Much thought goes into choosing design firm

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 10, 2010

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – The bid process for the various construction projects in the St. John the Baptist Parish School System is very clearly defined. Rules govern the length of time the system must advertise for bids as well as which bids it can accept. But what happens when the bid process ends?

It turns out selecting a particular firm to handle a project is nearly as regimented as the bid process itself.

Recently, the district interviewed a pair of firms to handle the design portion of renovation projects at the St. John Child Development Center and East St. John High School. At the CDC, the project includes upgrades to the parking situation as well as the HVAC system and the demolition of one of he buildings on site. ESJ’s renovations include improvements to insulation and the comfort level of the original structure, which was built in 1977.

A committee set up to handle the interview process, which includes Superintendent Courtney Millet, School Board members and DuPont’s Christopher Payne, who represents local industry, as well a representatives from the affected facilities and CSRS consulting firm, listened to presentations from both Chenevert Architects and Grace and Hebert Architects.

Just as in a normal job interview situation, the presentations are given individually. Each firm is given 15 minutes to make their case. This is followed by a 15-minute question-and-answer session.

Following the two presentation sessions, the committee convenes privately to discuss the pros and cons of each presentation and make a decision.

Because the presentations are given individually, the approaches of the separate firms sometimes differ in both focus and content.

On this day, Chenevert’s presentation was given in three parts with each being handled by an individual with a particular area of expertise. Grace and Hebert’s presentation, on the other hand, was handled solely by Design Director Sean Johnson. Chenevert took a more clinical approach to the proceedings while Grace and Hebert’s presentation seemed more personal.

Both firms, however, highlighted recent relevant projects.

During the question-and-answer sessions, many of the same questions were asked to each individual firm so committee members could see how each group would respond to the same problem.

The committee’s decision will be brought before the School Board at its next meeting.