By: Michael Mackey

Two of our main public sector clients are schools and libraries. We find school clients fairly well versed in design and building vocabulary.  Due to the number of sites, buildings, and regulatory requirements, they move through projects rapidly with experienced staff, established relationships and very real deadlines (like the start of school!).  Libraries on the other hand, often do not have anyone on staff or the Board that has any familiarity with either the design process or construction industry.  Major projects may come along only once every generation or two so there are rarely any existing professional relationships.  Deadlines are established as they work through proof of need, programming studies, initial investigations, designs, staff reviews, estimates, Board decisions and municipal reviews under the eye of the public they serve.

When Library Board discussion turns to professional services to help accomplish all this, confusion can arise over titles, nuanced, industry established responsibilities of team members, who should be engaged and when. Lack of familiarity with design and building can also create increased levels of anxiety as potential projects begin to run into millions of dollars.  At this vulnerable point, libraries can be enticed by groups that offer to ‘manage’ and lead the owner and contracted professionals through the design and construction process for an additional fee.

Since agreements for design (architect) and construction (contractor) typically cover the entire building process, Libraries need to evaluate the benefit of additional service contracts.  Is there real value for increased fees? Past experience indicates that management contracts may include fee for services that are required by architectural and construction contracts, soft responsibilities (monitoring vetted and tested professionals), and unlicensed agents with no responsibility to produce the instruments that affect the benefits claimed.  I therefore suggest a review and discussion of industry standard AIA agreements for architectural services and construction along with any ‘management’ contract for actual responsibilities, ‘deliverables’ and the consequences for lack of performance, before bringing anyone aboard. After review, a management contract may prove unnecessary or of very limited scope.

Deciding to investigate or move ahead with a project should be exciting. As leaders in library design thinking, we routinely meet with Library Boards and staff to talk about new ideas for existing and emerging services, planning for the future and how to define project goals.  As part of our mission and commitment to the Library community, we feel it is equally important to discuss project process, roles and responsibilities of professionals, dispel false impressions and demystify the building process. These informative presentations and discussions are provided without contract or fee with the intent of helping the Board and staff focus on enthusiasm and excitement for the project.