ARCHITECTS urge OSU officials to retract choice of Tulsa architect

Friday, August 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ Oklahoma State University officials should retract their choice of a Tulsa firm that was judged least qualified to renovate Lewis Field, two architects who lost out on the $100 million contract said Thursday.

Don Beck of Beck and Associates and Jim Bruza of Frankfurt Short Bruza recommended the school hire Oklahoma City-based Atkins Benham, which a professional committee ranked first among its choices of architectural firms to handle the project.

The committee, which followed state statutes, ranked Frankfurt Short Bruza second and Beck and Associates third.

All three firms protested when OSU regents replaced the professional committee with a second one consisting of themselves and top university officials. That second committee met and, without taking minutes or documenting the process, picked Tulsa-based Gary Sparks Companies _ a firm deemed least qualified by the professional selection group.

Last week, the Department of Central Services, which reviews such contracts, told OSU the contract cannot be approved. The agency's state construction administrator, David Brown, said OSU failed to provide documentation justifying the break with state laws and university policy.

Gary Sparks Companies is led by OSU alumnus Gary Sparks, who also is a booster and good friend of OSU Athletic Director Terry Don Phillips.

John Houck, assistant vice president in charge of physical plant services, said Thursday he is still planning to negotiate the contract with Sparks.

``The board of regents has authorized me to negotiate with Sparks,'' Houck said. ``That is my directive.''

Brown cited state statutes that bar the finalizing of any professional contracts without approval of the Department of Central Services.

OSU's best option is to follow its own policy and choose among the top three firms listed by the professional selection committee, Beck and Bruza said. Both men said they favor the top-ranked firm, Atkins Benham.

Going back and following the published selection criteria ``is the only professional thing to do,'' Bruza said.

Beck agreed, saying in 99 percent of selections for architects and engineers on public projects the firm ranked first is hired.

``Never in the past have there been any statements or policy in which they would choose the fourth-ranked firm, which is what they did with Sparks,'' Beck said. ``I feel like the OSU Board of Regents should stick to its established selection policy and procedures that had been in place for many, many years.''

While the Department of Central Services insists it has the authority to decide whether a contract can be negotiated, a different state law gives OSU's regents sole discretion, Houck said.

``I believe we have the authority to move ahead without their (Central Services) approval,'' Houck said. ``There are two parallel statutes, one I work under and one they work under. If we read our statutes independently, we both believe we have a basis for where we're working from.''

Title 61, the statute cited by Central Services, governs public improvements and is the basis for the selection criteria followed by OSU on projects.

But Thursday, Houck said OSU is governed by Title 70, which gives universities authority over granting contracts.

``So you've got two titles both giving authority to both entities to grant contracts,'' Houck said. ``And that's the uncertainty at this point.''