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Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS)

Original Author: Hemsley, Sid
Date of Material: 07/26/1994

Public works--Construction
Public works--Facilities
Purchasing--Professional services

Legal Requirement for an Architect to Design Public Buildings

Reviewed Date: 05/27/2021
MTAS was asked whether it is necessary for a licensed architect or engineer to draft the plans for a new fire hall.

July 26, 1994

You have the following question: Is it necessary under Tennessee Code Annotated, section 62-2-107 for a licensed architect or engineer to draft the plans for a new fire hall costing $65,000? Under the facts you related to me, the answer is yes. Those facts are that the fire hall is going to be a two story building of less than 5,000 square feet. The first story will consist of the fire engine bays, etc., the second story the firefighters' quarters. The project is to be let out on bids.

Yesterday I faxed to you an article I recently wrote for the Tennessee Public Works Association entitled Where Are You, Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 62-2-107? That article supports my answer.

Tennessee Code Annotated, section 62-2-107 requires the plans, specifications and estimates for certain public works be prepared by a registered architect, engineer or landscape architect, if the public work in question "involves" architecture, engineering, or landscape architecture. The article pointed out that what "involves" architecture, engineering or landscape architecture is not clear under the statute, and that there is room for differences of opinion with respect to some public structures. However, I do not think a court would hesitate to hold that a two story fire hall in which was housed the city's fire firefighters and fire equipment is both a public works and involves at least engineering, if not architecture as well.

My conclusion is based on the two common denominators I outlined on page 21 of the article to help a city determine whether a municipal project qualifies as a public works project within the meaning of Tennessee Code Annotated, section 62-2-107:

- If the project involves the kind of detailed design and oversight services that architects, or engineers, or landscape architects draw and provide, the design and service must be provided by the appropriate members/s of those professions.

- The courts in every state, including Tennessee, reach back to the public purpose supporting the particular state law governing architects, engineers, and landscape architects: the protection of "public safety, health and welfare," "life or property," or similar values expressed in the state law itself.

I went on in that article to say that a related aspect of the latter common denominator is the "protection of the public against fraud, misrepresentation, and expensive bad bargains."

I think both common denominators apply to the fire hall under the facts, particularly the latter one, considering firefighters are essentially going to live in the place. In addition, it would be a bad bargain indeed, if a fire hall, upon which the protection of private and public property so much depends, turned out to be defective and/or inadequate in some respect.

Finally, I said in that article, if a city errs in the application of Tennessee Code Annotated, section 62-2-107, it should be made on the safe side. I think a court would take exactly the same approach in determining whether that statute applies to a fire hall of the kind proposed.

Tennessee Code Annotated, section 62-2-102(b) makes it unlawful for a person other than a registered architect or engineer to prepare plans and specifications for any building except certain buildings that include those less than three stories and less than 5,000 square feet. The proposed fire hall is only two stories and less than 5,000 square feet. However, that exception does not take the fire hall out of the range of Tennessee Code Annotated, section 62-2-107. The latter statute is a separate specific statute regulating municipalities and counties and other political subdivisions of the state in the construction of public works. As I suggested in the above article, it probably should not be in the statutes governing the registration of architects, engineers and landscape architects; unfortunately that is where it is found even if it has nothing to do with the registration of such professionals, including Tennessee Code Annotated, section 62-2-102.


Sidney D. Hemsley
Senior Law Consultant