Where there is no counsel, the people fail; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety, according to the wise man Solomon.
Seeking the counsel of others to help decide the wisdom of planning, designing, constructing and operating an 800- to 1,000-bed medium security privately operated prison, the Kenai Peninsula Borough has issued a request for qualifications.
Different from a request for proposals, which asks applicants to state anticipated project costs, an RFQ seeks to identify a firm or firms that can team with the Alaska Department of Corrections and the Kenai Peninsula Borough in a public-public-private arrangement to assist in the planning and promotion of the project.
According to the RFQ, subsequent contracts will be negotiated for the design, construction and operation of the prison.
"It is somewhat unusual for the borough to issue an RFQ," wrote Jeff Sinz, the borough's finance director, in an e-mail responding to a reporter's questions. "RFPs are common, but not RFQs.
"An RFQ was chosen because of (the borough's) inability to define and commit to a specific scope of services at this time. The scope of subsequent project phases will be impacted by the Legislature and the Alaska Department of Correc-tions."
The request for qualifications was completed Dec. 15, and the first copies were distributed Dec. 17 to parties who already have expressed an interest in the project. The borough will seek out others who might qualify through ads in area newspapers.
Proponents of the prison estimate its construction will carry an $80 million price tag and create 250 to 300 permanent jobs.
"The borough has no other public-public-private arrangements that would compare with this," Sinz wrote. "The borough does administer some grants from public sources that we execute through private contracts, ... but nothing of this scope."
In order for the state of Alaska to comply with an out-of-court agreement to provide adequate space for state prisoners, some 800 prisoners are currently residing in an Arizona prison.
In 1998, House Bill 53, introduced by Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, authorized the Department of Corrections to partner with Anchorage and Delta Junction to increase in-state prison space by constructing two new facilities.
The new Anchorage prison, which will be operated by the Department of Corrections, is on schedule, according to Corrections Commissioner Margaret Pugh. The Delta Junction project, which would use space being abandoned by the military at Fort Greely, is a more complicated agreement, owing, in part, to other options also being considered for the space.
"Despite legislative approval for the (Fort Greely) project, little substantive progress has been made toward execution and implementation of the authorized contract," reads the Kenai Peninsula Borough's RFQ.
When asked to explain "substantive progress," Sinz wrote, "It simply means that several years after authorizing legislation, no agreement, or even draft agreement, has been developed between the state of Alaska and Delta Junction. Delta Junction is considering alternative uses for the Fort Greely facilities and has recently issued a contract to assess the feasibility of their prison project."
Seeing the Interior community's possible loss as the peninsula's financial gain, the borough assembly on Dec. 12 passed an ordinance that granted Borough Mayor Dale Bagley the authority to:
n Solicit competitive bids or proposals including requests for qualifications for the use, lease or purchase of land, the design, construction and operation of the facility.
The agreement becomes effective after the borough enters into the necessary agreements with the state and after the funding source, which is expected to be revenue bonds, has been approved by the assembly unless otherwise authorized by the assembly. The agreement with the winning bidder or proposer must be approved by the assembly by resolution before it takes effect.
n Negotiate an intergovernmental agreement with the state for the operation of the facility. The assembly must approve the final agreement by resolution.
The ordinance also stated that voter approval of this capital improvement project is not required. It is planned that the design and construction will be financed by the issuance of tax-exempt revenue bonds, repaid by the state to the borough for operating the prison.
Planning and promoting expenses of the initial contract phase will be absorbed by the contractor and not reimbursed by the borough, according to the RFQ.
"Given the degree of uncertainty concerning this project, it seems appropriate to the borough that the private firm selected invest their own time and effort to help the borough plan and promote this project," Sinz wrote.
Sinz anticipated, although it is not guaranteed in the RFQ, that the candidate selected to do the planning and promoting will be the one to continue with the design, construction and operation of the prison.
"If as a result of this effort, the Alaska Legislature authorizes a correctional facility within the Kenai Peninsula Borough and an intergovernmental contract is successfully negotiated between the Alaska Department of Corrections and the borough, the borough intends to enter into negotiations with the same firm for subsequent contract(s) covering design, construction and operation of the correctional facility," he wrote.
The RFQ asks responding firms to describe the project team, which may include more than one firm; provide specific details of the firm's qualifications and experience in similar projects; explain the strategy to promote the project and gain legislative approval; discuss the planned approach to employee recruitment and development, specifically the employment of borough residents; identify the location of the project offices; and provide references. A complete set of audited financial statements also must be submitted.
Bagley will select an evaluation team that will review and weigh the responding firms' qualifications, with the most weight given in the area of experience, qualifications and resources of the firm.
The deadline for interested firms to direct questions regarding the RFQ to the borough is Jan. 5.
After the selection of the contractor is announced, the winning submittal will be open to review by competing firms. Once the contract is awarded, all submittals will be open to the public.
Work is scheduled to begin immediately following the contract award.
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