There is no state requirement that a competitive selection process be used to hire an architect in New Hampshire. Some municipalities may have policies or ordinances with specific requirements for the process. When hiring design professionals, it is usually not appropriate to base the selection on the designer's fee. Many districts have established confidence in a particular individual or firm through past experience and prefer to use someone with whom they are comfortable. There are many advantages to this approach. Perhaps the most important aspect of a construction project is the level of trust that exists among the owner, designers, and builders. A good relationship based on positive past experience is a powerful tool that can lead to a successful project.
There are times however, when a district does not have an existing relationship with an architect, or simply wants to ensure that the project is given to the best qualified design team. If that is the case, the owner should be guided by one primary consideration: the qualifications of the team for the specific project to be undertaken. The recommended method for hiring an architect is a process known as Qualifications Based Selection (QBS). QBS is straightforward, objective, and fair. It will stand up to public scrutiny.
The QBS process usually involves the following steps, as provided by the NH QBS Coalition:
- Following the interviews, the owner ranks each firm in accordance with a predetermined ranking system. All interviewed firms are notified of the results.
- The highest-ranking firm is asked to participate in the preparation of a detailed scope of services and to negotiate conditions of the contract, including a fair and equitable fee.
- If a satisfactory agreement cannot be reached, negotiations with that firm are suspended and negotiations are commenced with the second-highest ranking firm. The process continues until an agreement is reached and a formal contract is executed.
- Interviews are conducted. During this process, it is important that the same questions be asked of each firm. In fact, it is suggested that qualification criteria and interview format material be made available to each firm prior to being interviewed. The owner should require that the interview be attended by the individuals who will actually be assigned to work on the project, not just the principals of the firm, or their marketing representatives. Whenever possible, the committee should visit schools designed by the candidates. Visual inspection, and discussion with those using the facility, will provide valuable background information for reaching a decision.
- The owner places legal notices of invitation in newspapers or other media and invites qualified firms to submit letters of qualifications in a format provided by the owner. The owner may wish to limit invitations to a selected group of firms that have been pre-qualified based on past experience or other criteria.
- The owner prepares the preliminary scope of services, describing the project to be built or problem to be solved and formulates a schedule of activities.
- The owner reviews letters of qualifications, checks references, ranks firms and selects 3 to 5 firms for interviews. It is important that the selection be based on the qualifications of the entire design team, not just those of the lead architect or firm. Pre-interview site visits are arranged with the firms to be interviewed to provide the opportunity for a better understanding of the project requirements.
More information on QBS, including model letters and forms is available at www.nhqbs.org.