When the City of Urbana, Illinois, decided to embark on the first project in their facility master plan – and the first new city building in over 20 years – they used the combination of Sourcewell and BlueScope Construction to move quickly from idea to operational facility.
The City of Urbana began creating a facility master plan in 2018 with the Chicago office of the architecture firm CannonDesign. “We basically looked at the entire city organization as a whole to develop our priorities through facilities, condition assessments, space needs and programing,” said Vince Gustafson, the Deputy Director for Operations in the City of Urbana’s Department of Public Works. From the master plan, a Phase One was identified. The new multipurpose storage facility was the first project scheduled for development.
One of the key takeaways from the master plan study was a lack of storage space and the impact of that lack of space on different city organizations within the city. The Department of Works had been borrowing space from other agencies, storing equipment in multiple locations across the city. This meant equipment that was needed in an emergency might be housed off-site or stored behind other city vehicles and not able to be accessed quickly.
Once the project need was identified, the city acquired the land and accounted for the funding in the city budget. This lined up with the beginning of COVID-19, and Urbana city leadership were looking for “shovel-ready” projects that could also qualify for grant opportunities. Gustafson knew the facilities plan had been approved and was tasked with putting together a complete project plan that could take advantage of open grants.
“Being familiar with joint procurement opportunities that the city has approved, I found the BlueScope Construction Sourcewell contract and I reached out,” said Gustafson. Sourcewell is a government agency that specializes in cooperative purchasing and makes it possible for customers to use single-source contracts with vendors that are already pre-bid and vetted. “That saves us a considerable amount of time and effort as opposed to the traditional route of hiring an architect, coming up with the design scope, going out with an invitation to bid, reviewing bid specifications and all the other hurdles that come with the procurement process.” Sourcewell represents over 67,000 public-agency members, and BlueScope Construction is the only design-build contractor to be awarded a Sourcewell contract for both new facility construction and renovation.
“BlueScope Construction was my first option, and it paid huge dividends,” said Gustafson. “I knew that the contract with Sourcewell was there and all of their publicly bid contracts are available online so I could review them. I went to the website and I viewed a few of their videos and it seemed like a really good fit. Literally within a matter of two to three weeks of contacting them, we had conceptual drawings. We had a footprint, we had a design and enough of a project within the scope that I was able to present something to the city administrator and the mayor that had enough project justification that we could include it in the grant application.”
The design of the building was centered around the need for a large, heated bay space within a limited and fixed budget – and a limited site footprint. Through the design-build process with BlueScope Construction, the city was able to maximize the available budget to achieve as much square footage under one roof space that they possibly could. “Traditionally when you go through a design-build process, you’re just setting a design out and you don’t have flexibility in regards to project scope,” said Gustafson. The Sourcewell process allowed for that flexibility and helped the city reach the right result. “The design-build process really afforded us the opportunity to more than once scope up and scope down the scale of the facility based upon the price fluctuations and timing and availability. With a traditional design-build process, if you wanted to do that kind of scope of change of work, you’d have to rebuild the project, which as we know would have added months to the implementation.
“We were able to meet our purchasing policy and purchasing requirements and know that ultimately not only are we saving time, but generally we are saving money because these contracts are bid on a national scale,” said Gustafson. “So we’re able to save cost and save time and produce results much faster. Had we followed a traditional procurement process, it could have easily added six to eight months before we would have had a contract in hand.”
As the project got underway, BlueScope Construction held weekly construction meetings with the City to make sure all stakeholders were informed and involved in making decisions. “We just had a really good working relationship,” said Gustafson. “It was just nice working with friendly, friendly people and knowing that even the minor issues that you always run into, we were able to resolve quickly and efficiently.”
Despite the global impacts of COVID-19 on the supply chain and the labor market, the Urbana multipurpose storage facility was completed on time and budget. “That’s huge,” said Gustafson. “It’s huge. This was a very efficient process to get the end result that we desired. The fact that we were able to initiate and complete a project in a timeframe like this was pretty impressive. It felt like light speed. So we’re thrilled.”
The new 23,500 square-foot multipurpose storage facility allows the Department of Public Works, the Police Department, and the Fire Department to store equipment and tools safely and free from any weather impact. Each department has its own dedicated storage space that is physically divided from the others, making it easy for each agency to know exactly where their equipment is and that it’s secure. “Before, there was always that kind of internal elbowing, waiting for room, wondering whose equipment is where,” said Gustafson. “Now there’s no more calls in the middle of the night saying, ‘Hey, we have an evidence vehicle that’s come in. Can you come in and move your equipment so we can get our vehicles in?’ We’re very, very excited to move beyond that, as well as outfitting the spaces with mezzanine storage for long term equipment.”
Gustafson said easy access to equipment is increasingly important as each department expands the scope of services it provides. The Fire Department is tasked with many more responsibilities in addition to putting out fires, and the Department of Works relies on having access to a variety of equipment. “There’s so much more equipment that the Fire Department requires to perform their basic operations. And then for Public Works, there are so many different types of equipment that we utilize on a daily basis, whether that’s street sweepers or bucket trucks or lift hauling trucks. Every department has to be able to get out the piece of equipment we need when we need it.” The new facility makes this possible, whereas previously pieces of equipment would often have to be moved to get to the one piece that was needed in an emergency situation. Not only does this help efficiency, but depending on the need, quick access to equipment can mean the difference between life and death.
The additional space will also improve the experience of city employees who are responsible for operating and maintaining the vehicles stored there. “We’ve been working in very tight, confined spaces,” said Gustafson. “This new space allows our Department of Public Works and the other departments to be much more efficient in how we keep that equipment, and it provides value and increases the length of service life for things that are typically stored outside in the conditions. It also provides the benefit of being able to work on our equipment inside instead of outdoors or in confined areas. If we need to hook up a plow in the middle of the night when it’s snowing and it’s cold, that used to mean someone is out in the snow, in the cold, in the dark, trying to make that equipment ready for the work we need to do. Being able to do that in a nice, well-lit, climate controlled environment is just a huge operational improvement.”
Gustafson said this is the first new major facility to be built by the city during his 18-year tenure. “I can say that it’s great to see a new building up and built. It’s something that I know is going to last, something that I know is quality construction.”
Any city with a Sourcewell membership can use the agency to source construction services. “I think it’s a great opportunity that other communities should explore and speak with their leadership about,” said Gustafson. “We’re all obligated to do our due diligence when we’re looking at those contracts, and I have found in my experience that the process is highly competitive with competitive pricing. I value the ease and the availability for me to get a purchase order approved for something from as simple as furnace filters to something as highly complex as a 23,500 square foot, multimillion-dollar facility. When it comes to procurements and the challenges that we face with the procurement process, Sourcewell is a fantastic opportunity that I believe other municipalities and agencies should explore for their use.”
By partnering with BlueScope Construction and its nationwide network, the City of Urbana was also able to keep the project jobs local. “As a government agency municipality, we love to make sure that we achieve the best return for the community, and keeping those local employment opportunities available for the local workforce is a priority for us,” said Gustafson.
“I’ve had a fantastic experience working with BlueScope Construction. It seems like just yesterday that I came out of the meeting with the city’s executive leadership, with a directive to get a project and get a project as soon as we can. From my first phone call with BlueScope, without even knowing for sure whether this project was going forward, they were more than accommodating. They just jumped right in and said, sure, let me help you.”
Gustafson said he wouldn’t hesitate to use Sourcewell for other city projects. “I definitely think we’ll be keeping it in consideration for future projects as we move ahead. I now have a great understanding of the efficiency that it provides and the flexibility it offers with project budgets and project scopes. It allows us to work directly with the provider to come up with a scope of work that really pinpoints our specific needs and specific budget to get the best results.”