County Moves Closer to Lawsuit Over Government Center Problems

Although Wednesday’s Joint Government Center Building Committee meeting was open to the public, most of the two-hour discussion was held in private closed session. Clarke County and Town of Berryville officials, legal advisors and engineers spent the morning considering legal recourse against the contractors who designed and constructed the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Continuing HVAC issues within the newly constructed facility have been the source of complaints since the building was occupied two years ago. Actions taken by the committee after the closed session ended point to the increased likelihood of litigation to resolve the problems.

The Joint Government Center Building Committee is comprised of Clarke County Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh), Ward Two Council Member Allen Kitselman, Clarke County Administrator David Ash and Berryville Town Manager Keith Dalton. Wednesday’s meeting was also attended by attorney Bob Mitchell of Hall, Monahan, Engle Mahan and Mitchell of Winchester, Virginia.

According to public documents issued in November, Wednesday’s meeting was intended to review the results of environmental testing that has been conducted by engineering firm Potomac Energy Group, Inc. (PEG). Over the past several weeks PEG engineers have been recording environmental conditions within the facility including temperature stability, humidity control and overall HVAC performance.

PEG senior vice president Jeff Smith and Chester Engineers Rick Traverse, both engineers, joined the meeting by phone conference to review the results of the environmental testing with the committee members and attorney Mitchell.

A request by Clarke Daily News to obtain a copy of PEG’s test results was denied Wednesday morning by Administrator David Ash citing the likelihood of probable litigation over the HVAC problems.

Building users continue to complain of musty smells, mold and high humidity and temperature issues throughout the building. Negotiations with the builder, Brechbill & Helman Construction Company and the architect, Baughan and Baukhages Architects, Luray, Virginia, have failed to correct the problems to the satisfaction of Berryville and Clarke County officials.

Wednesday’s actions by the Joint Government Center Building Committee seem to indicate that Clarke County intends to focus its litigation efforts primarily on Baughan and Baukhages Architects to resolve the problems.

The committee approved two recommendations that may move the dispute closer to resolution.

The first action authorized attorney Mitchell to draft a settlement agreement with the builder, Brechbill & Helman Construction Company. The second action sends a more aggressive signal Baughan and Baukhages Architects.

In a follow-on motion the committee authorized Mitchell to “prepare a recommendation to the Berryville Town Council and the Clarke County Supervisors concerning any action to be taken with regard to the contractual relationship with the architect and engineering team for the Joint Government Center relating to the HVAC system and its operation.”

Since that the first action by the committee seeks to “settle” the differences with one of the two central parties involved in the $6.5 million project, the lack of settlement language regarding Baughan and Baukhages Architects likely that the county and town could intend to soon take legal action to settle the dispute.

Although the Joint Government Center Building Committee has asked attorney Mitchell to proceed, county officials stressed after Wednesday’s meeting that both the Town of Berryville and the Clarke County Supervisors will review the recommendations before any further steps are taken.

The Clarke County supervisors are scheduled to take up the matter on December 15, 2010.