Budget Woes Wilt Green School Plans

The Clarke County School Board wrestled with balancing “green design” against budget concerns at last night’s construction meeting while also giving conditional approval to design documents necessary for issuing school construction request for proposals sometime in April. Previous stumbling blocks between the Berryville Area Development Authority (BADA) and the School Board that had threatened to delay the project appear headed for compromise although the budget implications are yet to be fully defined. Budget concerns continue to underscore school construction and are causing the School Board to take a “wait-and-see” approach on several design issues. One possible cost saving approach under consideration is shifting an under-employed Clarke County staff member into a construction supervision role.

BADA and the School Board must still resolve several issues before the school construction permit can be issued. Last night’s School Board discussion generated several compromises intended to win conditional permit support at BADA’s upcoming April 8th meeting and keep the building schedule on track.

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Clarke County School Board reviews school site plans, March 30, 2010 - Photo Ed Leonard

The shared cost for the fire flow pumping station remains a major point  of contention and threatens to take a significant bite from the school construction budget. The School Board has offered the Town of Berryville $200K for the school’s portion of the project. The $200K amount exceeds the cost that the School Board estimates will be required to cover the new building.  Bids previously received by the School Board were all well below the $200K offered to the Town. Berryville, however, is requesting that the school budget contribute $250K to the estimated $500K project cost. Recent discussions about splitting “availability fees” charged to new users are being considered as one approach for offsetting the fire flow costs.

However, rising school cost concerns did not appear to be a factor in BADA’s requirement that a previously eliminated walking trail connecting the school to Early Drive be re-instated even though neighborhood residents cited privacy concerns in originally asking for its removal. The cost for unwanted trail, shown on the original site plan submitted by the School Board, was reinstated by the School Board last night in order to avoid re-triggering the BADA permit review process.

In another bow to mounting costs the School Board rejected BADA’s request for inclusion of an additional 75 water permeable parking spaces over the existing 411 spaces already in the school’s traffic management design plan. Jon Erickson, Urban Engineering site plan advisor, provided the results of an informal survey of the current high school parking facilities that he conducted last week. “You’re currently close to full utilization at 300 spaces,” Erickson told the Board. Erickson said that the current plan has more parking than required by the Town’s parking ordinance (250 parking spaces per 1000 students) and that water permeable parking spaces are very expensive.

School Board member Emily Rhodes (Buckmarsh) suggested that a “green” committee be formed to put some money behind the idea of water permeable parking. “The School Board needs to see some green in order to be green,” Rhodes said. The School Board decided to reject the additional spaces leaving parking availability as originally designed.

School support for recycling costs also came under sharp review when the School Board learned that the planned loading dock area at the new facility can barely accommodate three dumpster bins instead of the minimum requirement of four necessary to support current recycling efforts. Lack of a fourth recycling bin will require that a school employee transport discarded kitchen cans from the high school to recycling bins currently located at Johnson Williams Middle School. “I’m concerned that we may not be doing all that we can to set the new school up to be green,” Murphy told the School Board.

Budget concerns also prompted the School Board to opt for a basic school name sign and delay a decision on inclusion of an electronic school sign capable of displaying events and other community information. “We need something technologically advanced but we have to go with a basic sign for now then see if any money is available at the end of the bidding process,” Chairperson Bouffault said.

The tight budget has the School Board looking for additional areas where construction costs can be contained or reduced. Last night Gannet-Fleming, the School Board’s construction oversight contractor, informally offered to reduce its fees by $110K if the School Board were to replace one of two Gannett-Fleming construction oversight staff with Clarke County Building Inspector Gary Pope. According to School Board Chairman Bouffault, Mr. Pope, a licensed electrician, is currently under-employed in his current position due to the housing recession and is available to contribute up to 1,300 hours of time to school construction oversight. Current discussions revolve around using the $110K cost reduction to reimburse Clarke County for Mr. Pope’s services.

Whether Mr. Pope will ultimately supplement his current job title with “school construction inspector” is up to the School Board and Clarke County Administrator, David Ash. While full employment for County staff is an admirable goal, Mr. Pope’s future construction role, if any, raises several potential questions. For example, would Gannet-Fleming’s liability for construction issues change if a Clarke County staff member is also involved in sub-contractor oversight? Would responsibility (and ultimately cost) for sub-contractor problems be shifted to Clarke County if a dual inspection role is created?  Are there potential conflicts between Mr. Pope’s role as Clarke County Building Inspector and School Board construction agent? If so, how will the conflicts be resolved and at what cost? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, should the School Board be required to use already thin school construction funds to pay Clarke County for Mr. Pope’s services when Clarke taxpayers are presumably already covering the Mr. Pope’s salary through existing taxes?

According to County Administrator Ash, “In theory, the building department operates on fee income although that theory is certainly questionable in this economy.  If the schools can utilize the Building Official’s time at less cost than is budgeted to get this service from another source and if the County can realize fee income that is not likely to come from elsewhere in the near future, it seems to me that the taxpayer benefits. How that savings is distributed is clearly a matter of agreement between the two boards, and I am sure they will come to a fair agreement.”

These and other questions will be answered shortly as the new high school finally moves from plan to reality.

Comments

  1. Lonnie Bishop says:

    Well now…the School Board is only now learning that the planned loading dock ain’t big enough for the dumpsters needed? Really? Why didn’t the current chair, with all her construction know-how, not see this? Why do the architects continue to pass off an inferior set of plans, only to see the Board get embarrassed and see more money go away to adjust this set of plans they purchased? Did nobody do the proper homework?

    And Ash & Co. are looking to find a way to siphon school funds to pay for an “under-utilized” county employee, thus saving the county money? Sheezy peezy! Every other jurisdiction within 50 miles of us has either built new (or multiple new) and/or renovated old (Handley), yet here we are nearly 9 years into the discussion and we STILL are really no where near ready to dirty shovels. This is sad, folks.

  2. Jim Gibson says:

    It would appear that, repeatedly, the architects and the School Board do not seem to be on the same page…and certainly the architects don’t appear to have read local ordinances. How else to explain how these professionals continue to present substandard plans? Were these plans not researched before they were purchased, or at least cross-checked with applicable codes and regulations? Funds are at a premium, and it seems counterproductive to needlessly stop and deal with items that should have already been dealt with. “Green” concepts and practices are fine, but were acknowledged a year ago to be more costly up front. Yet, the Board bought these plans under the guidance of the once and again current chair.

    As for the utilization of the county employee on this project, how is it that it can seem to be OK to pay a portion of this person’s salary when he is currently “underutilized”? If his position is fee-based, and fees are down, how has the county been covering the shortage until this idea came up? Would that not be what part of the “undesignated fund balance” could be used for?

    Above all, it continues the impression that outside forces seemingly wish to stymie this process by nickel-and-diming the limited funds available for actual construction. This county has already been down the road of “cut exhorbitant costs and work to the lowest bidder” and the examples are many and amply documented. Let us hope that ALL vested parties will not choose to go down that road again.

  3. Bond, James Bond says:

    It is a shame that the estimated $180K to handle the school’s fire flow requirement now takes a back seat to the Town’s demand for a $250K contribution to an upgraded community fire flow standard. It is a shame that the previously removed walking trail is now a requirement. Could we please have some municipal consistency here. While paying lip service to the necessity for a new school, the Town and BADA have resembled more like a school of lamprey eels- sucking the blood out of the high school project one drop at a time. What’s next- a new Barcalounger for the town manager’s office?
    “The only shame is to have none” – Blaise Pascal

  4. If the School Board believes that employing Mr. Pope in a school construction oversight capacity will not a.) change the liability for construction issues; b.) negatively impact responsibility for sub-contractor issues; and c.) generate, at minimum, the impression of conflict of interest between his 2 roles… well, I’ve got a bridge in NY that’s for sale (or perhaps more applicable – a set of site plans for new high school).

    You’re looking at $5k in attorney’s fees up front just to clear all the “what-if” hurdles. That might just cover the change order costs to plug in a dumpster.

  5. Jim Gibson says:

    Well stated, Mr. Bond.

  6. Tony Parrott says:

    Does this really surprise anyone anymore?
    I still want to know when the School Board is going to keep their commitment in finding an “Authorized Owner Representative”; currently held by the Chair.

    • Lonnie Bishop says:

      Sir, on this one, you and I totally agree. It is pretty darn clear that someone more capable of giving the time and focus to the details needs to be the point person.

  7. GET R DUN says:

    Stop the antics and just get-r-dun! By the time the High School is built, my kids will be in college!