As the current Clarke County School Board winds down its term in office, the five member panel’s legacy will largely be defined by two items; construction of the new Clarke County High School and the contentious path that it followed along the way. With a little over a month left to go it appears that at least one more controversy is about to make its way onto the School Board’s December agenda.
As the School Board operates in “lame duck” session awaiting the arrival of three new members in January, a recently released request for proposal (RFP) for an “agency construction manager,” has School Board member Robina Bouffault (White Post) raising concerns that the RFP was issued without the School Board’s knowledge.
“I was astounded to see that on Monday [November 21], the day of our School Board meetings, both construction and regular, an RFP was posted on the county website for an ‘agency construction manager’ for the School Board’s renovations, with the scope of work outlined,” Bouffault said in an email message to Clarke County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy. “I do not recall that the School Board ever saw this RFP, nor was it discussed during your presentations on the status of the renovations at any time, including Monday when there was a lengthy conversation concerning the current high school chiller and its eventual replacement. You remained totally mute on the subject Monday night.”
The RFP Bouffault has questioned requests a construction manager to oversee $7.2M in appropriated funds to renovate the existing Clarke County High School, Cooley Elementary, and Berryville Primary. The renovation plan will also include a review of the School Board office, alternate education building, and the Annex Special Education building which may be decommissioned.
The problem, according to Bouffault, is that the School Board has not made any firm decisions on the renovation plan.
“There has been no School Board discussion or School Board resolution concerning this RFP,” Bouffault’s email message to Murphy continued. “You are asking for a FIXED bid for construction management services, for a project whose scope is as of yet undefined, with no architectural, engineering or other technical parameters – nor is there any preliminary cost estimate that has been established other than the Crabtree Rohrbaugh and Associates estimates done in August 2010, and which you allege do not now conform to your current ideas, while you bring in the Virginia Department of Education for a “limited space study” for the current high school – a study that as of yet is not even done.”
Bouffault says that not only is the RFP is chasing the “cart before the horse” but that she has also asked Murphy to disclose who authorized him to issue the RFP.
“Dr. Murphy has not responded to my question in spite of the fact that I have asked it three different times in three different e-mails,” Bouffault said.
However, sources within Clarke County government say Clarke County School Board chairman Barbara Lee (Millwood) was aware of the RFP and Murphy’s plan to issue it.
Attempts to reach Lee for comment were unsuccessful, possibly due to pending health problems that hospitalized her prior to the School Board’s November 21st regular meeting.
While Dr. Murphy stopped short of citing Lee as the elected official who may have authorized the RFP, he appeared to disagree with Bouffault’s assertion that the School Board’s approval was required before the document was sent to potential bidders.
“Issuing a RFP or an RFQ is not a governance item, nor is it a policy item; these would be considered two of the primary responsibilities of a school board,” Murphy said. “Barbara [Lee] and I have talked about the issuance of such a document on several occasions, to be issued as an administrative function. The School Board will have plenty of time and opportunity to either accept or reject the recommendations that come forward. In addition, Tom Judge, Mike Legge, and Bobby Levi have all be involved in this process, as well as staff from the Virginia Department of Education. It has been discussed, in concept, at more than one School Board meeting as well.”
Murphy cited “A Manual for Virginia School Board Members” as support for his authority to move forward with the RFP quoting “The duties of boards are commensurate with their power and authority. One student of school administration summarized them very generally under three headings: to adopt policies for the school system; to provide adequate means for executing them; and to see that they are executed.”
Bouffault sees the authorization issue differently.
“No individual board member, Chairman or not, has any individual power for this type of thing according to the Code of Virginia’s section 22.1-71,” Bouffault said.
Dr. Murphy did not respond to an email message asking whether issuance of the RFP was an attempt to satisfy pressure from the Clarke County Board of Supervisors who have vocalized concerns that the renovation projects should move forward while economic conditions offer favorable construction bids.
However, Bouffault said that the RFP in its current form will not accomplish the Board of Supervisors’ goals.
“The Board of Supervisor’s request to the School Board last year was quite specific, but this RFP does not respond to that,” Bouffault said.
Bouffault said that in a July 20 , 2010 letter from the Supervisors the School Board was asked “To develop a capital improvement plan itemizing these projects as soon as possible and before proceeding with any project. Such plan should make every attempt to use only currently available funds and not add additional school debt service expenditures prior to July 1, 2017”.
“This RFP will not make this process move more quickly, given that there is still no defined plan as to the scope of work, even if the School Board were to choose a construction manager,” Bouffault said. “Just what project is the manager supposed to manage? The School Board has been asking the Superintendent to define the scope of the project for some time now, however to date this has not been done, and the VDOE visit for space studies requested by the Superintendent only happened on November 30th. Although last year our engineers did a walk-thru of the 3 schools and did individual cost estimates based upon the information provided to them by staff, this information has apparently been discarded by the Superintendent who appears to be proceeding along different lines undefined as of yet.”
Bouffault also believes that the RFP, which was sent to 38 companies and was also posted on the County’s website, is ambiguous and she doubts it will result in a substantive response from potential bidders.
“There is also no time table whatsoever in the RFP – will it be one year, two years, three years?” Bouffault asked. “Given that the renovation discussions started in mid-2010, and the School Board continues to be in the dark as to exactly what is to be done, or how much it will cost, how do you expect any firm to give a fixed bid for such non-specific work? Construction managers work with a DEFINED scope of work and set of architectural engineered drawings, not with vague concepts, and in conjunction with the contractors who will be responsible for the actual construction work.”
“If we are to avoid the mistakes of the past, and frittering away taxpayers dollars with little result, it is vital that the scope of the renovation project be focused, with detailed lists of each item needed and its cost, together with a timeline for completion,” Bouffault said. “A construction manager should only be sought once the school board has a well-defined project scope including cost estimates. If not, it is very easy to have cost overruns that can greatly diminish the amount of actual renovations the board would be able to complete, leaving one or more buildings in sub-standard condition.”