New School Construction Testing Cost Nears $500K

The Clarke County School Board approved $225K to Gannett Fleming, Inc. (GF) for building commissioning at the new Clarke County High School. The amount is in addition to $247K approved last month for quality testing services on a wide range of construction deliverables. The board also reviewed potential capital costs for retrofitting existing school buildings, cost impact of new county storm water management at the existing high school and discussed a wind powered water well as a way of avoiding town water costs associated with irrigating school property.

Gannett Fleming Gets $225K School Construction Testing Contract

Last night the Clarke County School Board unanimously approved a work statement provided by Gannett Fleming (GF) to commission Clarke County’s new high school. In question is whether the additional money is necessary to obtain an acceptable building or whether the cost is simply added profit for services that GF and other contractors are already being paid to deliver.

School Board Chairman, Robina Bouffault contends that the costs are a necessary insurance policy against potential contractor delivery disputes in the future. “This may appear to be overkill but it’s really not,” said School Board Chairman Robina Bouffault in reference to the commissioning contract. “This is the largest building project that this county has ever done and it’s very complex.”

The $225K GF contract is in addition to a $247K quality testing contract approved earlier this month. The quality testing covered under the $247K contract is required by state law, however, the building commissioning is a discretionary expense. It is not clear from documents presented at last night’s School Board meeting just how much value the additional $225K payment to GF will provide beyond the contractual obligations already in place under existing contracts with GF and others.

New school site - Photo Paula Shipman

For example, with the new school’s HVAC system Clarke County will pay one firm to install the system and a second firm, Air Balancing Engineers, $90K simply  to “test, adjust and balance” the HVAC system. Additionally, Gannet Fleming is already being paid to be on-site to monitor the HVAC installation quality and to “prevent problems before they happen”.   In fact, Gannett Fleming’s on-site project manager, Michael Castelli, describes Gannett Fleming’s role as providing the “eyes and ears” for Clarke County on the construction site.

The $225K payment is in addition to payments Clarke County is already making to GF for project management services.

A careful reading of the Gannett Fleming proposal approved by the School Board last night verifies that many of the commissioning services are redundant. Continuing with the HVAC example, GF proposes to “verify testing adjusting and balancing”, services already being performed and paid to Air Balancing Engineers. The financial picture is further muddied because Air Balance Engineers is one of the contractors that GF is already being paid, presumably, to monitor for quality.

Joint Administrative Services Director Judge said that although the testing costs are significant, the money spent could help Clarke County avoid potential litigation costs in the future in the event that, for example, heating, ventilation and air conditioning services don’t operate properly in the future.

Yet, at each step of the HVAC installation process the county, in theory, will be invoiced and asked to pay for a system that supposedly already works correctly and conforms to written contract specifications. Each invoice payment already provides the county with legal recourse if a delivery does not conform to contract specifications.  Further, Gannett Fleming’s on-site project manager expense, Clarke County’s on-site “eyes and ears”, was pitched as the county’s insurance for “preventing mistakes before they happen”.

In view of the significant oversight and testing costs already built into the existing construction contract, a building commissioning contractor may have justifiable value if it also provides Clarke County with a fiduciary guarantee and protection against potential litigation with unresponsive sub-contractors.

Unfortunately, such protection is not included in Gannett Fleming’s $225K offer.

As commissioning agent GF will presumably already have some level of responsibility for building problems through its role as on-site project manager. However, Gannett Fleming’s approved statement of work provides no such guarantee or litigation relief for Clarke County. While GF has agreed to “developing a plan to resolve any outstanding deficiencies or other commissioning-related issues” the document does not assign any further responsibility to GF if a matter is not resolved to the satisfaction of the county.

Because Gannett Fleming does not assume responsibility for enforcing contract compliance with subcontractors, Clarke County could ultimately still be left to litigate problems directly with the non-performing parties if a future problem occurs and negating the presumed value of the $225K payment to Gannett Fleming under the commissioning contract.

Estimated Capital Costs for Building Renovations Tops $10M

Clarke County got its first look at the cost estimates for renovating its existing school building. Crabtree,  Rohrbaugh & Associates says that the renovations costs will be between $8,452,000 and $10,803,000.

The CRA estimates are significantly higher than amount previously discussed by the School board. At a June 21st School Board Construction Meeting School Board Chairman Robina Bouffault said that she believed that the remaining $1.96M of VPSA funding would probably cover converting the existing Clarke County High School to a new elementary school (previously estimated at  $4.5M.)

In fact, the CRA estimate for conversion of the existing high school building to an elementary school facility range from $2.7M to 3.7M alone with architectural renovations only for the main building.

Other building cost estimates provided by CRA included:

Berryville Primary Building:                                                   $2.5M – $3.3M

Cooley Elementary Building:                                               $1.4M – $1.9M

New High School Additional Classrooms:         $1.9M – $2.0M

At last night’s meeting Chairperson Bouffault said that she believed that the building cost estimates were too high.

“These costs provide a general overview and I think that we can do better than this” Bouffault said. “I’ll get with Mike Murphy and Bobby Levi so that we can review this further.”

School Board Reluctant to Embrace New Storm Water Management Regulations

With the Board of Supervisors set to vote on a proposed new comprehensive storm water management ordinance tonight, School Board members were less than enthusiastic in embracing the spirit of the new regulations last night, opting instead to give only baseline consideration to the new rules.

The School Board reluctance to seriously consider alternatives for implementing the new regulations was surprising given its past verbal support for “green” building initiatives.  New Virginia storm water management rules, intended reduce polluted runoff – the fastest-growing source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay- will likely be added to the Clarke County Code at tonight’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting.

Clarke County’s current storm water management regulations have not been overhauled since being established in 1998. The proposed changes will allow the county to require runoff reduction methods that enhance local groundwater recharge, improve stream health and decrease erosion and flooding.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed covers about 60 percent of Virginia

Several storm water management options provided at a previous meeting by Clarke County Planning Administrator Chuck Johnston, including a rain water garden and conversion of an area north of the football field to a wetland area were dismissed by Bouffault in favor of “cheap” solutions.

“Anything that we do has to be cheap” Bouffault said.

School Board member Emily Rhodes (Buckmarsh) supported Bouffault’s position. “We’re open to low cost and frugal things” Rhodes said.

Although the wetland drainage area proposed by Johnston could be implemented by an existing drainage pipe already in place from the current high school parking lot and running under the football field, Bouffault was reluctant to adopt it.

“If we limit this to plantings and a few trees I don’t see a problem” Bouffault said. “I don’t think that a wetland on the other side of the stadium is necessary.

Bouffault told the School Board that limiting changes to the footprint of the existing high school would further limit the School Board’s need to accommodate the new storm water management rules.

“Changing the footprint will require submitting a new site plan. If we do that we are going to have storm water management problems.”

Wind Powered Irrigation Water

While storm water management may not have been “green” enough to be embraced last night, apparently wind generated irrigation water collection is.

At last night’s meeting Chairperson Bouffault proposed a windmill be erected on school property to collect water in a cistern. The cistern water would then be transferred to a truck and used to irrigate school trees and playing fields.

Bouffault suggested drilling a well to collect water as an alternative to purchasing expensive water from the town of Berryville. Current water costs were said to be $12K – $14K per year.

“The cost of a well isn’t very much,” Bouffault said.

“I like the idea of not using town water to water our playing fields” said Rhodes.

Bouffault directed CCPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy to instruct Technology teacher Mr. Edward Novak to ask his students to develop a proposal for the concept.

In ground irrigation for new school was removed from project early on due to cost considerations.


  1. So, the way I read this, we’re paying GF another $225K but it doesn’t give us any further protections?

    How buddy-buddy is Robina with GF?


  3. Wow! That is quite a hourly rate to babysit the construction process. And $90k to a contractor to test and adjust HVAC equipment that some other contractor is installing? Seems like too many hands in the kitchen making a mad cash grab. Has anyone thought to contact Jefferson or Frederick county to learn the construction process and if all this babysitting is necessary? They have had plenty of recent experience. WOW!

  4. concerned says:

    Wooh! No wonder they go into closed sessions when these types of decisions are made. “Anything we do has to be cheap”?????? It’s a shame she didn’t say that about the GF contract. And they don’t guarantee anything? I am with Bubba D, let’s find out how other communities handled these situations. Please do not tell me our school board is too proud to do that. And, these prices for the other buildings, do they include GF’s fees? What is Gary Pope going to be doing during this process? And, as for getting with this one and that one about prices….forgive me but do either one of them have a lot of experience in this matter? All one has to do is walk into our “new” government building in Berryville and smell the nasty smell that has been there almost since the opening to know that building was not overseen very well. Somebody please help us!?! i don’t even know who “Fly” Lambert is, but we may really need his help at this point. Where is the budget? Did it go out the window when we had extra money left? This sounds like my teenager when given a large sum of money, do exactly what you want and more until you are broke and then start cutting corners.

  5. Like I said the low bid HVAC did not get the contract, so the good old boys are scratching each others back. Dirty dealing done right.