Architects, engineers object to Haslam’s park privatization plans

Tennessee architects and engineers say Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans to privatize operations at Fall Creek Falls State Park would largely bypass the State Building Commission, which normally oversees all state property projects, reports the Times-Free Press.

That brings them into “the political battle between the administration on one side and, on the other, state employees and Van Buren County who oppose outsourcing hospitality services at the remote Cumberland Plateau park considered the “jewel” of Tennessee’s park system.”

The administration has set aside $22 million to tear down the park’s inn and build a new one. The proposal would allow vendors to select their own architects, engineers and construction teams. But William Blankenship, a Knoxville architect and president of the American Institute of Architects- Tennessee, said the RFP “circumvents” the State Building Commission.

When “the state of Tennessee hires me as the designer and I sign a contract with the state, I serve the state and I serve the state’s best interest,” Blankenship said.

“When somebody’s working for a concessionaire out of New York City, they’re going to sign a contract with that concessionaire. Do you really think he’s going to work in the state’s best interest? He’s going to move across the table to the concessionaire. And they’re going to work together either for or against the state of Tennessee.”

State Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau said the State Building Commission still will have a role in approving the process.

“Somebody’s going to design the building. Everybody’s going to have to be licensed and to be an architect in Tennessee just like any other project the state has or private sector has.”

But Blankenship and AIA-Tennessee’s chief lobbyist, Bill Nolan, said the RFP doesn’t require the vendor use a Tennessee business. The concessionaire, not the building commission, will determine the design and construction team. And the vendor won’t be required to follow state procurement policies enforced by the commission in those areas, they argue.

Blankenship and Nolan say State Building Commission oversight of building has resulted in decades of well-designed and -constructed buildings that are safe for 40 to 50 years in a process that has been scandal-free.

That goes away, they say, with State Building Commission approval in a one-off type action with no oversight.

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