Parks was about to award the job to him, but we pointed out that three of the parks they submitted were built prior to the timeframe that was in the qualifications. They re-checked their facts, realized that they had made a few miscalculations (oops!) and they disqualified Sahli. But instead of awarding the project to the lowest (actually) qualified bidder, Parks has decided to lower the qualifications and re-bid the project. It seems as though Seattle Parks really wants Tom Sahli to build our next skatepark, regardless of the legal process that skateboarders have been trying like hell to work within.
So we wrote a letter to Kevin Stoops, the man who gets to make the decision, with the hope that we can help him understand why it’s important to hire a qualified contractor to build a specialized facility. Here it is in all it’s glory.
Seattle Parks Department
Dear Mr. Stoops,
This letter is regarding the qualification criteria that was presented to bidders in the Delridge Skatepark RFQ Amendment #1, and why Seattle skateboarders feel it’s important to employ sufficient qualification requirements when evaluating selection of a contractor for any of Seattle’s skateparks.
We’ve come a long way as a city from struggling over the issues of whether or not to build skateparks. We used to debate for months over the mere existence of these facilities. I don’t need to remind you that there was a time when Seattle Parks and Recreation (Seattle Parks) did not believe that these parks were even worth building because the need wasn’t there. Through consistent advocacy, skateboarders have managed to help change that belief. We now share the understanding that the community wants and needs skatepark facilities. To date, we have four public skatepark facilities that are arguably some of the most heavily used, inexpensively maintained, and thus successful facilities in the Seattle Parks system. This letter represents a similar effort to help Seattle Parks’ better understand the evolution of skatepark design and construction, and why it’s important to listen to the park users when it comes to selecting the firms that create these expensive and permanent facilities.
Less than ten years ago, public skateparks were a relatively new phenomenon. The forward thinking municipalities who wanted a public skatepark didn’t have many options for identifying and selecting contractors specializing in skatepark design and construction. The field of skatepark construction was also new enough that there simply wasn’t much a city manager could do to evaluate a skatepark builder’s qualifications. A city would be lucky to identify a contractor that had experience constructing one skatepark. During these early times, skateparks were built throughout Western Washington, almost entirely by contractors without skateboarding experience, and they still exist today. You can go to Des Moines, Issaquah, University Place, Spanaway, Bonney Lake and many other area skateparks and you will see skateboarders enjoying these facilities. But if you took the time to ask them, as we have done through years of conversations and advocacy, they’d tell you that they could be skating something much better if the designer and/or contractor had a better understanding of skateboarding.
As more skateparks have been constructed over the last 10 years, the art of skatepark design and construction has evolved at a rapid pace due to the constant integration of lessons learned. It’s incredible to go on a skatepark tour in our region and see how vastly the quality and design varies from skatepark to skatepark based on when they were constructed. From a city manager’s standpoint, if the projects were completed on schedule with minimal change orders and skateboarders use them, they are deemed successful from the objective city point of view. However, this mode of evaluating success neglects gaining input from the ultimate end user, the skateboarding community. The SPAC has been attempting and will continue to attempt to fill this void by providing that much needed input so that a designer’s/contractor’s true qualifications and end product can be accurately evaluated.
Skatepark design is very complex and often includes multiple intersecting nonlinear surfaces and non‐standard joints and edges with very specific geometries. These complexities make it difficult, if not impossible, for even the best of designers to develop a specification that eliminates the potential for error during construction. This potential for error and the significant affect that even minor errors have on the skateability of the skatepark, makes skatepark construction a specialty construction. Therefore, it is extremely important that the selected contractor has sufficient experience constructing a number of skatepark designs of similar nature and magnitude to be able to understand and implement the nuances of the complex design. Just as important is that the contractor has crew members that understand the intent of the design from a skateboarder’s perspective (e.g., crew members that skateboard). This allows these crew members to test the constructed surfaces with that perspective in mind such that any necessary modifications can be made in the field to truly meet the design intent (not just the specifications) without the need for increased costly oversight by the designer or Seattle Parks. Skatepark construction firms have evolved to the point where they have fabricated their own tools, sometimes only to be used for a dedicated purpose on a single project. Seattle Parks should bid this project such that only these types of specialty skatepark construction firms meet the qualifications to construct the Delridge Skatepark.
So how should Seattle Parks objectively evaluate a contractor’s qualifications for specialty skatepark construction? The answer, learn from other cities with skatepark design construction experience. Based on research and discussions with nationally recognized skatepark design/build firms, other cities across the nation have recognized that skatepark construction is a specialty construction and therefore required stringent qualifications to ensure the contractor bid pool is qualified. These cities are requiring that contractors show sufficient construction experience with skateparks within the last several years. We have found that these requirements typically require that contractors be able to document that at a minimum they have built at least five skateparks in the last five years of similar size and scope. In some cases where low bid contractors have built lesser quality parks in the region (such as in the Northwest), some cities are now increasing these requirements to ten parks in the last five years. The initial Delridge Skatepark bid package only included the following limited requirements for the Delridge Skatepark: “must have completed two skateparks”. As discussed above, due to the specialty nature of skatepark construction and perhaps more importantly the construction of a number of lesser quality skateparks (again through the eyes of the skateboarding community not the city administrator) in this region, this requirement is inadequate and allows for a potentially unqualified contractor to win the contract via submittal of the lowest bid. The SPAC notified Seattle Parks of this potential and requested that the bid be amended to more fully reflect the skatepark qualification requirements necessary to build a world class skatepark. Seattle Parks listened to and incorporated this feedback and changed the qualifications language to “The firm shall have successfully performed and completed six (6) projects in the past six years of a directly analogous nature of 15,000 square feet or larger of cast-in-place concrete that have been in operation for one (1) full year.” SPAC applauded this revision as it ensures the bid pool is qualified for skatepark specialty construction.
Following receipt of evaluation of the bids, it is SPAC’s understanding that the lowest bid contractor could not meet the addendum qualifications. Further it is our understanding that Seattle Parks typical contract process would then lead to the selection of the next lowest bidder that meets the addendum qualifications. However, we understand that Parks is now considering not following that typical process and re-bidding the project with potentially lower qualification requirements. We ask for Seattle Parks rationale for not following the typical selection process and more importantly re-bidding the project with lesser qualifications. This re-bid process could result in the selection of an unqualified skatepark construction firm and uses tax payer dollars in the process. Is it Seattle Parks mission on this project to spend less money or to hire a contractor that has the experience to build a world class skatepark?
Seattle Parks already has existing information proving that the selection of low bid non-specialty skatepark construction contractor leads to a lesser quality skatepark – the Lower Woodland Skatepark. The contractor that was hired to build that park was known to skateboarders as a competent finisher, but every one of their skateparks had several critical construction issues that interfered with the skateability. What ensued was a year of skateboarder involvement including document review, daily site visits, emails, phone calls, and meetings to try and mitigate the problems before they were permanently set into concrete. Many of these issues arose from the contractor’s ability to interpret the grey area in the design specifications that are inherent in complex skatepark designs. Issues the SPAC directly identified and communicated to Parks were corrected include improper setting of coping, drainage locations, improper feature placement, flat planes being used instead of curved gradual transitions, and unrealistic feature dimensions. Many of these problems would have led to the affected features/areas being unskateable, but due to skater involvement (not the designer or Seattle Parks) these problems were largely mitigated. Does Seattle Parks want to take the chance that a similar non-specialty contractor will repeat these same mistakes AND that the skateboarding community will have spend their own personal hours to make sure that we get the facility that we advocate for, received funding for, and are ultimately paying for with our own tax dollars?
We struggle daily with the fact that are in the Pacific Northwest amongst some of the best skatepark construction firms in the world, yet we seem to be apprehensive to employ their talents because Seattle Parks is hesitant to use the appropriate specialty skatepark construction bidder qualifications that are being used by other cities across the nation. We’re not talking about just one firm here. The West Coast alone is home to as many as six world‐class builders. Builders like Newline Skateparks, Grindline Skateparks, and Dreamland Skateparks, are right in our backyard and in the case of Delridge, one of them is physically located a few blocks from the site. These firms are clearly proven leaders and innovators in specialty skatepark construction, and the skaters love the parks they create. Why not maintain the existing addendum requirements that will ensure non-specialty contractors such as these firms are deemed unqualified to construct the Delridge Skatepark? We understand that state law requires the use of a low bidder to keep general construction project costs down, but Seattle Parks should attempt to do everything legally possible to ensure that the low bidder is qualified. That will not be the case if the project is re-bid with lesser qualification requirements.
We implore you to think about creative ways to raise the bar on how we select these vendors, and we invite you to engage us in discussion about the differences between a “meets the spec at low budget” facility and a world class skatepark.
We realize there is currently a climate of extreme financial restraint within the entire city government right now, but we request that you not be a penny short and a pound foolish when it comes to selecting someone to build a permanent, artful, and highly utilized facility for our city skatepark system. We guarantee you that per‐user hour, you will still get the best deal for each dollar spent on any skatepark than you will get on any other facility in the entire park system, if the low bid is a little higher through the selection of the qualified specialty skatepark contractor. We lobbied for the funds, and they’re there to be spent. Please let us spend them on the world class skatepark Seattle needs, not the lesser quality skatepark that can be built for cheaper.
Skate Park Advisory Committee
Ryan Barth (Chair)
Matthew Lee Johnston