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WasteExpo Conference Session: To Hire or Not to Hire a Consultant?

If your waste facility is in need of a revamped site design and accepts more than 500 tons of waste per day or is the overnight parking spot for a fleet of more than 100 vehicles, prepare to hire a consultant. That was one of the take-home messages dispensed by Portland, Ore., architect Charles Sax in Monday's "Converting Aging Facilities into Functional Space without a Consultant" WasteExpo conference session. Sax, who works exclusively on waste facilities, was the sole speaker at the session.

Common design problems plaguing aging waste facilities include poor scale location, trucks queues that extend onto nearby public roadways, a lack of additional storage space and inadequate traffic circulation patterns, Sax said.

If these design problems are occurring at a smaller waste site, then they often can be addressed without the use of a consultant, according to Sax. A site owner can download an aerial photograph of his site from Google Maps or Google Earth to begin thinking about design solutions and then use the Internet to find the planning and parking dimensions of successful facilities, he advised.

However, problems at larger facilities usually require an outside expert to fix, Sax said. "The complexity of a large site usually benefits from a fresh perspective," he said. Site owners often turn to engineering firms for help in such situations, but landscape architects and planners are possible solutions as well, Sax said.

When selecting a consultant, site owners should ask companies or sole practioners to submit proposals outlining their price and experience, and site owners should conduct an interview with each of the possibilities. Before hiring a consultant, it is critical to strictly define the scope of the work to be done — "be very, very clear about what you want them to do for you," Sax said — and to come to an agreement on price, he added.

Many consultants will charge by the hour but "a fixed fee is a very reasonable way to go," Sax said. An hourly rate "doesn't recognize the value of a good idea," he added. "What is the value of a good idea?"

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