UI starts over with Natural History Building

UI starts over with Natural History Building

CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois has pushed the reset button on its plans to renovate a critical campus building after a state board criticized the university's handling of how it initially awarded the contract to a Champaign firm with ties to a UI employee.

University officials are again beginning the process for seeking proposals from architectural and engineering firms for work on the Natural History Building, a 120-year-old building at 1301 W. Green St. An ad on the Illinois Higher Education Procurement Bulletin is expected this week.

Partially closed since 2010, the building has been slated for a much-needed renovation of its classrooms, laboratories and offices. The university awarded a contract to BLDD Architects of Champaign: first for a $368,000 conceptual plan in 2010, then over $4 million for further design and management work. The second amendment was on hold pending a decision from state procurement authorities who review state contracts.

Earlier this spring the Illinois Procurement Policy Board raised questions about the contract after learning a university architect who manages construction projects, Jill Maxey, was previously employed at the firm, and her husband, Bruce Maxey, is currently a principal at BLDD. The firm disclosed the relationship to the UI, but the procurement board did not learn of it until this spring, more than a year after the firm beat out 32 others for the contract.

The procurement board this summer voted to void the contract and, under fire from state authorities, university trustees last month agreed. UI officials said they would review options with state procurement officials on how to proceed.

The UI plans to post a new request soliciting interest from architectural firms on the state's procurement bulletin this week, according to Mike Bass, the UI's senior associate vice president.

"We want to move as quickly as can," Bass said.

"There was no pay to play here," said Bill Black, the Danville alderman and former state representative who sits on the procurement board. BLDD disclosed the relationship, and the university said Maxey was not involved in the project.

However, \in the procurement board's investigation, emails surfaced showing Jill Maxey was kept in the loop on the project, Black said. That prompted members to believe the contract should be rebid or go to the next lowest bidder, Black said.

"We're still trying to recover from the six and a half years of (former and now convicted) Gov. Rod Blagojevich," he said, and "people are going to have to be cautious," about the perception of a conflict of interest.

The UI eventually opted to start over.

Aaron Carter, executive director of the procurement policy board, called the move "the only way to ensure fairness" for all companies who supplied proposals to the university, and "the best way to ensure everybody had a fair chance at the contract," he said.

Carter said he expected all state agencies and institutions, not only universities, will treat conflicts of interest "with more of a priority."

"They're going to ensure the (procurement) board and chief procurement office get a good look at the conflict so they can be vetted properly," he said.

As a result of the scrutiny of the UI's hiring of BLDD, Ben Bagby, the state's chief procurement office for higher education, is now drafting a conflict-of-interest policy that seeks to clarify what should happen if someone in a university procurement office has a relationship with a potential vendor to the university. Bagby said he expects the draft to be finalized soon.

In the meantime, Jill Maxey in recent weeks has been reassigned and is no longer working in procurement on campus.

UI trustees initially approved a $70 million budget for the Natural History Building renovation, but with each month the project is delayed the cost is expected to go up by about $91,000, according to Bass.

The new ad essentially asks interested architectural and engineering firms to submit information about their qualifications for working on the project. Work would entail reviewing the conceptual plan already completed by BLDD (and which the university now owns), making any changes, if necessary, and then developing schematics, design development, preparing construction documents and overseeing construction, according to Bass. The ad is expected to be posted for a minimum of about two weeks.

A university committee of about four to five people, none of whom served on the previous selection committee, will review the firms' submissions, narrow the list and make a decision, according to Bass.

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tater12 wrote on August 23, 2012 at 9:08 am

I still don't understand why they opted to start over rather than review the 2nd and 3rd place bids from previously.  Both firms stated they would pick up the project and I believe one of them even said they'd pick it up with very minimum additional cost.  Certainly less than the $91,000 they are saying it will cost every month this project gets delayed.  Re-bidding this project and the whole process of actually starting up will take months.  That's additional cost to the project itself, additional cost for f&s employees to pretty much redo a bid process, AND additional cost to the firms who have already bid previously (because contrary to popular thought, they won't be able to just resubmit what they already submitted...university proposals are ridiculously detailed and are always changing).  That's alot of $$ and man hours.

This just seems like alot of additional money to me...taxpayer money for most of it I think.

tellingthetruth wrote on August 23, 2012 at 10:08 am

It's the "University" way!  SPEND, SPEND, SPEND... on reduntant things.

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 23, 2012 at 11:08 am

The money being spent on a dinosaur of a building would be more than enough to pay for a state of the art, new building that is accessible; and needing less maintenance over the years.  The state is broke; but there is money for foolish expenditures.  Mark Twain made a comment about ugly architecture, and another category gaining respectability over time.  It seems to apply to the U of I presently. 

ddf1972 wrote on August 23, 2012 at 12:08 pm

SS, I have yet to see you provide any specific, verifiable figures indicating that a new building would be more cost-efficient other than it clearly being your personal preference.  It's the same m.o. as your sweeping statements about the band practice field - lots of broad strokes, little factual backup.

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 23, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Was there ever any consideration on the cost of a new building?  What figures exist regarding the cost of a new building?  Hang on to your spending on ivory towers mentality.  The rest of the state is suffering from the funding cuts while the U of I keeps spending more on projects like artificial turf for a practice field for the marching band; and renovating old buildings.  How about defending the expenditures to the abused children, disabled, elderly, poor, and working poor who have seen major cuts in funding?  Oh, no...... the Flagship of Illinois Higher Education must have more money for marching band practice fields.... , raises for administrators, and payoffs for disgraced administrators.  Keep your head in a book so you don't see the state outside of campus.

ddf1972 wrote on August 26, 2012 at 6:08 pm

SS, I have not lived in CU for 3 years.  Perhaps it has given me the benefit of perspective?  UI has made some grave mistakes in recent years, but your sweeping statements don't help your position, which is almost always refutation for refutation's sake.

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm

ddf1972;  Stick around C-U for another 37 years; and you will gain another perspective.  The university brings in money to the community.  However, the past has proven that it wastes a large amount of state money.  If the university were ran as a business with a CEO from a business background; there would be much less waste.  However; it is ran by historians, and other academics with no business experience.  There is little oversight by the state other than the Board of Trustees.  There is a need for a public university; but it must be an institution answerable to the public need.  My "sweeping statements" anger those with vested interests within the university.  Why would a professor, or administrator agree with the need for change when it may infringe upon their established interests?  The university old guard's resistance to change only brings on more demands for change by the public.  The issue nationwide is the rising cost of tuition in public institutions of higher education.  The monetary waste is one of the reasons that tuition has increased at such a rapid rate.  The on going string of scandals with payoffs for the culprits is one of the other reasons.  Ignoring the need for fiscal responsibility, and good management will eventually bring about the restructuring of higher education.  Stick around for more years; and you will realize that the U of I has made many more than "some grave mistakes".  It has become annual "grave mistakes".

mankind wrote on August 23, 2012 at 4:08 pm

More knee-jerk opposition to anything having anything to do with tax dollars. It's hard to believe that renovating this building will be more expensive than tearing it down, carting away all the debris, creating a new footprint, and building up a new one, all on the Quad, no less. And they just renovated the outside -- you want to just throw it all in the trash? It's not like they could use the building for another purpose. Half of it is condemned. As for accessibility, at Lincoln Hall they added ramps and other features during the renovation. I'm sure this will be the same. It's not perfect but this seems the cheapest and best way to get that building up and running again.

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 23, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Yes; your "sure".  That is assuring to everybody.  What's next?  Saving the South Farm barns for their achitectural history?  Keep on spending.  The world does not exist outside of the U of I.

mankind wrote on August 24, 2012 at 9:08 am

You can't argue against the practicality of renovating the old building, so you choose the unanswered question of whether there will be wheelchair ramps as the basis for your attack on the entire institution. I hope you realize how transparent you are. It's hard to take you seriously on anything regarding the university. Read up a little bit on the history of disability services at U of I. It's only been written about a few thousand times. That's why I'm "sure" they won't forget the ramps.  

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 24, 2012 at 3:08 pm

mankind;  Your preaching to the choir on your comment.  The U of I has messed up many times in the past regarding accessibility.  Your assuming that the great minds on campus always consult with the Division of Rehabilitation and Education Services on campus.  They do not.  Many times, it is a last minute thought to contact them.  Plans have to be modified after the project instead of before the project.  Don't assume that all disabilities are alike in their needs for accessibility.  Your "sure"; but you don't know the cost of a new building because it was not considered.  Your "sure" about accessibility because "it's only been written about a few thousand times".   You blindly (no pun intended) believe that the great minds handling the projects are all knowing.  If they are so all knowing, why did the potential conflict of interest come up instead of following the procedures?  Teach what you know; and learn about what you do not know.  I criticize the university because I have experience with the university.   I am sure you have experience with the university also since you defend it so blindly.  Your exhibited attitude is that no one dare question the decisions made by university administrators even if everyone else in the state is paying for their decisions.

mmemartinez wrote on August 24, 2012 at 9:08 pm

I could not see your point through the misuse of "you're" and "your." This is something I've noticed in your other posts as well. You got it right once and I'm thinking that was by chance. It's really not that hard to master.


you're = you are

your = possessive

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 25, 2012 at 9:08 am

You are right.  I will attempt to improve my use of the English language.  Your comment was appreciated by me.

mankind wrote on August 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm

I defend the university blindly? How? By saying that renovating an existing structure is cheaper than tearing it all down and building it back up? If that's why, then sure, paint me orange and give me a pom-pom. But I suspect you think that anyone who takes the university's side in anything is just another ivory tower elitist.

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 27, 2012 at 3:08 pm

How do you know that renovating an old building is cheaper than replacing it with a new one?  No consideration was given to a new building.  It was only the renovating of the old building.  Look at the cost for the renovation.  Your comments regarding accessibilty were not based on anything but beliefs that the university never made mistakes in the past.  Yes, you appear to be an ivory tower elitist in your blind faith in the university.  I suspect that you, and the other faithful commentors have interests in the U of I that go beyond the public interests.  The university has provided multiple reasons over the past years for the public to question the decision making, and financial expenditures made by the administrators.  Yet, you defend everything as a true believer without questioning anything.  If it turns you on; paint yourself orange, and carry a pom-pom.

mankind wrote on August 28, 2012 at 10:08 am

I took a look around for some recent new construction projects at other Big 10 schools. It only took me about 10 minutes on Google. Cost of a new law building at the Univ. of Michigan: $107 million for about 120,000 sq ft. (Natural History is about 150,000 sq ft). Cost of a new science and student services building at the Univ. of Minnesota: $73 million for about 115,000 sq. ft. Cost of a new chemistry building at Ohio State: $126 million for about 225,000 sq. ft. (which works out to $560/sf vs. $472/sf at Natural History).

Call me what you want, Sid. The facts bear me out. They only make you more transparent.

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 28, 2012 at 1:08 pm

It was never an issue at the U of I since no new construction was ever considered.  Figure in the maintenance costs over the next 20 years.  Figure in the energy savings also.  It was never considered.  Now; the cost is $91 million, and growing.  It is the price of ambience.  Make sure to plant ivy around it.  Your vested interest in the university is safe for now.  Eventually, there will not be enough funding to maintain the university's spending habits.  The 20% international, and out-of-state student enrollment helps; but it increases the public desire for the state to divest itself from the university.  A private university would be a win-win for all.  There would be no complaints regarding old building renovation, artificial turf for the band's practice field, and payoffs for disgraced administrators.  It would allow the university to not be answerable to the public taxpayers.  It would save on future pensions, buildings, and maintenance.  It would benefit everyone for the state to donate the campus to a private university.  You would be happy; and I would be happy.

SirLancelot wrote on August 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm

@Tater12 - Here's my (long winded) explination on why they can't just pick the next person in line.

The University does not take bids directly for Architectural and Engineering services.  The University, State of Illinois, and most other owners will issue an Request for Proposals for each job, outlining the scope of the project.  Various A/E (Architectural & Engineering) teams will submit their credentials, outling experiece with similar projects, professional credentials, prequalification forms, etc.  The Owner will then review the information, and typically put 3-4 teams on a short list for interviews.

At the University, they have a team of people that sit in the interviews and rank the different A/E teams on a variety of criteria. Think of it as having 4 or 5 judges for an olympic event. After the "best" team is selected for a project, the A/E will enter contract negotiation with the Univerisity.  It is not unheard of for the second best A/E team to end up with the project.  The new ECE building had initially selected one A/E team for the project, but they could not reach an agreement on the contact amount.  The second team was eventually awarded the contract.

For the Natural History job, they have essentially determined that one of the people on the selection committee may have been bias.  If this was a simple monitary bid you could throw out the top bid and go to #2.  But since the ranking of the A/E teams is subjective, the third place team could argue that the entire process was bias, and they would have been ranked higher if the process was done fairly.  Simply picking the second place team now could open up a whole new arguement about if the process was fair.  The only clean way to handle this is to start this process over, and make sure everything is done openly and transparently.

ClearVision wrote on August 27, 2012 at 8:08 am

Thank you, sir, for adding some facts to the usual fact-free anti-intellectual, anti-tax, anti-university nonsense that is common here. Stick around, your [sic] a beacon in the darkness.

pattsi wrote on August 23, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Can not resist putting the spot light again on the newest state of the art BIF building on campus where the 4-year old floor was just replaced and the sustainable plantings around the building had to be modified because F & S had not been edcated on how to care for such plantings. This is not an argument that problems do not arise when a building has been renovated, just to gently point out that new is not necessary the best approach.  :-)