Problems at Joint Government Center Could Mean Litigation for Contractors

A recent report issued by a Clarke County consultant has identified a wide range of problems with the county’s new Joint Government Center building and may provide added momentum for a potential lawsuit by the county against the architectural firm that designed the facility.

According to documents obtained by Clarke Daily News, Clarke County and the Town of Berryville have spent a combined total of nearly $20K on legal fees with the law firm that has been handling the possible lawsuit, Hall, Monahan, Engle, Mahan and Mitchell related to probable litigation over the matter.

Since the opening of the building in 2008, staff members working in the facility have complained of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) issues and problems related to temperature and humidity control. When discussions with the building’s architect, Baughan and Baukhages Architects  of Lurray, Virginia, and construction contractor Brechbill & Helman Construction Company of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania failed to resolve the problems, county officials retained engineering firm Potomac Energy Group, Inc. (PEG) to document the issues and suggest solutions.

After reviewing the PEG report in early December Clarke County’s Joint Administrative Services committee directed attorney Robert Mitchell to draft a settlement agreement with Brechbill & Helman Construction Company. The move could indicate the county’s intention to absolve Brechbill & Helman of liability and indicate that the county believes that Baughan and Baukhages is responsible for correcting the problems.

At the same meeting the JAS 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.” The Clarke County Board of Supervisors will consider next steps in the case at its next regular meeting on December 21.

Architects Baughan and Baukages of Lurray, Virginia has designed several of the county's construction projects including the Joint Government Center - Photo Edward Leonard

According to the PEG report, The supervisors will have to consider a long list of factors contributing to the 25,000 square foot building’s temperature and humidity issues including:

  • Inability of the installed fan coil units to adequately dehumidify
  • Lack of modulating control of the chilled water valves to the fan coil unit cooling coils
  • Lack of proper thermostatic control zoning for the occupied areas
  • Inaccurate sensing of zone conditions by the thermostats
  • Improper airflow or air balance to some areas
  • Installation of uncontrolled bypass air ductwork on each fan coil unit system
  • High roof area well temperatures during cooling season operation
  • Lack of control of units during normal hours and operation during unoccupied times

Along with the list of building problems, PEG also provided solutions for addressing the issues. It will be up to the Clarke County Board of Supervisors and the Berryville Town Council to decide whether to continue to pursue resolving the issues informally with Baughan and Baukhages or to escalate the debate through court proceedings.

The PEG report suggests the following changes to correct the buildings problems:

  • Replace the cooling coils for a number of the fan coil units with new coils better
    matched to the project needs
  • Correct the cooling coil control valves to modulating control
  • Remove the duct bypass and rebalance all air flow and fan coils serving the space to
    properly match the loads of the space
  • Relocate or add thermostats/thermo-sensors to locations that better measure actual
    space conditions
  • Reduce roof area well temperatures during warm weather conditions
  • Install an automatic control system to monitor and control the operation of all
    equipment including de-energization of units after normal hours
  • Depending upon the level of improvement with the other changes, possibly add
    control dampers/coils with new control thermostats in select areas and systems.

Many of PEG’s recommendations could carry significant price tags.

For example, in an effort to improve system performance, the temperature of the roof area well will need to be reduced during extreme heat conditions and could require a change in roofing material   or the addition of ventilation fans to remove heat build-up in the area well.

Similarly, PEG has suggested that a new automatic temperature control system be installed to monitor all major equipment including the chiller, boiler, chilled water pump, heating hot water pumps, temperature and humidity sensors and other HVAC components.   The new control system would provide county staff to identify trends and problems and allow
the building to be controlled and operated from a single point while regulating the HVAC system operation.

The current problems with Joint Government Center have some county officials wondering whether Clarke County’s procurement practices are effective at obtaining the dual goals of quality and low cost.

Baughan and Baukhages was retained by Clarke County to provide architectural design and oversight services on four county projects; the Joint Government Center, renovation of the second floor of the Clarke County Sheriff’s office, renovation work on the Clarke County courthouse and an additional renovation project at the Clarke County Sheriff’s office.

In addition to the Joint Government Center, work has been completed on the initial Clarke County Sheriff office renovation and work has commenced on the courthouse.

Several county officials have quietly expressed dissatisfaction with the two projects that have been completed to date. In addition to the HVAC problems with the Joint Government Center, officials have cited increased project costs for the Sheriff’s office project related to in-progress design modifications that were required when construction crews questioned architectural changes to a load-bearing wall.

With litigation pending between the county and its contractors on the Joint Government Center it is difficult to determine the source of cost overruns on either the Joint Government Center or the Sheriff’s Office renovations. In some cases, county requested changes may have pushed costs up while in other cases cost increases may have been attributable to contractor actions.

Regardless of the reasons for cost escalation, the initial budget estimate for Joint Government Center began at $5.92M before climbing to a final price tag of $6.48M. Cost overruns for the Sheriff’s Office renovations were more significant on a relative basis; Although the original contract sum for the project was $228K, by the time that the construction dust had finally cleared the project price tag had reached $297K.

Comments

  1. Having been a frequent visitor to the Joint Government Center over the last several years, I am hoping that the County and Town will go ahead with any process necessary to correct these problems and hold the appropriate people responsible. This building represents the hard work of every person in Clarke County by our tax support for the process. The odor of dirty mildewed water has been in that building since just weeks after it was opened. I have commented on it many times to various employees there. Which brings me to the employees who are stuck in there day after day with the odor, I wouldn’t believe it would be good for their sinuses. I hope the county will take that and all of the hours our maintenance staff have probably spent trying to deal with problems that should never have happened. Maybe the best choices were not made by the county and city, but the correction of the mistake is the most important thing at this point….