RSA Union – A Prequalification Procedure

Union Framed

December of 1993 and the RSA Union Structural Frame is Almost Complete.

With over $100 Million in construction in the offing for the Union and Tower, and with the Tower twice as high as anything ever built in Montgomery, Ron Blount and I decided that we needed to devise and implement a qualification procedure for general contractors, and it was necessarily going to be unlike anything ever done before under Alabama law.  Up until we two and the RSA brashly imposed qualifications, it had always been perceived that the only legal restriction on public works bidders in Alabama was a valid State contractors license, and a bid bond.

Ron Blount and I persuaded the State Building Commission to participate in our procedure to give it an aura of legality, and we devised criteria which would take into account pertinent experience, poor work, bad reputation, slow work, self performance and a litigious nature–all the intangibles as well as the tangibles.  Ours was a double selection procedure, which was to produce two qualification lists–one group which could bid the 10-story RSA Union, and a shorter list of contractors which would be allowed to bid both the Union and the RSA Tower.  As it turned out, we produced a splendid result for the Union, but our Tower list resulted in a pluperfect disaster.

As might be expected, our procedure and precedent set the politically powerful Alabama Branch of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) on a war with itself, and our action was the principal subject of debate in AGC meetings for the next two years.  Half the members, the good guys, knew they were being driven out of business by the broker contractors who assigned their project attorney and claim specialist even before they selected a project manager.  That half thought what we did was great.  Naturally, the other half felt that the law should be rewritten to forbid our procedure.  Finally the two sides reached a compromise, hired a lawyer to draft revisions to the law, and set out to change Title 39, the so-called Public Works Act.

Oddly enough, the attorney they employed was Lister Hubbard, whom is Senator Lister Hill’s grandson and the editor of the Bar Association’s publication which attempted to ridicule PH&J ten years earlier.

As it turned out, I spent many hours debating with Lister, proposing language, lobbying the different parties that would be affected, and sitting in on Legislative Committee Hearings.  The AGC got its new bill passed as law in less than two years and substantially changed construction law in Alabama.  Most of what they did was for the good, but some was not.  Lister Hubbard and I still debate some of the finer points whenever we come in contact.  Much of the language that I proposed was incorporated, so what can I say?

Lister and the AGC struck from the old Title 39 the sentence which read “The Awarding Authority has an obligation to insure that the State awards its work to competent bidders.”  It was the very words that won the day at an earlier hearing, the same obscure provision on which Ron Blount and I based our unprecedented stand in the first place.  I will never forgive the State Building Commission, the University of Alabama, the League of Municipalities, and the Association of County Commissions for not standing with me to object to its deletion. They all had seats on the committee appointed to review the AGC’s proposed revisions to Title 39.

-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)

This is one of many RSA Union stories. The rest can be found here.

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