With a continued tight school budget sending Clarke County Public School administrators scraping every conceivable account for spare dollars, School Board contractor Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates is turning a tidy profit based on the County’s procrastination. In Clarke County’s case, the “lack of haste” has made waste for the school construction budget and has generated a $40K windfall profit for CRA.
CRA is providing architectural, planning and construction advice to the Clarke County School Board for the new high school building. On Monday night the School Board approved a year-old contract change order invoice submitted by CRA. The $40K payment is based on a clause in CRA’s contract allowing a cost escalation if either the scope or the duration of CRA’s services to the School Board changes.
“The change order covered the cost escalation and CRA overhead factors that applied to the delays encountered in the schedule and did not correspond to any additional services per se” said School Board Chairperson Robina Bouffault in an electronic mail message response to questions posed about CRA’s charges by the Clarke Daily News. “Complications incurred with both the Special Use Permit and the Site Plan permitting result[ed] in a far lengthier permitting period than is normal, and which had not been scheduled.”
According to Bouffault, charges such as CRA’s are standard in the construction industry “The CRA contract was based upon form contracts recommended by the CMA (Construction Management Association of America, Inc.) for both of our project managers, Gannett-Fleming and CRA, and which included the cited escalation clause. In September 2008 the School Board did a Request For Proposal for architects, and there were presentations made to the board by four finalists in mid-October. The board voted on retaining CRA at that time [â€¦] and Tom Judge and I (Bouffault was School Board Chairman in 2008) were appointed to negotiate it.”
After negotiating the CRA contract Bouffault passed the document on to the School Board’s legal counsel for review. “After being reviewed by our attorneys, the contract was then finalized and approved by the School Board [at the] end [of] October 2008. Cost escalation clauses are routine in all such contracts, with both the scope of work and the duration of same spelled out very clearly. Our Gannet Fleming contract has the same type of clause which also includes the original Master Schedule.”
Once it became clear that Clarke County had exceeded the time requirement outlined in the agreement, CRA presented a contract change order invoice for $60K in 2009. According to Bouffault CRA “simply pointed out the delays, and applied the corresponding contract condition 8.1.2 which they are entitled to do.” However, the School Board was not in agreement with the amount charged and withheld payment.
“There had not been agreement on the cost factors utilized by CRA, and we had both simply “agreed to disagree” and had held the amount pending until now.” Bouffault said.
In Monday night’s School Board meeting unanimously approving the CRA invoice, no specific reasons for why the School Board had delayed the CRA payment nor the resolution offered by CRA to the issues, if any, were discussed in detail. Nor was it clear what prompted CRA to voluntarily agree to reduce the original cost escalation amount of the $60k down to $40k.
“We all felt that this was an equitable adjustment, and it also reflects their on-going collaborative attitude towards this project. They have done a good job of working with the School Board and adapting to our requested changes along the way.” Bouffault said.
If CRA’s executives breathed a sign of relief after winning their year-long fight to extract their revenues from Clarke County, the respite was short-lived. CRA’s latest invoice (CRA-020) covering “alternate bid items” included an unauthorized line-item charge of $5,299.78.
The line-item sought to recover “Overhead” costs calculated at 222%.
At last night’s meeting Chairwoman Bouffault said that CRA had since withdrawn the “Overhead” charge. The School Board approved CRA’s invoice less the unauthorized amount.
According Clarke County staff, during the year-long negotiation over payment of CRA’s escalation clause invoice, CRA presented information to the School Board documenting salary and cost increases based on Clarke County’s delays. The School Board’s reaction, if any, to CRA’s accounting justification given our area’s high unemployment rate and low inflation was also not discussed.