Skip to main content

Step 2: Procure Professional Assistance

Reference Number: MTAS-1249
Reviewed Date: 05/12/2023

Most SCORE members and presenters expressed concern that the expertise and experience of the individuals involved in the project contribute greatly to its success or struggles. Once you have exhausted your own resources, involve a consulting engineer. As previously noted, the selection of an engineering consultant may be necessary to help guide decision making in the earliest planning stages of a project especially those of a more complex project like a water or sewerage treatment plant. Consulting engineers serve a very important role in a construction project. It is their responsibility to match infrastructure and technology to solve a problem or improve a service. They begin with problems and concepts and add details until there a solution is identified. Many times they also handle much of the project administration and arrange financial packages. Project owners need an engineer who is qualified to perform these roles and who can communicate well and work well with city officials and staff.

T.C.A. § 12-4-106, establishes that professional services for local governments should be procured based upon recognized competence. Engineers, architects, accountants, lawyers and other professionals should be chosen by qualification-based selection (QBS). In this process, a city or utility requests that persons or groups wishing to provide the specified service submit statements of qualification to the city. From those statements and through interviews, the city selects qualified people or firms. Once a qualified applicants is selected the city then requests proposals on a particular project or job. In some cases, cities will prequalify contractors before they are allowed to bid on projects. Those costs of the consultant's services are not to be considered during the initial review and identification of a competent consultant(s). Fee rates and structures are only considered after the firs are "ranked" and contract negotiations begin with the top-ranked firm or individuals. If negotiations fail with that firm or individual(s) then fee rates and structures are considered alongside the qualifications of each subsequent firm or individual until the engineering contract is awarded.

After selecting an engineer, outline the project definition derived in Step 1. Consider repeating the same set of questions with the engineer that you covered with your staff and regulators. Ask for ideas, recommendations and a timetable of activities. At this time, cost questions are difficult to answer. Initially the answers may be only estimates or relative costs, but as the project progresses more accurate estimates will emerge.

Always remember that the engineer works for the city. The city owns the project; the city will pay for the project; and the city will have to live with the project for many years. The engineer is the person who will take your general ideas and needs and convert them into a detailed project based upon either your guidance or his preferences and according to Tennessee Design Criteria for Sewerage Works or Design Criteria for Water Works and engineering standards. Make sure the treatment options, materials, and equipment chosen by the engineer are affordable, that they match local conditions, and that they will actually do the intended job. Do not let operators, engineers, or others push you into work that is inconsistent with the mission of the utility. Be leery of unproven technology and misapplied technology. Make certain the solution fits your needs and resources. The newest equipment or latest design that worked in another community may not fit your situation.

A very important consideration is having “errors and omissions” insurance as a requirement for either the initial statement of qualification submission consideration or during contract negotiations with the successful candidate. Quite often, the firm or individual will be working on a project whose cost will exceed the annual revenue or even the net value of the firm or individual. In the event of errors or omissions, the firm most likely will be able only to correct the design work if the corrections are not too extensive or expensive. The costs of actually constructing the corrections may be beyond the ability of the firm or individual to bear. The inevitable lawsuit springs to mind, but you “can’t get blood from a turnip.” If they don’t have the financial resources, then they just don’t have them. The city would be left holding the bag. THAT is when errors and omissions insurance comes into play. This insurance would provide the financial means to protect the city from a nonfunctional or otherwise unsatisfactory project.

The selected engineer should provide the owner / owner staff with periodic reviews, typically tied to percentage of design completion (e.g. reviews at 30%, 60%, and 90% of design). These reviews should be included in the owner's contact with the engineer. Project owners must take this opportunity to accomplish two objectives. First this is an opportunity to develop a closer relationship with your engineer and second, it is a time to closely look at the design concepts and details. At these review times changes are far easier to make than later in the project. Make sure you can answer all the questions posed in the previous section called “Define the Project.” Also give your operational personnel an opportunity to closely look at the plans.

Plant operators and maintenance personnel should review the plans for general and specific operability. Simple accessibility of key equipment for operations and maintenance activities should be considered. Likewise, the availability of parts, chemicals, etc. necessary for routine operations and maintenance of the facility are critical to the project's long-term success. Other factors such as ease of cleaning and protection from extreme weather also should be reviewed.

After the project has been designed by the engineer and approved by the owner and regulatory and applicable agencies (e.g. funding), seek bids from contractors. The consulting engineer usually provides guidance and evaluation through this process. This person will prepare contract documents, drawings, and specifications and assist in evaluating bids. The advertisement and solicitation of bids must comply with all applicable local, state, and federal regulations. These requirements may vary from project to project especially depending on the funding that may be utilized. After receiving bids for the project, carefully review each bid for its content and the contactor's ability to perform the work of the contract. Depending upon the complexity of the project, the city / utility may choose to pre-qualify contractors and/or subcontractors to better ensure that bid are received from competent firms. Likewise, mandatory pre-bid conferences may be considered depending upon the complexity of the project, site-specific issues, etc. The owner's consultant should assist with either of these requirements to ensure compliance with applicable regulations and practices.

Before considering a contractor for reward of the project, carefully check all references and make sure you are not getting a contractor known for cutting corners, who has been unable to complete previous projects in a timely manner, etc. A critical and careful review if the submitted bids is necessary to ensure the contract is awarded to the lowest "responsible bidder" and not the "lowest bidder.". The lowest responsible bidder is defined with respect to state purchases as a person who has the capacity in all respects to perform fully the contract requirements and the integrity and reliability that will assure good faith performance, T.C.A. § 12-3-201(6). It also was said in R. G. Willmott Coal Co. v. State Purchasing Commission, 54 S.W.2d 634, 635, 246, KY, that in determining who is the lowest and best bidder (the) purchasing commission must consider not only the amount of the bid but also the business judgment, capacity, skill, and responsibility of the bidder and the quality of goods proposed to be furnished. The definitions of lowest responsible bidder and lowest and best bidder in other jurisdictions are similar. If you are going to reject a bid as irresponsible, have adequate documentation to make that decision. When a bid is significantly lower than the others, use caution as there is a high risk of problems in these cases (Waldrop).