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Procuring Contractors and Materials for your Preservation Project

By Eric Gilbertson

If you are using federal or state funds for your historic preservation project, there are most likely specific conditions for purchasing supplies and hiring contractors. The term for this process is “procurement.”

There are two goals that grantees and grantors share: to get a well-qualified contractors on the job and to get the best value for the money being spent. This may not be the lowest price.   The procurement process assures that qualified contractors are given a fair opportunity to compete.   Keep good records of your procurement process. It is generally good practice and may be required to request bids from three or more contractors.

If an organization has received multiple grants for the same project, there may be different conditions associated with each grant and coordination can seem confusing. Fortunately, grants managers are eager to help you and are probably well be aware of one another’s requirements. Be sure to contact your grantor and ask for help or clarification if needed!

Start by carefully reading your grant agreement(s) and map out a strategy for procurement.   The amount of the grant determines the required process. Large grants may require plans, specifications, and a formal bid process that encourages hiring disadvantaged- or women-owned businesses and, in the case of HUD housing and community development grants, “Section 3” low or very low income residents. Other grants require a simpler, straightforward process that assures that qualified contractors will meet preservation standards at a competitive cost.

Request for Proposals is the most typical avenue for procurement. A clear work description, pre-approved by your grant funder(s), is an essential part of a Request for Proposals that enables contractors to bid on the defined work and arrive at accurate prices. If, for example, the work is repairing the foundation, the description can be as simple as a description of the foundation materials and how much is to be repaired. The Request for Proposals should ask contractors to respond with a detailed description of how the work will be done.

Some useful phrases to include are: “The work must meet the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Properties.” These Standards are available at and include guidelines that help to explain specific application of the Standards. Another useful phrase is: “All work must match the original in materials, joinery, workmanship and finish.” For masonry projects: “All masonry repairs must use bricks and mortar that match the original in composition, hardness, porosity, color, application, pattern, and tooling.” If a Condition Assessment of the building was done, it will provide language for the work description. (The Preservation Trust of Vermont can help with assessments.)

Choice of a contractor is not based on price alone. Other criteria may include availability, knowledge of the building, or demonstrated ability to do similar work. If the lowest price in not selected by the grantee, there must be a good reason. For example, if the price from a contractor that has previously done good work on the building is only slightly higher than the other proposals, then it is reasonable to choose that contractor.

Be sure to discuss your selection with the your grantor before notifying the contractor. In general, the selection of a contractor is up to the grantee, but the grantor will want to know the contractor’s qualifications and may request that certain standards be included in the final contract. For some grants, the final approval is a condition in the grant agreement.

Summary:  Procurement is part of any grant process. Try to keep it simple; work with the grantor and the process will go smoothly.   Above all, don’t start your project until you are sure that all of the grantor requirements have been met.

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