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bobliocatt

KBJ seeks to clear the air about courthouse

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Ann Luce

Staff Writer

JACKSONVILLE -- The name KBJ Architects Inc. kept on surfacing through the controversy over the new Duval County Courthouse Complex, and the firm wants to set the record straight.

KBJ was one of four firms that made it to the final design competition stage in June 2002.

The firms -- Rink Reynolds, Cannon Design, KBJ and Spillis Candela -- made presentations to a selection committee that chose Cannon Design as the designer of the complex.

But that decision prompted officials at Jacksonville-based KBJ to file a complaint.

"We have been involved [in the courthouse project] for the last two and a half years, mostly during the first four or five months of the project," said KBJ principal William Morris at the last meeting of the Jacksonville City Council's special committee on the courthouse on Oct. 29. "We have been accused of sour grapes, but it's time to clear the air.

"City government is a steward of the city. As a private citizen I may be angry with the progress on this project, but as a firm, we know the city has the option to choose the firm of its choice."

Former Mayor John Delaney's administration heard KBJ's complaint that the Cannon design did not meet size or budget specifications and found no grounds for the complaint.

That should have been the last anyone heard on the subject from KBJ, which started in Jacksonville in 1946 and now employs more than 50 people at offices in Jacksonville and Orlando. But the firm's name has continued to come up throughout the courthouse project process.

It came up when City Council member Suzanne Jenkins brought a bill before the council more than a year and a half ago asking Mayor John Peyton to stop the project temporarily because information from members of the design and construction communities indicated the numbers were not adding up.

Cannon's design was "twice, or at least one and a half times, its original size," Jenkins said. "People were coming up to me and asking me to do something. But when I brought it to the mayor, he thought I was pushing KBJ. I told him, 'Listen, we're going to train wreck, it won't work, we're not going to bring it in on budget.' But the mayor didn't know me; he was new, too, and he figured I was bringing him trouble. He felt it was an assault on him."

So the process continued and the courthouse complex under Cannon fluctuated in size and cost on a month-to-month basis.

But KBJ's name was still still out there when Dan Kleman, chief operating officer for the city, arrived seven months ago.

Kleman visited the KBJ offices this past summer at the company's invitation, he said, and after KBJ had been telling him, Peyton and City Council members how much it would cost to complete KBJ's project.

"We did not solicit information from KBJ," Kleman said. "We had no interest in them. They were a proposer, they appealed, they were unsuccessful in their appeal. We have no interest in conversing with them on this project."

But Tom Rensing, a principal at KBJ, said KBJ's original project could be completed for the $232 million budget the city has allocated for the project thus far.

"Our recent estimate [of] June 4, 2004, is that we can build our design for $114,110,784 million," he said at the special committee meeting Oct. 29. That number is the construction budget only. "We have built in escalation costs of $6 million for increases and an additional $4 million for contingencies. There is plenty of room to make this work."

Under the numbers KBJ presented at the meeting, the project could be finished for $198 million. That would include construction costs, land, the old federal courthouse, monies that have already been spent and an additional $10 million for contingencies.

Peyton stopped work on the courthouse complex Oct. 28 when he fired Cannon and construction managers Skanska Dynamic Partners. Officials say the city will take the next two or three months to evaluate the project.

Morris said he and KBJ are hoping that they can have a say in the future direction of the courthouse, but they are concerned about how the name of the firm has been thrown around in the past.

"Different people have had different political agendas and have used us to paint us as a thorn in his [Peyton's] side," Morris said. "We don't want to say anything more because we hope to work with the city in the future."

[email protected] | 265-2239

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It feels morally correct to award KBJ the design. I'm pretty sure they were a close second in the design competition, and naturally, should be chosen. Also, if the city picks KBJ, we won't have to wait long, because they already have plans and everything. I don't really want another design competition.

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Before everyone jumps to the aide of KBJ, lets remember that their plans were no further developed than anyone else's at the conclusion of the design competition. It is unlikely they continued with the design after the competition at their own cost.

Despite many public assurances that they just wanted what is right for the city, it seems suspect to me that KBJ did not have ulterior motives for their actions. Business is business and it is obvious that they do not like second place.

Let's start over with a clean slate.

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Before everyone jumps to the aide of KBJ, lets remember that their plans were no further developed than anyone else's at the conclusion of the design competition.  It is unlikely they continued with the design after the competition at their own cost.

Despite many public assurances that they just wanted what is right for the city, it seems suspect to me that KBJ did not have ulterior motives for their actions.  Business is business and it is obvious that they do not like second place.

Let's start over with a clean slate.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Welcome to the forum Jaxnative231.

Your first point is a valid one for the most part, but surely they did more research before making public statements that they could still build their design for $232mm when the costs of the Cannon design was at $287 and rising.

As for the second point, it goes without saying that KBJ felt they deserved to win the contract, otherwise they would not have contested it. No firm would like losing a huge contract, but I doubt they would have risked reputational damage by protesting without any grounds. They said from day one that Cannon did not submit a design that met the square footage limitation and the budget. Given the chain of events since then, it's hard to argue that they didn't have a credible argument.

From this and other articles on this subject, it appears that a very sharp division arose immediately of "us vs. them" between KBJ and the city. The taxpayers of Jacksonville may pay dearly for that unfortunate situation. A good leader should take what his detractors say to mind, and not just dismiss them out of hand.

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Remember, that there were other reasons for the KBJ protest besides the fact that they came in second.

First, the Cannon Design was the only one whose structure sat squarely on Clay St. This required Bellsouth to move a large trunk of their downtown lines, since they ran directly under Clay St.

Second, it is by far the largest of the designs. At the design competition the size of the structure was about 735,000 sq ft. It has now been reported to be as large as 1,176,000 sq. ft.

Third, KBJ has an excellent reputation in Jacksonville since the 40's. Their portfolio includes the Times-Union Center, Independent Square, the Federal Courthouse (On Time/On Budget, by the way), work for JU/UNF/FCCJ, and the U.S. Navy. By not getting the project, it's not like it was going to sink the company either. As good of a Mayor as Delaney was, he probably should have listened to the complaint more.

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Remember, that there were other reasons for the KBJ protest besides the fact that they came in second.

First, the Cannon Design was the only one whose structure sat squarely on Clay St.

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I didn't know too much about Cannon. I don't think they're locally based, but that's quite an impressive list^

KBJ also did the Aetna, Prudential, Florida Theatre renovations and Jacksonville International Airport. I just thought they were a natural second place, since the other two designs sucked. I would hate to have to wait for another design competition, just because we've already waited long enough.

BTW, Welcome Cannondale and Jaxnative 231! Good to have more members here!

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No one questions the quality of Cannon's original design. It was the first choice for a reason. However Cannon's modified design would never have won the competition. As the BJJ editorialized, there is a lot of blame to go around. But, obviously the red flag that KBJ raised had at least some validity. Given the position KBJ has in the community and their track record, more attention should have been paid to the point they were trying to make.

This situation also reminds me of the Laura Place trio. Signet promised a lot and didn't deliver a thing. Actually, they did deliver an unproductive delay and more deteriorated buildings! Meanwhile the second place choice (Mike Langton) has to get back at the end of the line, when he had planned a residential project from the very beginning. This pattern of choices that turn out badly, should not be overlooked.

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You can blame Canon, or you can blame the city for not spending a bit more for the civic vision...any way you look at it, they are back at ground zero. I'd personally like to see a more modern structure.

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You can blame Canon, or you can blame the city for not spending a bit more for the civic vision...any way you look at it, they are back at ground zero.  I'd personally like to see a more modern structure.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The city certainly shoulders a good portion of the blame overall, but I don't fault the city for not anteing up the money to build the original Cannon design. Remember, the $300 mm price tag (and that still was not guaranteed) was for the MODIFIED Cannon design, not the original. Lord only knows how much it would have cost to build the original design with the dome and the full number of completed (not shelled) courtrooms.

I believe Jax and any city should build beautiful public buildings, even at additional cost, but there has to be a limit at some point.

Let's not forget that the Arena, ballpark and library have been or will be on-budget (contigency funds notwithstanding). All three can justifiably be called impressive, attractive public buildings.

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That is an impressive list of achievements. So why are they in the spot they are in?

Wondering aloud

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Who says they're in a "spot?" You? Just what spot are you talking about?

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Who says they're in a "spot?" You? Just what spot are you talking about?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Who says? I guess me. I mean, I typed it in. By spot, I mean how are they not now working on this project? Spot was used (I think fairly) as a nebulous and neutral term to describe their current situation, which is fired. Fired is a term that I have seen reported. If this is not true or there is more to their current situation than reported than I think that would be a relevant follow up to a list of accomplishments. A list that is impressive, no doubt. My mind is not made up on who is to blame for the current situation. If Cannon is not I think the time is ripe to explain.

Who would be surprised to see a downtown city funded project go sour? No one thats lived here for the last 6 months. It is THAT in my mind when I ask, what happened?

Glad to have you on the board.

TUC

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Let's not forget, Skanska was a major player here...and another thing, architects cannot provide guaranteed maximum price since they don't build it!

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

A valid point, but obviously Cannon estimated that the building could be built for $190mm originally, because that was the guideline they were given, and submitted under.

Again, there is plenty of blame to go around. If and when the full story with this ever comes to light, undoubtedly, Delaney, Peyton, Cannon, Skanska, Jacobs Facilities, the city of Jax, the judges, all share in the blame. Some, no doubt, are more at fault than others. Perhaps part of the problem was there were "too many cooks in the kitchen". Also, no one could have accurately predicted the sharp increase in steel and concrete prices, etc. Bad luck/things can happen to any project.

The city's earliest figures (190mm, 211mm), appear to have been mere SWAGs, or politically correct numbers not based on facts. That is a self-imposed setup to failure. Of course, the competition architects submitted bids based on those numbers.

One question I have is was there a "change request" submitted by Jacobs, Skanka or Cannon, each and every time that the square footage changed. Given the fact that the size of the building grew so much, it is obvious that the price would increase in kind.

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No one group here should be the scapegoat for the success or failure of the courthouse. Sure some are more to blame than others and with that sentiment, how come the city has not owned up to their part in its failure? It seems everyone is quick to blame the architects even though they are only one cog in the so-called "team". The city officials should share in some of the blame as well.

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Finally someone mentions Skanska! Cannondale is correct Architects do not provide GMP's since they are not builders. Seems like the question needs to be asked to Skanska, what happened? At the presentation for the their selection as the CM on the project the budget was fine. Of course that is not the same group that ended up on the jobsite to build the project..

Might be worth a look at the structure of the CM contract. When you are paid fee over time instead of basing it on work in place, there is not much incentive to move forward on a project, let alone take on the associated risk of actual construction.

One of the previous posts referenced that Cannon was from out of town. While they may be based out of town they have had an office here for nearly 20 years. If the argument is that KBJ should get work based on being local, then that should apply to the CM as well. Since Skanska is based outside of the country, guess they should not have been selected.

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Jaxnative, it seems you actually have some facts to back up your statements.

Because they are just architects, why do you think KBJ keeps assuring the City that they can build it for the budget?

If their design is concept level (from the competition over two years ago), that means their estimate is also conceptual in nature. It seems to me that through the course of development of that design, the same square footage growths, security increases, etc. would occur to their design as well.

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ok, my question is, now that it is done and there is no going back... what will the next generation courthouse be like and who is the firm willing to take on the challenge of designing it. Does a new administration mean an new agenda and stylistic character for the city? Will the city finally get "architects" to be jurors on the next courthouse competition instead of someone whose reaction to a design is "oh, my... now that's pretty!" Will jacksonville truly be the "bold NEW city of the south" or some backwards country bumkin town full of double wides and 4x4s???

as far as the fiasco that just occured, i expect nothing less from the politicians... as always more could have been done, but there is also a point of no return, and i think that the mayor had reached his.

are there any real answers, no... but why not instead of pointing fingers, it just be put behind and we move forward before the lawyers get any ideas!!!!

thank you>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

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One good thing to come out of this fiasco (and the Shipyard's project as well) is that now all future projects will be viewed closely by all sides, especially by the public.

Speaking of the new design. I also hope its takes on a more post modern architectural style in the form of a high-rise, which would keep the streets open, and fit better into the surrounding downtown area. Going vertical would also mean at least 4 of those 7 blocks could be placed back on the market and sold to private interests. The last thing the courthouse needs to be is a traditional sprawling complex based off of an architectural style that was popular 100 years ago.

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Boy, the number of forumers is growing rapidly! Welcome to RideBikes, Crazy Cuban, Merlin, and anyone else I may have missed! I hope you stay around and keep posting.

While I don't expect another competition, I think an all-architect selection committee would likely give us as bad or worse of a design as one with no architects. A mix of perspectives is best. Often times a layman can see things that a professional cannot. This lessens the chance of "group think" IMO. Someone that works in a fish market doesn't realize it stinks. After all, it's the citizens and the judges that will actually LIVE with the final product day in and day out.

Personally, I think the original Cannon design was great. It just didn't meet the budget. The KBJ design is good also, and if they can build it on budget, I would let them. As it stands now, the new Courthouse won't be finished until 2011!!!! :angry:

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I also liked the Cannon design, and I liked the style of that building. But once the costs and delays went up rapidly, I was ready for the city to move on. I just wish we wouldn't have to wait so long for this.

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I agree that we need to move on.

While I agree with Peyton's decision to can the design and start new, this thing would have got a lot less pubicity under Delaney. Let's look at some things:

In eight years, do you remember anything turing into a "shipyards" or a "courthouse"

In 16 months, he has had some major staff changes. Sam Mousa, a staple in local government, quit 11 days into Peyton's administration. The last person to leave the Position of CAO/COO was Lex Hester. The change occurred in the position when he PASSED AWAY!

It is obvious that this guy can't multi-task. When have you heard him talking about more than one thing in the same month?

He also can't keep a lid on things. During the first weeks of his administration, it was found out that he was using a second email account. Later, it was found that Diebenow and Teagle (who has since resigned) were discussing city business using a Yahoo Account. Delaney was mayor for 8 years, and we NEVER heard about this. The Times-Union found out about this in less than 2 months!

Here's the thing about this: Delaney didn't leave when it hit the fan. When your running a city like Jacksonville, things always hit the fan. The difference is, you have to roll with the punches, not make it a big publicity affair.

Granted, the Courthouse is the largest single municipal project in memory (I believe in history - even Alltel was cheaper), Deleney's resume is pretty good: Times Union Center, St. James Building, Arena, Ballpark, Ritz Theater and much of the Better Jacksonville Plan.

Imagine taking over a company, and replacing your entire top staff with people that haven't ever worked in the industry. Read the linked article: from the Business Journal.

Just something to think about...

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