Bringing in an Acoustical Engineer

ACTSTech

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Joined
Nov 13, 2019
Location
USA
Hi everyone, I'm back with another stupid question...

We're getting down to red-line drawing time for our major renovation, and the prime architect wants to bring in an acoustical engineer/consulting firm. I'm all in, but I'm confused as to the timing of the visit.

Cost will be $3000, which I don't know if that's high or low, but the engineer wants to come in now and do a site survey, then make changes. I'm not against this, it's selling it to the board. My main concern is that they don't have plans to come back throughout the construction. I don't want to be sold a bill of goods from a snake oil salesman (am I showing my old age in using that?) who I'll never see again. I'd prefer to have the engineer, for what we will be paying, to come back throughout the process and make adjustments as needed. I've seen way too many high schools that get lovely looking clouds beautifully spaced through their auditorium that reflect everything you don't want to hear to all the wrong places. I've seen orchestra shells made and flown that start to cause the ropes in the fly gallery start to deform and cracks start to form in the walls from the weight. Am I being unreasonable?

I'm all ears, and I'm a moron so please go easy on me in your criticism. Or at least cleverly disguise it so I don't realize I'm even more of a moron than I am.
 

JohnD

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north central OK
First off, good of you to have these concerns. Now I will once again paraphrase Frank Zappa-"Is that a real consultant or a Sears consultant?"
Anyone can call themselves a consultant, the real test is if they are representing a design/sell outfit or is they are truly an independent consultant. Hopefully @MNicolai will chime in.

EDIT: Hey wait, you asked the question so it isn't a stupid question anymore.
 

Ben Stiegler

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Aug 3, 2017
Location
Sf Bay Area
Can u post the proposed scope of work here?
 

MNicolai

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What's the size of the room and scope of the renovation? $3k and a report without construction administration sounds more like something for a refresh of interior finishes than it does a "major renovation", but it could be the architect told the consultant "we can pay you $3k -- what can we get for that?"

FWIW, I bill out at $175/hr with travel expenses. So $3k gets you about 20 hours of work, more than half of which are simply showing up on site and walking/listening to the space.
 

RickR

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Sep 18, 2009
Location
Spokane, WA the great "Inland Northwest"
I too question the scale of the renovation especially compared to the timing of hiring. First owner review is probably too late to move walls or change duct types without major cost implications. If the room geometry isn't right, you'll fight it forever!
 

ACTSTech

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Joined
Nov 13, 2019
Location
USA
You can't afford me. :cool:
I appreciate your honest reply.

I respect someone who doesn’t want to do the work and admits it. I don’t respect people who want the money to put some generic templates on a blueprint and wash their hands.

@Ben Stiegler i don’t have the preliminary prints available, but the project is renovating a desanctified (obviously good for our group as we’d all burst into flames) and decommissioned church. This includes the construction of a stage, grid, proscenium arch, etc. We have a bare bones, 100 year old sanctuary and ideas. There definitely are challenges. As I said, because of the scope of the project, I’d like to see this person look at plans, give suggestions, but also come in during the work to fine tune or address issues. Maybe I’m wrong... that’s why I’m asking now.
 

MNicolai

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That sounds like a more extensive renovation that would require detailed investigation of the existing conditions in room acoustics, sound isolation from adjacent spaces, and mechanical systems noise. Generally a full day of on-site testing, plus ongoing interfacing with the architect and mechanical engineer to develop the recommendations and review the architectural plans and continue on through construction administration. My preference in that type of project is to do EASE modeling to analyze the reflections off of the clouds and define for the architect the trim heights, angles, and geometry of the clouds in the room. During project closeout, a very often overlooked step is also commissioning the trim heights and angles of the concert shell clouds. During construction administration, we usually play a role in reviewing project submittals for acoustical finishes, value engineering proposals, and mechanical submittals. In my case, I focus on the architectural acoustics and have another an acoustical engineer on my team specializing in mechanical system who reviews the mechanical.

The problem is when you are doing a sizable renovation and changing the program and geometry of the space to flip it from a house of worship into a theater -- you have a lot of existing conditions that need to be taken into account that won't align because what's desirable for a house of worship won't necessarily by desirable for a theater. Sometimes you don't even learn what's actually going on in ceilings and walls until you open things up -- so having an acoustical consultant on board for the entire duration of the project is preferable. For example, I just did a HS music rehearsal suite reno in Texas where we had to postpone some decisions until a General Contractor was on board to tear open a bunch of ceilings so we could get eyes on all the sound leakage paths in the CMU walls. We knew there was a problem from initial sound testing and had a general idea what needed to happen but couldn't fully document how to mitigate it until the ceilings were ripped out so we could see what kind of air gaps existed in the CMU walls and where the walls met the structural deck, ductwork, and roof trusses.

Outside of sales reps, I haven't encountered many people in the acoustics world who are selling snake oil. I expect you'll get $3k of work for $3k of fee. It sounds like the architect dropped the ball though and rather than have an acoustical consultant engaged from the outset, it was something they thought about after-the-fact. In most cases when I am submitting design fees and proposals, it is as the same time the architect is so usually I am hired before the project has even started -- when I am brought in later on in projects, things are more challenging because budgets are locked in and the room geometry and major concepts are already established. Makes it much harder to get the proper recommendations integrated into the final design.

In most cases, I am also designing the AV and sometimes doing the theater consulting. Packaging those services together helps defray the overall cost because there's a lot of overlap so 3 different consultants is less efficient because AV and acoustics consultants should both be developing EASE models for acoustical studies and often it's the theater consultant who's spec'ing the concert shell. By the way, there are also some rooms that are better suited for a LARES-style electronic acoustic enhancement system and investing in that as opposed to lots of reflector clouds and specialty acoustical finishes throughout the room.

I hesitate to throw out any firm numbers having not seen plans or a project budget, but suffice it to say if I was doing the project I would want to be hired on for a higher fee so I can be more engaged through the duration of the project. That said -- if an architect comes to me and says "what can I do for $3k?" I'll help them out and do what I can. Some projects simply cannot afford full consulting and the recommendations that come out of that though, and some guidance for the A/E team is still better than nothing.
 

ACTSTech

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Joined
Nov 13, 2019
Location
USA
That sounds like a more extensive renovation that would require detailed investigation of the existing conditions in room acoustics, sound isolation from adjacent spaces, and mechanical systems noise. Generally a full day of on-site testing, plus ongoing interfacing with the architect and mechanical engineer to develop the recommendations and review the architectural plans and continue on through construction administration. My preference in that type of project is to do EASE modeling to analyze the reflections off of the clouds and define for the architect the trim heights, angles, and geometry of the clouds in the room. During project closeout, a very often overlooked step is also commissioning the trim heights and angles of the concert shell clouds. During construction administration, we usually play a role in reviewing project submittals for acoustical finishes, value engineering proposals, and mechanical submittals. In my case, I focus on the architectural acoustics and have another an acoustical engineer on my team specializing in mechanical system who reviews the mechanical.

The problem is when you are doing a sizable renovation and changing the program and geometry of the space to flip it from a house of worship into a theater -- you have a lot of existing conditions that need to be taken into account that won't align because what's desirable for a house of worship won't necessarily by desirable for a theater. Sometimes you don't even learn what's actually going on in ceilings and walls until you open things up -- so having an acoustical consultant on board for the entire duration of the project is preferable. For example, I just did a HS music rehearsal suite reno in Texas where we had to postpone some decisions until a General Contractor was on board to tear open a bunch of ceilings so we could get eyes on all the sound leakage paths in the CMU walls. We knew there was a problem from initial sound testing and had a general idea what needed to happen but couldn't fully document how to mitigate it until the ceilings were ripped out so we could see what kind of air gaps existed in the CMU walls and where the walls met the structural deck, ductwork, and roof trusses.

Outside of sales reps, I haven't encountered many people in the acoustics world who are selling snake oil. I expect you'll get $3k of work for $3k of fee. It sounds like the architect dropped the ball though and rather than have an acoustical consultant engaged from the outset, it was something they thought about after-the-fact. In most cases when I am submitting design fees and proposals, it is as the same time the architect is so usually I am hired before the project has even started -- when I am brought in later on in projects, things are more challenging because budgets are locked in and the room geometry and major concepts are already established. Makes it much harder to get the proper recommendations integrated into the final design.

In most cases, I am also designing the AV and sometimes doing the theater consulting. Packaging those services together helps defray the overall cost because there's a lot of overlap so 3 different consultants is less efficient because AV and acoustics consultants should both be developing EASE models for acoustical studies and often it's the theater consultant who's spec'ing the concert shell. By the way, there are also some rooms that are better suited for a LARES-style electronic acoustic enhancement system and investing in that as opposed to lots of reflector clouds and specialty acoustical finishes throughout the room.

I hesitate to throw out any firm numbers having not seen plans or a project budget, but suffice it to say if I was doing the project I would want to be hired on for a higher fee so I can be more engaged through the duration of the project. That said -- if an architect comes to me and says "what can I do for $3k?" I'll help them out and do what I can. Some projects simply cannot afford full consulting and the recommendations that come out of that though, and some guidance for the A/E team is still better than nothing.
Mike, thank you very much for the response. It's what I suspected, but the dearth of "experts" in the area give me no one I can just call or have lunch with to pick their brain.

The uniqueness of this project and the scope of it is really going to be a challenge for anyone. Without rehashing details or going over unnecessary things, we were basically evicted from our old venue while we were in the process of purchasing it, and rather than disband and go out of business, we sort of found ourselves in this place. Ironically, without COVID, we would have gone out of business, but it's given us the chance to start work here. The church is not ideal in any way, and if we had a proper budget, there would be a lot of changes. We also fell into the architect rather than chose our own. He's a very nice man who has done a lot of work in the area, but he's not a theatrical person. Unfortunately, he's been the lead designer on most of the high school renovations in the area, so he's the leading "expert".

Long story short, (too late...) we can't make some changes because of the LOCAL historical designation of the building structure (but not the entire building) and even though we are a non-profit, because we plan on renting the space to other artists for show/concerts/rehearsals/recordings, we have to adhere to the state and federal ADA requirements which limit the budget and scope of things we had hoped for. The building footprint MUST remain unchanged. The existing ceiling, due to painting and architectural work MUST remain untouched and visible. The balcony MUST remain open but cannot be used for seating. The stage cannot exceed 36" in height once constructed because the ramp that MUST be included would exceed the length of the performance hall. There's more, but I won't waste time.

The hall is live. Plaster over metal lath on the ceiling and some walls, cheap wooden paneling covering that on other walls, tile floor. The old pipe organ is gone, replaced with an old tube system *that looks like so much fun if I had time to play with it* and was used in the 60s and 70s as a recording hall for local organists because of the structure and location. The altar was located in a semi domed area, and if you stand in the back of the dome and speak, you can be CLEARLY heard in the back of the sanctuary. I'm not concerned with dead spots, I'm concerned with clarity. And that is why I'm concerned with the engineer.

The plans call for a new false wall/proscenium arch to be constructed for show as well as to create the front of the new "grid". Part of the thinking is that once we get some soft goods up, that will deaden the "stage" area and prevent the backstage noise from exploding out of the area up the dome into the hall. The wall will do the same. We're debating carpet, but we will be using padded stackable chairs to allow for flexibility of seating. My uneducated thinking leads me to believe that we'll be better served having the acoustical person come in 3/4 of the way into the build since that's when they would be able to actually get a reading on the room. There's no HVAC system to contend with (yay steam heat and boilers! Yay no air conditioning!). The Norfolk Southern train that runs by isn't going to stop for the shows, so we'll just have to get used to hearing it when it passes by (ironically the people that have lived here their entire lives don't hear it, so our audiences probably won't notice it either). The hall isn't going to be massive, the sanctuary footprint is about 42' wide by 90' long. We aren't planning on seating more than 250. As I have to remind the board, we're amateurs. That doesn't mean we have to have an amateurish space. If we plan on producing our community theatre shows four or five times a year, opening the venue up to other groups who struggle to find spaces to perform, local bands who are looking for a place to do some concerts rather than being stuck in the corner of a bar, speakers, poets, vocal performances, basically make a space for the arts. I feel that an acoustical engineer would be beneficial, but only if they are interested in improving the venue. As I said in other posts, however, the number of places in the area which have been sold a bill of goods from "reputable" people hurts my brain. I appreciate the people on this board and their input, and I've been accused of trying to take food out of people's mouths because of not wanting to pay. It's not that I don't want to pay, it's that if I'm paying, I want communication and effort, not bait and switch and disappearance. I'm also interested in learning before, during and after the project. If I ask why something is being placed, I appreciate when the logic is explained. I am, by far, the least educated of the design team in terms of engineering, but since I'll be driving this car, I'd like to be able to tell them which features I want on this model, or at least question why I need the features they want to upgrade me with.

I've wasted much space and time, I'll stop, but thank you all again for your time and replies! Believe me, I'll have plenty more as we get closer to a red line drawing and through the process.
 

RonHebbard

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Premium Member
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Jun 12, 2004
Location
Waterdown, ON, CA
Mike, thank you very much for the response. It's what I suspected, but the dearth of "experts" in the area give me no one I can just call or have lunch with to pick their brain.

The uniqueness of this project and the scope of it is really going to be a challenge for anyone. Without rehashing details or going over unnecessary things, we were basically evicted from our old venue while we were in the process of purchasing it, and rather than disband and go out of business, we sort of found ourselves in this place. Ironically, without COVID, we would have gone out of business, but it's given us the chance to start work here. The church is not ideal in any way, and if we had a proper budget, there would be a lot of changes. We also fell into the architect rather than chose our own. He's a very nice man who has done a lot of work in the area, but he's not a theatrical person. Unfortunately, he's been the lead designer on most of the high school renovations in the area, so he's the leading "expert".

Long story short, (too late...) we can't make some changes because of the LOCAL historical designation of the building structure (but not the entire building) and even though we are a non-profit, because we plan on renting the space to other artists for show/concerts/rehearsals/recordings, we have to adhere to the state and federal ADA requirements which limit the budget and scope of things we had hoped for. The building footprint MUST remain unchanged. The existing ceiling, due to painting and architectural work MUST remain untouched and visible. The balcony MUST remain open but cannot be used for seating. The stage cannot exceed 36" in height once constructed because the ramp that MUST be included would exceed the length of the performance hall. There's more, but I won't waste time.

The hall is live. Plaster over metal lath on the ceiling and some walls, cheap wooden paneling covering that on other walls, tile floor. The old pipe organ is gone, replaced with an old tube system *that looks like so much fun if I had time to play with it* and was used in the 60s and 70s as a recording hall for local organists because of the structure and location. The altar was located in a semi domed area, and if you stand in the back of the dome and speak, you can be CLEARLY heard in the back of the sanctuary. I'm not concerned with dead spots, I'm concerned with clarity. And that is why I'm concerned with the engineer.

The plans call for a new false wall/proscenium arch to be constructed for show as well as to create the front of the new "grid". Part of the thinking is that once we get some soft goods up, that will deaden the "stage" area and prevent the backstage noise from exploding out of the area up the dome into the hall. The wall will do the same. We're debating carpet, but we will be using padded stackable chairs to allow for flexibility of seating. My uneducated thinking leads me to believe that we'll be better served having the acoustical person come in 3/4 of the way into the build since that's when they would be able to actually get a reading on the room. There's no HVAC system to contend with (yay steam heat and boilers! Yay no air conditioning!). The Norfolk Southern train that runs by isn't going to stop for the shows, so we'll just have to get used to hearing it when it passes by (ironically the people that have lived here their entire lives don't hear it, so our audiences probably won't notice it either). The hall isn't going to be massive, the sanctuary footprint is about 42' wide by 90' long. We aren't planning on seating more than 250. As I have to remind the board, we're amateurs. That doesn't mean we have to have an amateurish space. If we plan on producing our community theatre shows four or five times a year, opening the venue up to other groups who struggle to find spaces to perform, local bands who are looking for a place to do some concerts rather than being stuck in the corner of a bar, speakers, poets, vocal performances, basically make a space for the arts. I feel that an acoustical engineer would be beneficial, but only if they are interested in improving the venue. As I said in other posts, however, the number of places in the area which have been sold a bill of goods from "reputable" people hurts my brain. I appreciate the people on this board and their input, and I've been accused of trying to take food out of people's mouths because of not wanting to pay. It's not that I don't want to pay, it's that if I'm paying, I want communication and effort, not bait and switch and disappearance. I'm also interested in learning before, during and after the project. If I ask why something is being placed, I appreciate when the logic is explained. I am, by far, the least educated of the design team in terms of engineering, but since I'll be driving this car, I'd like to be able to tell them which features I want on this model, or at least question why I need the features they want to upgrade me with.

I've wasted much space and time, I'll stop, but thank you all again for your time and replies! Believe me, I'll have plenty more as we get closer to a red line drawing and through the process.
Your reference to the regularly passing trains rekindled memories:

When Stratford's Shakespearean Festival began with its tent in 1953, several trains passed daily and blew their whistles / horns during performance times.
The founding board invited a representative of the railway to one of their performances. A train roared past blowing its whistle as it approached the level crossing. The Festival's board members looked at the railway rep' who checked his watch and uttered his only comment: "8:22, right on time."

Sixty eight years later the Festival's still there, as are the trains, although the trains remain profitable in our era of Corona chaos.
Think POSITIVE.
Test NEGATIVE.
Toodleoo!
Ron Hebbard
 
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ACTSTech

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"8:22, right on time."
I'm hoping that our actors will be bright enough (and not in lighting terms...), they could have had all kinds of funny drops when this happens. Thankfully we already did Les Mis and South Pacific, though a train in Anything Goes could be a curious happening...

Not that I advocate breaking the fourth wall unnecessarily, but I live by the Book of Mel Brooks: "Hope for the Best. Expect the worst. Life is a play. We're unrehearsed."
 

TimMc

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You need more professional acoustic advice - lots more - than $3k can provide. You're up against formidable architectural acoustic challenges and the historic designation means that meaningful remediation will be prohibitively expensive (5x-10x the normal high price, in order to preserve the interior's historic designation). Finding that "cancelling" the dome will cost as much as the rest of the project, combined, will not endear the project to the theater board.

The "dome" will be the Archilles heel in live music, especially amplified music, no matter what you do with the sound system or even other acoustical treatments.

I hate to say this but the historic designation, under its current terms, means that the proposed use of the facility is greatly limited.

Good luck to you and the company...
 
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ACTSTech

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Location
USA
You need more professional acoustic advice - lots more - than $3k can provide. You're up against formidable architectural acoustic challenges and the historic designation means that meaningful remediation will be prohibitively expensive (5x-10x the normal high price, in order to preserve the interior's historic designation). Finding that "cancelling" the dome will cost as much as the rest of the project, combined, will not endear the project to the theater board.

The "dome" will be the Archilles heel in live music, especially amplified music, no matter what you do with the sound system or even other acoustical treatments.

I hate to say this but the historic designation, under its current terms, means that the proposed use of the facility is greatly limited.

Good luck to you and the company...
That's what I thought Tim, and I appreciate the input. Ironically, the old home we were in was a local historical site so we couldn't do much there, then the building was condemned because it wasn't up to current code. To bring it up to current code meant that some of the historic aspects would have been destroyed and our landlord decided it wasn't worth the hassle. I'm not allowed to share pictures yet because we're still working on closing the sale and jumping through the hoops of taxation (assessed value when it was an operational church of $1.6 million vs assessed sale value of $185K tops) but it's both a fascinating and frustrating project.
 

mbrown3039

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vegas, baby..!
I feel for you - a few years back I was the EPM for the retrofit of a sound system into a ~200-year-old church in CA that was A) in use, B) on *every* historic list possible and C) a treasure for the local diocese and the church at large. In the end, I'm pretty sure the meetings consumed more time than the actual installation...

I would guess that your architect just doesn't understand the importance of acoustics in a professional space (v. a HS space) and, as you mentioned, is further constrained by the budget.

At this point, if the AE is locked in, I would just wait until the reno is done and then focus all $3K on mitigation, because you're going to need it. The apse ("dome") is doing *exactly* what is was designed to do - amplify sound without any electronics. I'm guessing this is an old Catholic church - if so, 100 years ago service would have been delivered in Latin and with the priest on the chancel ("stage") facing the altar/crucifix (with his back to the congregation). By focusing his vocal energy into the dome, it projected to the entire nave (audience area). Believe it or not, the balcony is actually a bass trap - although early church designers may not have known why, they knew that a balcony helped prevent service sound from entering the narthex or atrium (vestibule and lobby/foyer, respectively).

Another possibility is to use the apse to your marketing benefit - figure out how to tame it when using PA and how to use it effectively for no-PA/minimal PA applications (choir performances, acoustic trios, etc.).

As for carpeting, I think you need to think seriously about fixed, upholstered seating so you can carpet just the aisles - all of that upholstery and carpeting in the aisles will help, and not having carpeting under the seats makes cleaning up spilled Double Venti Grande Pumpkin Peppermint Machiattos with triple caramel and extra whipped cream much easier. If you go with flex seating, then A) carpet everything and B) don't forget to allocate space for chair storage when not in use.

Can you drape the front of the balcony and the back wall of the narthex (both in and under the balcony)? If the balcony can't be used for seating (because of ADA, I presume), can it be used for "temporary" storage of carpet-covered flats (that happen to be leaning against the back wall)? m
 
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Ted jones

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Chicago
I don't know where you are, but there is an ARUP office here in Chicago that specializes in acoustics. Send me a note if you want a contact there.

I highly disagree with trying to fix it after the AOR is out of the picture and the work is done. Acoustics are expensive. Doing it after the place is finished is more expensive and cause to undo and redo work completed. At least get a plan in place.

I am speaking as a contractor that has done a lot of post completion fixes.

T
 

mbrown3039

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vegas, baby..!
I don't know where you are, but there is an ARUP office here in Chicago that specializes in acoustics. Send me a note if you want a contact there.

I highly disagree with trying to fix it after the AOR is out of the picture and the work is done. Acoustics are expensive. Doing it after the place is finished is more expensive and cause to undo and redo work completed. At least get a plan in place.

I am speaking as a contractor that has done a lot of post completion fixes. T
Do you have any sugestions that fit the OP's current circumstances? He explained that they have a very limited budget; they can't do any significant demolition to the building (and probably can't afford a six-figure renovation, anyway); and the professional advice available to them is already engaged.

The kind of work you're suggesting requires way more cash and time than the OP seems to have and would've required the engagement of those services months ago (and that ship has sailed). What I am suggesting is making the most of an unfortunate set of circumstances...

Also speaking as a contractor who has been in this exact situation several times. m
 
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MNicolai

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I don't know where you are, but there is an ARUP office here in Chicago that specializes in acoustics. Send me a note if you want a contact there.
ARUP's great but they aren't cheap and neither will their recommendations be. Unfortunately looks like the die is already cast here. The expertise available for the existing $3k fee sounds like it will already produce recommendations that are out of budget or unable to be accommodated due to incompatibilities with the historical constraints.
 

JonCarter

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Meridian, Idaho, US
How about getting a list of the consultant's previous projects and talking to the users of those projects? (Preferably not a list furnished by the consultant in question.) Did the consultant a) Meet the client's expectations as to time & budget? b) Does the resulting project sound good to the client?
 

RonHebbard

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Waterdown, ON, CA
How about getting a list of the consultant's previous projects and talking to the users of those projects? (Preferably not a list furnished by the consultant in question.) Did the consultant a) Meet the client's expectations as to time & budget? b) Does the resulting project sound good to the client?
@JonCarter Place greater value on the opinions of clients who've lived with their venues for at least three years.
Most clients who've only occupied their new venues for a couple of weeks / months are still too rosy eyed to provide useful opinions.
Toodleoo!
Ron Hebbard
 

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