GRPS Construction Has Broad Focus

February 14, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Public Schools hopes to set a new standard for the community it serves by attaching a pair of initiatives to the first phase of its $150 million bond construction program.

One is a green building program.

The other is an effort to employ a diverse construction force and as many Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs, representing both minority and women-owned firms) as possible.

The district disclosed the diversity plan at a January meeting of the West Michigan chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors. The board of education finalized it Feb. 7.

“It is a very, very important part of our construction projects to do as good a job as we possibly can in putting a diverse work force in place,” said GRPS COO Ben Emdin. “The district is committed to having a work force that is reflective of the diversity in our community.”

The context for that plan is the GRPS student body itself, being 45 percent African American and 30 percent Hispanic.

“We are committed to a fair, inclusive and nondiscriminatory process for competitive bidding,” Emdin said. “But we are also committed to enhancing the growth and development of our local DBEs.”

GRPS tasked its first-phase construction managers, Rockford Construction Co. and The Christman Co., with facilitating and implementing the plan.

The first components of the program are outreach and technical assistance. Construction managers will conduct workshops for the DBEs focusing on bidding, bonding, field supervision and any other areas in which the larger companies can serve as mentors.

The vendors are expected to participate in outreach programs along with the construction managers to attract DBEs into the program.

“The goal is for the DBEs to participate with other contractors to learn, to grow and to work on their own if necessary,” said Christman’s Dan LaMore. “That can mean partnerships, teamwork, mentoring.

“This plan is not just for the next three years. The goal of the GRPS is to sustain that business and have it be a plan that is implemented and carried out for decades to come.”

Although GRPS does not require participation in the initiative, participation could be the difference in winning a contract. Participation adds 10 percent to a bid’s assessment score.

Through pre-bid meetings and subcontracting scenarios, a goal for DBE participation will be created for each work segment. From there each vendor will submit a trade contracting plan and bid based on those goals.

Up to six points for each qualified bid package will be awarded based on meeting that DBE participation goal, with added points for submitting a subcontracting plan, demonstrating support, contacting DBEs and conveying intent.

“We feel strongly that each of those points should be very easy to achieve,” LaMore said. “And if the low bidder doesn’t participate, there is a great opportunity for another bidder to bypass them.”

While participation in the program is not mandatory, there’s an added incentive to participate. The program’s details will be open to public scrutiny.

“Hopefully, people can understand why GRPS is doing this,” LaMore said. “We’re trying to feed the families in this community and that is what the whole plan is all about.”

He said a diverse work force could also provide a positive influence for GRPS students.

GRPS’s Economicology Institute will likely find educational value in its other initiative, a green building program.

David Smith, executive director of facilities and operations, presented that program before the board last week.

He noted that the schools were already ahead in points toward LEED accreditation through the planned reuse of its structural steel and the availability of showers for employees and students who bike rather than drive to school.

Smith said he was most attracted to the green initiative by its inherent energy efficiency savings. “That is a subject very near and dear to my heart,” he said. “I just got a gas bill this morning for $250,000.”

In the first wave of projects, only Sibley/Straight Elementary School, designed by Progressive AE, will seek LEED status.

LEED proved too costly for the other two projects, Tower Pinkster Titus’ Henry Paidea and URS Corp.’s Alger Park Middle School. Smith instead hopes for an Energy Star rating for those buildings.

Board Vice President Amy McGlynn was impressed with the thought of green roofs on GRPS buildings.

“So many of our schools are the only pocket parks our neighborhoods have,” she said. “Any more green will make a huge difference in the quality of life.” 

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