After a thorny School Board review last week, School Board Chairperson Robina Bouffault’s proposal to replace PHR&A’s custom designed fire flow system with a lower cost, pre-fabricated, Flowtronex solution received an incredulous reception from the Berryville Town Council today. Based on the Council’s comments both during and after the meeting, Bouffault’s attempt to buy time for further negotiations over the final fire flow solution now appear to be on a collision course with her goal of issuing request-for-proposal documents by the end of April. The Berryville Town Council offered no indication of support for Bouffault’s overture and bristled at her suggestion that the Town’s actions could be responsible for delaying the building completion date by as much as six months.
“The School Board’s bidding process is just not the Town’s issue,” said Mayor Wilson Kirby after the meeting. “Everything has to be approved before the site plan can be released. We’re not handling this any differently than any other plan.”
At issue is the Town’s requirement that a fire flow pumping solution be approved prior to issuing a final site plan approval. The Town has offered the School board two choices; Either agree to a custom designed fire flow system already approved by the Town’s engineering staff or build and maintain a separate school system. Bouffault now appears to be asking the Town to detach final approval of the school site plan from the final disposition of the fire flow plan. According to Town Manager Keith Dalton, Bouffault’s request is contrary to an April 22 motion adopted by the Town that either:
“a) an agreement is approved by both the Town of Berryville and the applicant [School Board] that provides for provision of required fire flow by upgrading the Town’s Booster Pump Station or b) the Town of Berryville approves a plan that provides for construction of an on-site improvement to provide required fire flow.”
Dalton said that the intent of the resolution was clear, either a shared utility agreement between the School Board and the Town must be approved or the School Board moves forward with construction of its own on-site plant.
Mayor Wilson Kirby confirmed Dalton’s interpretation of the resolution saying, “The Council’s intent was that approval of the site plan would include the PHR&A design or that the School Board would develop its own plan and fire flow project.”
Responding to Mayor Kirby’s interpretation, Chairperson Bouffault replied, “That’s not how we understood the motion.” Bouffault contends that pre-engineered/fabricated booster pump stations are allowable by the Virginia Department of Health under the currently approved permit and appears to be the source of her hope for continued negotiations with the Town over adoption of the final fire flow solution.
“The Flowtronex system is a comparable plan, and if it is more cost effective, it should be to both the benefit of the School Board and the Town of Berryville to put the money back into the school budget. The Virginia Department of Health says that it can turn approval for an alternate plan around in 30 days,” Bouffault said. She then recited additional reasons why she believes that the alternate solution should be considered; “The City of Martinsburg has two Flowtronex systems that Berryville’s engineering consultants, Chester Engineering, have worked on. The Town of Martinsburg is very pleased with the Flowtronex systems that they have.”
Bouffault then added, “I hope that the Town Council will not prevent the School Board from going out for bids next week.”
Bouffault’s remark touched on a heated exchange with Councilman Allen Kitselman over culpability of the Town Council for potential delays in the school construction schedule:
Bouffault: “Is it the Town’s intent to block the project until the fire flow issue is resolved?”
Kitselman: “Why are you throwing this up at the last minute? You’ve known all along that we cannot release the site plan until the fire flow system is resolved.”
Bouffault: “Are you telling us then that we cannot go out for bids?”
Kitselman: “That’s not our decision, it’s your decision.”
Bouffault: “Fire flow can be built out in six to eight months but we have a 27 month project that we need to start. If we have to stop now pending the fire flow negotiations that only happen through monthly meetings the delay could be six months. Is that what you intend?”
Kitselman: “This Council has accelerated the school approval process from the beginning. The School Board has a clear path forward for accomplishing its goals with the PHR&A plan. I do not understand why this is a barrier. I think that the cost differences are negligible.”
Town Manager Keith Dalton said after the meeting that Bouffault is essentially proposing to start the fire flow design process over from scratch even though the construction documents, product specifications and design plan have already been approved and paid for. “Everything is ready to go for the PHR&A design. We can issue the bid documents in less than a week” Dalton said.
Dalton doesn’t think that Bouffault’s proposal will actually equate to savings for taxpayers. “The Flowtronex cost estimate is labeled “Conceptual”. That’s because no one from Flowtronex has ever seen our construction standards and because their design does not meet our standards. Even if the final cost was only $189K the school would still need a water storage tank which could easily cost an additional $100K plus all of the additional engineering costs. This whole idea will cause unnecessary delays and unnecessarily waste money.”
Councilmember Mary Daniel (Ward Three) expressed puzzlement over the timing of Bouffault’s position. “In January the School Board came to us with the concept of a shared fire flow agreement but by March there still wasn’t anything from the School Board. Now it’s May 3 and they’re asking to change everything again.”
Mayor Kirby agreed that the School Board was ultimately responsible for the delays. “The School Board bought the school property in 2008. It’s now 2010 and they still don’t have a solution in place.”
Councilman Allen Kitselman (Ward Two) voiced his frustration after the meeting. “It’s the School Board’s building and the School Board’s budget. Is there some plan to try and vilify the Town Council here?”