PORTLAND — The trustees of the Cumberland County Civic Center have chosen a new architectural team to develop building plans for the center’s $33 million renovation, replacing the firm that developed the project’s concept design.

Trustees say they want to give the work to a group that has more experience renovating similar buildings. They say the design will essentially remain the same as the concept plan.

The board has awarded the work to WBRC Architects-Engineers of Bangor. The firm is collaborating on the project with a national company, Sink Combs Dethlefs, which specializes in arena and stadium renovation projects.

WBRC and Sink Combs Dethlefs are now teamed up on a $65 million project to replace the Bangor Auditorium.

SMRT, which did the concept design for the civic center project, did excellent work, but trustees believe the WBRC team is the best choice for transforming the concept design into a building plan, said Neal Pratt, trustees chairman.

Pratt said the switch won’t slow work on the project, which could begin as early as next summer.

He said the concept plan that voters approved in November will remain intact for the most part, but some details will likely change as architects and engineers develop building plans.

Trustees hope the renovation will enable the civic center to generate enough additional revenue to pay off borrowing costs for the project. Pratt said that Don Dethlefs, chief executive officer of Sink Combs Dethlefs, will help the trustees achieve that goal because he’s an expert in operating arenas, not just building them. 

“We are looking to maximize revenues to pay for the upgrade,” Pratt said. “Dethlefs understands this business and recognizes not only the utility of space in how customers use the civic center, but also what we can get in a return on investment.”

SMRT was paid $150,000 for the concept plan, which was completed at the end of summer. The county’s contract with WBRC will be much more expensive, but the fees have yet to be negotiated.

The trustees decided to hire WBRC on Dec. 21 after interviewing officials from WBRC, SMRT and Scott Simons Architects of Portland. The vote was 7-2, with trustees Gary Plummer and Joe Gray voting in opposition.

All three firms had submitted proposals in February for the concept design.

During their interviews in December, officials from all three firms said their fees would be a percentage of the project’s cost, based on a schedule produced by the state Bureau of General Services. Fees range from 7.7 percent to 12 percent, depending on the size and complexity of a project, Pratt said.

For a project like the civic center renovation, the fee would be 8 percent to 9 percent, Pratt said, although many details need to be worked out.

He said the trustees will work with WBRC to hire a construction manager. The board will ask for bids later this month. It has a planning meeting scheduled this morning to meet with the WBRC team for the first time since its selection.

On Nov. 8, Cumberland County voters approved the project with nearly 58 percent of the vote.

The design by SMRT squares off what are now indented corners of the building, provides street-level access and significantly increases the space for the concourse around the seating “bowl” and the concession area. The design improves access to bathrooms and makes the loading docks and staging areas more accommodating for touring groups with elaborate stage sets.

The design also calls for more glass along the side of the arena facing Free Street.

In its proposal for the concept design, Sink Combs Dethlefs described itself as the “pre-eminent designer of mid-sized civic and event centers in the United States.”

The firm highlighted its experience with 20 mid-sized arena projects in 15 states, including the Oklahoma City Arena, the Victor Cops Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario, and the Crisler Center at the University of Michigan.

Sink Combs Dethlefs is based in Denver. Officials from the company, and from WBRC, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6469 or at: [email protected]