ARCHITECTS unhappy about OSU selection process

Sunday, May 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The heads of three Oklahoma architectural firms are upset about Oklahoma State University's decision to award a $100 million football stadium renovation project to a firm run by an OSU alumnus.

Tulsa-based Gary Sparks Cos. was given the contract in March, despite being rated below the other three firms by the school's original selection committee. The Daily Oklahoman obtained copies of the selection committee's rankings and reported the development in a copyright story Sunday.

``I think alumni should be demanding to know what is going on,'' said Don Beck, whose firm Beck and Associates was ranked third by the original selection committee.

``The officials at OSU are there to protect those dollars (donated by alumni) and ensure they're spent wisely, getting the best bang for their buck with the facilities available. With what just happened, I don't see how they're going to get that in the future.''

Sparks' firm previously was chosen to work on master plans and design for the expansion of Gallagher-Iba Arena. He worked on two other athletic projects started by OSU in the past decade, has been a major donor to OSU and is a friend of Athletic Director Terry Don Phillips.

Regent Doug Burns, a member of the committee that chose Sparks, defended the selection.

``It concerns me that there are people out there who think this was based on anything but the merits,'' he said.

Oklahoma State's selection policy mirrors state statutes. Regents first authorize university officials to seek architectural firms for a project and dictate what information should be required from competing firms.

The university then forms a committee of building experts, architects and engineers that judges submitted proposals stripped of firms' names. The firms are interviewed, scored and the three finalists are forwarded to the regents.

According to The Oklahoman, the rankings listed Atkins Benham first, followed by Frankfurt Short Bruza, Beck and Associates, and Gary Sparks Cos.

The score for Gary Sparks Cos. represented 87 percent of the total possible score. The other three firms scored from 91 percent and 92 percent of the best possible score.

``This is amazing to me ... on a percent basis, the top three firms are very close, and yet this guy (Sparks) is 5 percent away,'' said Lance Benham, head of Atkins Benham. ``It's not a bad score, but it's distant.

``This stinks. This makes me feel stupid we even went after the project.''

John Houck, assistant vice president of OSU's Physical Plant Services division, oversees architect selections. He said ordinarily, the regents would be free to choose any of the top three firms, but the fourth-place finisher would not get reconsideration.

The newspaper said there is no documentation to show how Sparks' firm was added back into the competition. Minutes of the December regents meeting reflect only a decision to delay consideration of the architectural contract.

Burns, Vice President Harry Birdwell and Phillips all say the inclusion of Sparks was done to ensure they were going to choose the best design firm.

``We felt like more evaluation needed to be done, and that's what we did,'' Burns said. ``We didn't see this to be special consideration for Sparks.''

The first committee was dropped from the new interviews with the four firms. Phillips was the only carry-over to the second committee.

Burns, Birdwell, Houck and Phillips all said their decision to choose Sparks was based on work the architect did on Gallagher-Iba Arena, and on the strengths of Sparks' partner, Heery International.

Birdwell and Burns said the regents created their selection policy and are free to break it and select any firm. But the state Department of Central Services has asked the university to justify the selection. Houck said he has delayed responding because the regents committee meeting minutes weren't complete.

Rick Lueb, president of the Central Oklahoma Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, said the regents' action will hurt OSU's chances of attracting quality firms for future projects.

``This leaves a very bad taste in your mouth and it shakes your confidence in the process,'' he said.

Bruza, Benham and Beck said they think the regents wanted to continue Sparks' record of winning all major OSU athletic projects. They said their anger is not directed at Sparks.

``I have respect for Gary Sparks,'' Benham said. ``But the process here didn't follow the guidelines. They changed the rules on us.''