Choice Partners purchasing cooperative offers quality, legal procurement and contract solutions to meet government purchasing requirements. We also meet all of the EDGAR/Uniform Guidance/2 CFR 200 requirements!

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Vendor Spotlight

Three Options Available for Summer Facilities Work

Posted on April 27, 2015

It’s May. Have you lined up your contracts for your summer facilities projects?  It takes about 60 days

to write and advertise a Request for Proposal before responses arrive. Then it is at least another 30 days to evaluate the responses and send the award recommendation to the board of trustees. If you have not done that, what are your options? 

Use your annual on-call contract with a facilities services provider who has already provided pricing based on a published construction/maintenance unit price book which covers 99% of all project types, or on pricing established in the competitive sealed proposal for Construction Unit Price Bookconstruction and maintenance projects (not time and materials). Frequently called Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity or IDIQ, these on-call contracts specify a coefficient of the published construction/maintenance unit price. If you have already awarded such a contract to facilities services trades companies, then you have the contract and staffing needed for your summer facilities projects.

Use a cooperative contract that has already been awarded for facilities services. If you have specific vendors you wish to work with, you might search for those vendors and then see what cooperative contracts they have been awarded. In that case, ensure that the cooperative you are choosing is based in a government agency or at least has a lead government agency that awards the contracts. There are nonprofit organizations that use the name “cooperative” that are offering contracts that are not legal in Texas. Their agreements do not name any government, and thus are not an interlocal GOVERNMENTAL contract, as required by Interlocal Cooperative Contracts - Chapter 791.

If the cooperative purchasing organization you have selected to use is legal, next check to ensure that the vendor contract you want to use was issued with IDIQ standard price-book pricing. Facilities services contracts for construction and maintenance must follow Texas Government Code 2269, (with the exception of energy savings conservation contracts). Maintenance work that provides some type of improvement or upgrade, such as an upgrade of old lighting fixtures to newer efficiency bulbs, would be procured under Government Code 2269.

See examples of more than 100 IDIQ facilities services contracts.  Choice Partners recently added (IDIQ) after the contract category name on the website to indicate which contracts have been procured for facilities services under Texas Government Code 2269.

Other contracts that may be helpful for getting construction and maintenance work completed over the summer include new Choice Partners facilities contracts awarded in April for maintenance and operations.

      Industrial Cleaning Equipment - Alklean Industries Inc;

     Janitorial Supplies - Micro-X1 Inc;

     LED Lighting - LEDs Unlimited LLC;

     Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) Supplies - City Supply Co Inc; Coburns Supply Co Inc;

           Crawford Electric Supply Company

     Maintenance and Operations Parts and Equipment - D&G Supply Division;

     Generator Power Equipment - Clifford Power Systems Inc and
     Solar Power Equipment - Texas Solar Resources Inc.

In addition, a new contract was added for Crowd Control Equipment - Visiontron Corporation.

To use these Choice Partners national purchasing cooperative contracts, become a member. Questions? Call Choice Partners toll free number 877-696-2122.

Choice Partners is a division of Harris County Department of Education.

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Improving New Building Efficiency, Economy and Delivery Begins With Owners

Posted on April 13, 2015

Beyond Bonds and BuildingsUnderstanding current new building operational trends will help facility managers and building owners create new and improved building operational trends, according to Greg Lookabaugh, senior manager of facility planning, Harris County Department of Education, who recently presented a workshop at an all-day TASBO Bonds, Buildings and Beyond program. He says the following trends need to change: buildings with comfort issues, excessive energy use, mold and indoor air quality, leaking roofs and windows, insufficient maintenance staff training, and lack of building awareness training for building occupants.

Lookabaugh recommends setting some new trends in facilities, by first establishing that the facility / building owner is the one who must require optimal performance requirements in new facilities. The architects /engineers are responsible for design and informing the owner if contractors do not employ appropriate construction means and methods. However, design Means and Methods are not building construction means and methods, and architects do not control or take charge of construction means and methods. Contractors hold their own physical means and methods of construction. But it is the owner and the owner’s representative who must take responsibility to ensure that the facility is built to maximize maintenance and operations.

“We need to stop building new buildings that already have deferred maintenance issues,” said Lookabaugh, who is certified as a Quality Control Commissioning Process Provider (QxCP).

Lookabaugh suggests four steps to reset trends to ensure efficiency and economy of building operations:

  • Ensure positive working relationships with contractors, including architects and engineers, construction contractors, materials testing and financial agencies
  • Set and clearly communicate expectations for performance requirements in all contracts
  • Maintain a strategic communication plan through project completion
  • Ensure building quality meets expectations

“What if we thought beyond the typical design, bid, build to begin with the end in mind?”  Lookabaugh asked. “Can we reorder our thinking to reflect ‘beyond bonds and buildings’?”

Instead of just design, bid, build, Lookabaugh recommends incorporating a quality commissioning process to plan and ensure owner performance requirements (OPR) are met.

brickPlanning:   Begin the planning phase with your OPR and Qualified Commissioning Process
Design: Include the commissioning specifications developed for the building
Construction: Include submittal review, site visits, record drawing review, and operations and maintenance document review
Turnover: Training Review, Functional Testing, Commissioning Report
Operations: at periodic intervals conduct an existing building commissioning process, which includes identifying current facility requirements against the current operating condition. Create a plan, make changes, update manuals and train staff to bring the building condition up to required performance.

Quality commissioning processes at the start of new construction and then at periodic intervals thereafter will improve efficiency and economy of operations, and should extend the facility’s life cycle. Start by conducting an existing building commissioning process, then ensure your next new construction project includes operating performance requirements.

“Commissioning is another highly effective tool in the facility manager’s tool box,” said Les Hooper, HDCE executive director of facilities.  “You’re  wasting money by operating an inefficient facility.”

For more information, go to, or contact Lookabaugh at or 281-386-6042.



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Library Collaboration Checks Out

Posted on April 3, 2015

If you think you know what the inside of a library looks like, try to hold that image in your mind while you click on over to the website for Library Interiors of Texas. The Austin-based company is using its Choice Partners contract to reshape run-of-the-mill bookshelves and outdated checkout counters, transforming traditional libraries into beautiful and interactive research facilities that attract and inspire patrons.

And it does the whole job from start to finish.

“Overall, it’s the best project we’ve ever done in our library,” said Jerry Hedgecock, director of public information services, city of Brownsville, referring to the design overhaul that LI-TX performed on the city’s public library.

The improvements, completed in 2012, are staggering: a revamped lobby, a new space for teens, and a public computing center that went from housing 14 machines to almost 100.

“We helped manage the project,” said Trevor Taylor, LI-TX vice president, “including design of all custom furniture, procurement of all loose and fixed furniture, and complete interior fit-out.”

Taylor, whose design expertise stems from international origins, collaborated with Hedgecock and the project architect early in the process. “Working in SketchUp, we produced full 3D rendering of the space for presentation to city management,” he said.

“Library Interiors was integral from the very beginning on the designs,” Hedgecock confirmed, explaining that the unique demands of libraries cannot be met by store-bought office furniture. Taylor’s team also helped figure out how much room the typical library patron needs to feel comfortable, measuring it to the inch.

Hedgecock added that the Choice Partners contract facilitated the library’s “gigantically well-received” renovation. “Working with Choice Partners on our library project was exceptionally easy. It was the best co-op purchase we’ve ever done, and our city participates with other purchasing cooperatives,” he said.

The city of Pflugerville agreed that Library Interiors and Choice Partners are a winning combination. Pflugerville was glad it used the Choice Partners contract when it expanded its 13-year old library from 12,500 sq ft. to 28,000 sq ft. in 2013, crediting LI-TX for allowing the facility to stay open during the project.  It only had to close for 12 days over the 18-month project, never more than three days at a time.

“I loved how Library Interiors moved whole shelving units at a time,” said Lisa Charbonnet, library director, Pflugerville. “It simply wouldn’t have been possible in the time allowed otherwise.”

Charbonnet explained how LI-TX moved the whole library into the new wing while the old space was being refurbished and then quickly moved it back again at the end of the project.

Furniture deliveries were also carefully staged to arrive at the appropriate times during the process. Meeting room furniture wouldn’t have been welcome while the room was full of book stacks, but it needed to be in place for the library’s grand opening.

“What was unique and wonderful was the staging,” said Charbonnet. “That was amazing. I know of libraries that close for years to do this.”

“We loved using Choice Partners,” Charbonnet added. ”It saved us time and money — we think that’s important.”

In addition to cities, LI-TX works with school districts, counties and universities using their Choice Partners contract. They are currently finishing projects for the Texas A&M Medical Science Library in College Station and for the city of Irving. For more information about Library Interiors of Texas, go to or call 888-689-5489.  

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Facility Trending

Posted on March 25, 2015

How efficient is your facilities program? Do you have enough custodians, maintenance and grounds personnel to effectively staff your facilities department? How can you prove that? Do you have a benchmark to evaluate efficiencies? Do you have a formula or the experience for staffing that is related to square feet, your desired quality level, student population, building occupancy and age of the facilities? How has your budget changed over the past several years? Where is the bulk of your spending going and can it be justified?

If you do not have the answers to these questions, you may need to do a facility trending analysis. Establishing a benchmark and evaluating the efficiencies of your facilities program will provide data for budgeting, energy reviews and audits, discussions of outsourcing, training and bond planning, Knowing what is working well and what needs attention, is a great management tool. The report includes data that shows progress made over the past few years and estimates for what to expect in the future.

Data Analysis Generates Trends and Projections

While most facilities personnel (maintenance, custodial, grounds, etc.) have a good grasp of the skills required for their jobs, many facility managers are not versed in data collection, efficiency analysis and staffing methodology.  That is where Harris County Department of Education can help by providing facility trending as part of a facilities review.  This trending program is a facilities training tool that is informative, built entirely from your data.  The objective is to develop your facilities staff to understand trends experienced with the facilities budget, staffing, energy, growth and more. A plan of action is developed for areas that require improvement.

“Facility Trending has performed very effective consulting work with me in the past, said Scott McKnight, who was director of facilities at the school district where the work was done. “Facility Trending’s work has helped me reorganize an Operations Department in a large school district, which saved the district a significant amount of money, increased efficiency and improved processes and procedures.  I would recommend Facility Trending for any maintenance and operations consulting work your company or school district needs performed.”

In addition to generating a plan for the facilities program, the Facility Trending analysis and report helps:

     · Identify correlation between district growth/decline and staffing for maintenance, custodial and grounds

     · Establish a proven staffing methodology from analyzing square footage per full-time equivalents,
        facility age, quality standards, student population and building occupancy

     · Assist in providing cost of labor per project

     · Compare and analyze budget line items and facility spending

     · Generate energy reports by cost per square foot by building and facility typeStudying data gives the facilities director management tools

     · Analyze maintenance work orders to report labor efficiency

     · Monitor use of district funds and identification of potential cost savings

“The facility trending data is great information,” said John Craig, Brazosport ISD facility director, “which allowed us to look at where we actually stood in comparison to standards and to better understand where we could be more efficient or what we may have need in order to perform our daily operations at a higher level.”

Trending brings value to all districts through benchmarking your current status for future years and in training your facility department, according to Greg Carver, Facility Trending, who has more than 30 years experience working in various facility positions in dozens of small and large school districts, serving in many leadership positions as both a district administrator and early in his educational career as an outsourcing agent.  “I understand the value that our trending analysis provides for administrative leadership and the facility employees,"   said Carver.

For more information about requesting an in-depth, detailed, on-site facility management review, contact Greg Lookabaugh, Harris County Department of Education Choice Partners cooperative at The HCDE Facility Trending team has been performing analyses for school districts for the past three years through Harris County Department of Education.

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Procuring Contracts for Construction

Posted on March 4, 2015

Expert purchasing professionals have had to learn the new legal requirements for procuring contracts for construction and maintenance under Government Code 2269. Once a school district has determined that the construction project is not maintenance (replacing like-for-like), then the construction project is a public work contract where requirements for bonding and prevailing wages are triggered.

When is a payment bond or a performance bond needed? Are there times you will need both?

When do school districts have to meet the prevailing wage rate for construction projects?

Performance bonds cover the payments for the scope of work performance for a project, e.g. the quality of the work according to the plan, specifications and contract documents. Performance bonds are required from the prime contractor IF the public works contract is in excess of $100,000.

Payment bonds cover general or prime contractor payments to sub-contractors, and the materials and used and equipment used for the contracted project. Payment bonds (in the amount of the contract) are required if the contract is in excess of $25,000.

One cannot be substituted for another. [Texas Government Code 2253.021]

Prevailing wage requirements
Prevailing wage requirements do not apply to maintenance work, when like is being replace for like. But many projects that come from the maintenance department today are now properly classified as construction or public works contracts, which trigger the prevailing wage requirement.

School districts must either use the prevailing wage rate as determined by the United States Department of Labor (Davis-Bacon Act) or the board of trustees must set the prevailing wage rate by conducting a survey to determine what the general prevailing rate of daily wages is their community where the work will be completed. Each craft or type of worker needed, plus the rates for legal holiday and overtime work must be included.

Once the board has determined the general prevailing rate (or decided to use the U.S. Department of Labor’s Davis-Bacon rate) then contracts and Requests for Proposal must specify the wage rates. If the district does this but the contractor or subcontractor violates that wage requirement, that contractor must pay $60 for each worker employed for each calendar day or part of the day that the worker was paid less than the wage rates stipulated in the contract. If the district does not specify the wage rates in the contract and the contractor does not pay the wage requirement, then the district will be liable for the $60 for each worker employed for each calendar day or part of the day that the worker was paid less than the wage rates stipulated in the contract. If the employee knows the above and does not comply, then a fine and jail time or both could be the punishment. So, by including the prevailing wage rate in the contract and RFP or CSP, the school district will protect the district and put the responsibility and risk on the contractor instead of the district.

Learn more details in the presentation made at the Texas Association of School Business Officials Maintenance and Operations conference.

Using a quality purchasing cooperative can be a good solution for school districts, as the cooperative will have already procured the contract, with language requiring the vendor to comply with the wage rates specified by members. Choice Partners cooperative, a division of Harris County Department of Education, is such a cooperative. HCDE uses their own Choice Partners cooperative contracts, which is said to be the gold standard in cooperative purchasing.

See more information about IDIQ Construction contracts procured through Job Order Contracting or see the IDIQ Construction contracts offered through Choice Partners.

Download the interlocal to become a member, so your district can immediately take advantage of the more than 600 contracts that have been legally procured through a competitive bidding process.  For more information, call 877-696-2122.


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Transparency, Oversight and Compliance in Purchasing Encouraged

Posted on February 11, 2015

Procurement professionals and contracts are under increasing scrutiny, with news reports about audits of state agencies and their purchasing procedures. Governor Greg Abbott has issued a letter to state agencies about purchasing, requesting that they follow procurement law, responsibly maximizing value and using open and transparent contracting processes. News reports implying that a cooperative purchasing contract was a “no-bid contract” are incorrect, unless the cooperative happens to be awarding contracts to any and all responders, (which is not a competitive process.)

Purchasing professionals are taught to avoid any conflict of interest or breach of ethics, and to ensure that the contracts they use provide best value for the district and are procured legally. Using an interlocal contract for purchases of $50,000 or more is one of seven allowed procurement methods under Texas Education Code section 44.031. While in the law specifies that interlocal government-to-government contracts are legal (Governmental Code Chapter 791), purchasing professionals still have to do their own verification to ensure that the cooperative they propose to use is following the law.

Check to see if the cooperative is a government entity. For example, an independent buying group that could be legal in some states is NOT legal in Texas, as it does not qualify under Government Code 791. Does the government entity require an interlocal contract to be signed (creating the member relationship)?

Ensure contracts are compliant with the law and competitively awarded. Does the cooperative have and share the evaluation tabulations with members to provide evidence of competitive process? If a cooperative automatically awards a contract to any vendor who responds to a Request for Proposal, there is no proof of competition.

Are their processes transparent?  Will the cooperative share the details of the cooperative contract with the member?

Is there oversight on contract usage, either through an annual audit process or regular contract management?  ( See the checklist for tips. )

Cooperative contracts are not the right solution for every purchase, but where it can save time and money while providing best value, it can be a great benefit for school district purchasing staff. 

Harris County Department of Education was established in 1889 by the Texas Legislature and is required to follow Texas purchasing laws. Since the 1960’s, HCDE has shared its contracts with school districts, through the HCDE Purchasing Cooperative. Today that program is called Choice Partners cooperative and includes other cooperative purchasing contracts for facilities services and food/cafeteria related supplies. It has been called The Gold Standard when the government entity of the cooperative purchasing program uses its own contracts, which is the case with HCDE and Choice Partners cooperative.

State agencies and personnel can rely on Choice Partners national cooperative, where there is transparency, compliance and oversight for procurement and contract management. HCDE Choice Partners staff are serious about their goal “to help government and nonprofit entities by providing quality services, legal procurement and contract solutions.” Choice Partners contract managers have all taken ethics classes and are either certified or are completing TASBO certification, which requires procurement courses.

Choice Partners contracts are compliant. No vendors are awarded a contract without going through a competitive bidding process. (Learn about the Choice Partners procurement process.) When the law changed for facilities services (Sept. 1, 2011, Texas Government Code 2269), Choice Partners was in the lead, researching then implementing changes in procurement to ensure compliance.

Choice Partners contracts are transparent. Members have access to the contracts after they log on to the website. Choice Partners contracts have the oversight of an assigned contract manager, plus an annual audit. It is an everyday occurrence for contract managers to verify for members what items/services can be procured under the terms of the HCDE/Choice Partners contract.

Members can trust in HCDE/Choice Partners contracts. To become a member, download the interlocal.

For more information about Choice Partners, go to


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