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Architects list survives library project changes

Paul Snyder
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Madison is sticking to its shortlist of design teams for the reconstruction of Central Library even though the project has changed and other architects have expressed interest.

“Knowing now what the plan is, I think the city could get a lot more interest from national firms and a lot better response than it first did,” said Matthew Aro, co-founder of Madison-based Aro Eberle Architects Inc., which chose not to compete for the original design work. “The question for the city is whether it ultimately will accept mediocre architecture or world-class architecture.”

Aro said his firm was interested last year when the city put out a request for qualifications to design a new Central Library. But the RFQ at that point only requested architects design the interior, while a development team led by Madison-based The Fiore Cos. Inc. designed the exterior.

Aro said his firm shied away because it was just interior work and, he said, there would be complications coordinating with the exterior team.

But the deal with Fiore fell through last month, and Madison opted to rebuild on the existing Central Library site.

Now that Madison has changed the project, Aro said, he wants a fresh request for qualifications.

“It’s a different project,” he said.

But city officials want to choose one of five architectural firms selected from the original 11 submittals for the interior design.

“After the first cut, the delineating factor was library experience, especially large libraries,” said Jeanne Hoffman, the city’s facilities and sustainability manager. “I’d say it’s competitive to get 11 proposals, and I’m comfortable with the process.”

She said the city has amended the original RFQ twice to match changes to the project, but the first amendment — high-rise experience — applied only to the 11 applicants, and the second — remodeling experience — applied only to the five finalists.

The city has interviewed the five finalists, Hoffman said, but is waiting for the Common Council to make the final decision.

“If we had to start over and put out a new RFQ,” she said, “it would delay the project by several months.”

Alderman Mike Verveer, who represents the library’s district, said the city has a competitive group of respondents, and he has not heard from any firms asking the city to reopen the submittal process.

“Time is of the essence,” he said, “and we’ve already done the interviews.”

Legally, Madison does not have to issue a new RFQ, said City Attorney Michael May. If city leaders agree there are qualified candidates, he said, there’s no reason to start over.

But the city should not waste an opportunity to try for a better design or a better price, said Alderwoman Judy Compton.

“It’s possible a person who was not comfortable with working on the interior could come in and offer all kinds of new ideas for a renovation,” she said. “I say we need to be conscientious, methodical and we need to quit hurrying up projects.”

The Common Council is expected to vote May 4 on a resolution supporting the reconstruction of Central Library. Compton said she will argue for another RFQ.

“My comments do not reflect on the group of five that the city has,” she said. “It’s just that this is an entirely different project.”

Madison-based Dorschner Associates Inc. was one of the original 11 applicants but failed to make the shortlist. Rick Gabriel, director of sustainable services, said he would consider resubmitting for the new library project.

“If they’ve interviewed candidates,” he said, “it’s just a steeper climb for the rest of us because I’m not sure anything changes the competitive advantage.”

One comment

  1. Todd Farnsworthy

    Unless he was misquoted, it sounds to me like Matt Aro should spend limit time/effort spent theorizing on the quality of work his firm is not qualified to complete in the first place. It is imbecilic to suggest that the City will get a marginal product as a result of their lengthy RFP & qualification process.

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