WILMETTE – To engage the community in a second go-around of revamping Wilmette’s lakefront parks, the Wilmette Park District board discussed whether to offer a contest for the design of a new beach house at Gillson Beach at its meeting on May 9.
“This time I want to really engage the community more often and earlier,” President John Olvany said.
The board’s discussion focused on whether to follow a traditional Request for Qualifications or “RFQ” process to hire architects to design the beach house, or instead offer a design contest that could potentially draw the interest of architects in the community.
Bill Lambrecht, superintendent of parks and planning, said the Park District issued an RFQ in the last go-around, which included a review of qualifications of the firms that participated and a selection of one of those firms by the board. Lambrecht said that if the board decides to offer a design contest, the law requires that the Park District still issue an RFQ but must also include very specific rules concerning the format, and a detailed program for the building. The idea being that every firm submitting design proposals is working off the same rules. A jury would then review the proposals, which could be comprised of trustees and/or members of the public.
According to Lambrecht there are two types of design competitions, one where firms submit design proposals that are then reviewed by a jury, and another that is comprised of two phases. In a two-phase design competition the firms submit proposals, which are reviewed by a jury, and then in the second phase two to three top firms are chosen to further develop their plans. In the second stage — which could include pricey 3-D models — it is common practice to pay a fee for the second submission.
Commissioner Shelley Shelly said the idea for a design competition came from the community. “To honor what we heard, we thought it would be a good idea to go out and have some kind of contest,” she said. “The whole goal is to open this up to as many people as possible,” she said..
But Commissioner Ryrie Pellaton questioned whether it made more sense to encourage the community to submit ideas outside a competition. Pellaton also noted that the most difficult — and contentious — task was likely going to be deciding on the specifications for the beach house.
And Commissioner Bryan Abbott noted that while he liked the idea of residents submitting ideas outside of a competition, he felt that open dialogue was the best way to achieve a good design. “Good design is a dialogue not a competition,” he said.
Commissioner Gordon Anderson also questioned whether a design competition was making the process overly complicated. But some commissioners who were on the board when the community overwhelming rejected its prior lakefront plan maintained that getting more community input was a priority.
“I want to achieve as much buy-in as we can get from the community as early in the process and as long in the process as we can,” President Olvany said.
He further noted that the traditional RFQ process did not meet the community’s need in the previous master plan. “That wasn’t sufficient from the community’s perspective — we didn’t engage the community enough in the process,” he said. “I think we have to learn from our mistakes.”
While Commissioner Abbott supported the discussion of a design competition, he maintained that the board should vote on the scope of any plans for the lakefront. The other board members disagreed, noting that a decision would eventually need to be made as to whether to offer a design competition.
“I don’t think it is a good idea to hash out everything we are going to do down there before we start the project,” Pellaton said.
The board decided to table the decision for another month while staff puts together a detailed program for the Gillson beach house.