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Architects thinking 'outside the box' as they compete to design new Storm Lake elementary

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Decision on competing firms coming

The Storm Lake School Board is on its way to selecting an architect for the new community-wide elementary facility. During a special meeting Tuesday night, the board, administrators and staff had the opportunity to listen to and interview representatives from three select firms.

The three firms - DLR of Ankeny; FEH of Des Moines and Sioux City; and Neumann Monson Wictor of Sioux City - met separately with the board. Each shared impressive power point presentations featuring completed projects, each unique. The board then had the opportunity to ask the representatives a number of questions. Each was allowed an hour's time.

The firms are alike in some ways - each spoke of awards won for their design work and each claimed to be leaders in energy efficiency projects.

DLR representatives spoke first, pointing out that they have been involved in many school projects in areas such as Ankeny, Urbandale, Denison, Ames, Maple Valley, Boone, Gilbert and Fort Madison.

"We are trying to create a neighborhood," it was said. "We encourage you to talk to your neighbors."

The group of five in attendance also told the board their are several key issues they will be considering if they are chosen to do the job.

They will look at Storm Lake's:

* continued enrollment growth.

* goal of keeping small class sizes

* safety and security for students and staff.

* traffic flow.

* planning for current elementary buildings.

* options for flexible use of space.

* community/district use of common space.

It is important to keep all these things in mind, the team stressed.

"We want to think outside the box and plan for the future and not just today. It is important - if we are to do justice, we need to understand all your needs and we need to look at those 'what ifs."

The team also stressed that long term relationships are not uncommon.

"We have worked with some for 15 to 20 years. That should stand as a testament that the services we provide and the commitments we have. We take pride in our quality."

DLR has 40 years of experience and stressed the "full-service" they provide, the cost management record, the funding assistance they can provide and the commitment.

It was pointed out that many visits would be made during the construction process. The board asked if additional fees would be required if they were to call and ask for additional visits to be made.

"Talk with our past clients," it was stated. "Very rarely did we ask for any additional fees."

It was also stated that representatives from the firm would be at every construction meeting and that they would even conduct the meetings. DLR makes a project website available as well.

If they were given the bid? "We're ready to go," the team agreed.

FEH is a 100-year-old firm, with some 400 educational projects on its resume plus many other impressive structures including the refurbished Orpheum Theater in Sioux City.

"We've got a broad range of experience," commented Jim Champion, who has been with the company for 44 years.

"We are very interested in team approach. We will work with you and we will focus on what's important to your district and we will bring the best expertise to the table."

The team stressed the use of "natural lighting" in the building, which they see as being "conducive to learning."

One use of the natural lighting can be seen in the Cherokee Middle School which the firm designed.

When asked about how many visits would be made and if there would be additional charges if more visits were asked for, the spokesman commented that visits may begin at "every day" and become less frequent. The "basic service" would include one trip per week. There would be someone from the firm at each construction meeting.

"We will monitor the contractor month to month to keep them on schedule." The firm said it would "keep a thorough paper trail" as well as communicate electronically.

When asked when the firm could start (if chosen), the spokesman said, "I can't start until tomorrow morning."

The final firm to talk to the board was Neumann Monson Wictor - which was the firm to construct the Storm Lake Middle School.

Spokesman Ken Wictor said that 82 percent of the business the firm does is educational projects and 72 percent of the clients are repeat.

Some of the other school projects they can take credit for include West Middle School (Sioux City), Spencer Middle School, Sgt. Bluff Lutton and projects at Western Iowa Tech, Kirkwood College, Morningside College and the University of Iowa.

"There's no such thing as 'this is what we do' because each project carries its own weight."

The firm is also one to use sky lighting in many of its projects.

When asked of the board about visits to the site, if chosen, during the construction process, Wictor said the visits "vary all the way through the project." It is important he said to be on site because "if we aren't doing our job we're asking for all kinds of problems."

Emailing is the form of communication Neumann Monson Wictor would prefer to keep in contact with the board on progress.

As time ran short, the firm was not asked all of the questions the board had wanted to ask but they will have the opportunity to answer through email the other questions.

In a final plea to the board and those in attendance, Wictor commented, "I know what kinds of job we do. I'm biased but I think we can do a better job than anyone else. Just look at our awards and our interesting plans. The cost is right. And look at the track record we have. I'm convinced we'd do a great job for you. We're awful good at what we do."

The board will mull over the information they heard at the special meeting and are expected to announce their architect decision at the next regular meeting - April 11.

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