You may have noticed the big sign in front of the police station telling you how to get into the building. The public entrance now can only be reached by using a temporary metal ramp, and much of the plaza in front of the building is blocked off. Since the station has been opened in 2016, leaks from groundwater have made portions of the basement unusable. Numerous attempts have been made by the city to make the architect and the contractor, Barr & Barr, address the problem. Now the city has employed another architect and another contractor to fix the problem. I filed a freedom of information request with the city, and read about how we chose this particular architect, who just happened to be the chairman of our planning board. It reminded me that one of the richest sources of aggravation in this world is responding to a job offering or a RFP (Request for Proposals) that ends up going to an insider.
Say you are an architect and your headquarters is on the north shore of Boston. Northampton needs a architect and you are on the short list of three that will be interviewed.
So one morning you go off to Northampton. Maybe you have to battle slow-moving or stationary traffic on Route 128 and the Pike. Once you are there, you submit to questioning by strangers, and you give them a lot of paper that you know that no one will read. The vibes are bad.
If this was 2006 and you were hopng to get a job designing Northampton’s police station, you would find yourself out of luck. The head of the Northampton planning board, you find out, is an architect and the third person on the interview list. Ken Jodrie of Coala & Bienike Associates (CBA) in Chicopee has the inside track.
This happened to two pretty distinguished architects who responded to an invitation to submit proposals to design our new police station. Allan M Lieb of Lynfield has a bunch of awards and his firm had built 28 police stations and 11 State Police facilities. Kaestle Boos of New Britain, Conneticut likewise was very experienced, having designed 14 public safety buildings, including Boston’s police headquarters building.
There are laws that supposedly mandate high standards in public construction in Massachusetts, but these safeguards were no match for the machinations of a determined, political savvy Mayor who wants to steer a big job to a loyal city employee who has been on the planning board for sixteen years (1993-2007). Once Jodrie got the job, he retired from the planning board.
The Mayor was Clare Higgins, the architect that ended up with the job was Kenneth Jodrie of Coala & Bienike, who designed our police station with a wet basement and the associated leaky parking garage.
It all seems to stem from the city’s failure to exercise due diligence in selecting the architect for the job. This forced the city to hire another architect and another builder to fix the problem by tearing up a big section of the entry area, and pouring more concrete to seal the cellar walls. That cost taxpayers more money ($740,000) and then the city had to hire a lawyer to sue CBA, the first contractor, (Barr & Barr) and the insurer. The pricetag to the taxpayers is undetermined, since we may not win the lawsuit. The new work which is still going on, may fix the problem. I talked with the police chief the other day after one of our big downpours and she said she had heard no complaints from the rank and file. She said she always hears about it when there is a flood in the locker room.
Mayor Higgins got control of the selection process right at the beginning by putting Jon Hite, one of her loyalists, on the committee and naming two architects to set the ground rules for the job. John Pepper from Toronto and Curtis Eglin, president of Coala & Bienike (CBA). They talked to a lot of people and prepared a fifty-two page report on the challenges of building on the Center Street site. Curtis Eglin talked to the full planning committee at their first meeting in December 2006. This. I think, gave CBA the inside track. The consultation was a potent message that CBA could be trusted and had the mayor’s support. The actual process of going out to bid did not take place until three months later, in March of 2008. The meetings were secret, and by the time there was a public meeting, most of the design money had been spent. Tom Douglas, a respected local architect, came to the meeting and asked what the point was of having this public meeting when the building’s design was finished and any constructive criticism would fall on deaf ears. Northampton had picked an insider. Did he give the city a break on the price? From a quick reading of the lawsuit, he screwed us. We’ve spent $740,000 so far reworking the site.