Oberlin Public Works Project Achieving the Impossible: Completed On-time, Below Budget, Without Stress

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Oberlin Public Works Project Achieving the Impossible: Completed On-time, Below Budget, Without Stress

Oberlin Underground Railroad Center is a tourist gateway and transportation hub that celebrates Oberlin’s rich history in the anti-slavery movement. Originally constructed in 1889 to store manufactured coal gas to produce light and heat in the city, the Oberlin Gasholder Building (AKA the 'Round House') was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 after a group of Oberlin residents united to save it from demolition. After being donated to the city in 2004, the community decided to repurpose the building as an Underground Railroad Center, in service to their desire to establish Oberlin as an internationally recognized cultural center and tourist destination. Fast-forward to 2020, and the City of Oberlin's Department of Planning and Development wanted to invite contractors to bid for the city's historic gasholder building waterproofing and drainage improvement project.

The Challenge

Whether due to a shortage of materials or vendor availability, public works projects of all types are being canceled or postponed across the nation. As a small, close-knit community, the City of Oberlin's limited exposure to private-sector businesses or vendors represented yet another challenge. As a listed building on the National Register of Historic Places, any renovations to the Underground Railroad Center had to be of the highest possible quality and undertaken by personnel experienced in historic building repairs. For Carrie Handy, Director of Planning and Development, quality and quantity were dual concerns. Without a suitable number of responses, the project risked being canceled, wasting time, money, and public sector resources.

The Impact

The City of Oberlin’s planning and development team partnered with UrbanLeap to help build a robust solicitation process and attract best-fit vendors. Via UrbanLeap’s platform, the team simplified and streamlined the intake process by clarifying precise vendor requirements and how respondents should articulate their offering. In parallel, UrbanLeap’s research team conducted multiple rounds of targeted outreach, contacting almost 200 contractors and extending research to North Ohio and South Michigan regions to optimize response rates. Thanks to UrbanLeap, the City of Oberlin received suitable proposals from 3 local vendors - enabling Carrie and her team to move forward with the project and complete it $36k under budget. The city of Oberlin is now getting ready to welcome visitors as part of its historic reopening towards the end of 2021 / early 2022.

“The contractor did a great job -- the first round of renovation work was done on time and under budget! They even agreed to do some extra work for free. The city was able to use some of the money saved to complete some extra work. Now, we’re getting ready for the next milestone: opening the building to visitors.”

Carrie Handy

Director of Planning & Development for the City of Oberlin

By the Numbers


Vendors contacted


Shortlisted responses from local vendors


Savings in project budget

UrbanLeap simplifies procurement end to end


Easily gather stakeholder requirements and build on examples from other agencies


Reach relevant vendors with a frictionless process that assures valid responses


Objectively and transparently evaluate multiple bids to select the best-fit solution

Ready to take the leap?