather public opinion.

Later in the meeting, Lester gave an extensive presentation on why the search should be done in a different way.

“This is a once-in-a, say, 50-year opportunity to makeover Waterfront Park. Why would we not from the beginning give this our best possible community-inclusive selection panel?” Lester asked.

“Please, why would we not have in-person interviews for those that are going to oversee the planning and designing of a $2 million-dollar project?” Lester said.

She then asked the council to consider a compromise solution by including the alternative selection process into the already-established request for qualifications.

The alternative method, Bonkowski and Lester explained, would give the council, staff and community a visual of what the city may purchase. It would also give staff an idea of the most popular design wanted for the park.

Hytopolous, however, said the council should rely on its expert staff to find the right firm.

“The reason we need a public works director and not the community in this decision, at this stage, is because we need to hire someone who … can follow through and has demonstrated the ability to generate good design,” Hytopolous said. “These people (Studio Cascade) have the experience, and they just won a design award in 2013.”

“I think it’s embarrassing that we have pursuant to a completely standard, reasonable process; informed a group that we are going to be hiring or have been selected in the process; and now we are publicly questioning that process and talking about going backwards,” Hytopolous added. “And I believe our city manager performed the function of the city manager and this is not council purview to go back to the drawing board at this point.”

Following the discussion, the council members voted 4-2 to carry forward with the manager’s recommendation.

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