Quality Costs Top School Board Agenda

As construction of the new high school moves into full swing the Clarke County School Board approved two contract amendments totaling $263K and intended to ensure that the products and services related to the facility are fully tested and meet contract standards. Meanwhile, on the construction site, Shockey Construction hopes to turn the large amount of rock being encountered into gravel, and possibly profits.

Gannett Fleming’s construction manager for the project, Michael Castelli, told the school board that progress was being made in many areas.

Rock Crusher Bound for Construction Site

“So far about 12 acres of earth has been disturbed and work has already begun on moving the waterline on the site.” Castelli said. “In about three weeks we’ll be installing fire hydrants at the construction site entrance and also at the intersection of West Main and Whitaker.”

Castelli estimated that the water line will be completed in about three weeks.

Completion of the water line will provide the construction site with more than just a local source of water for dust control and other miscellaneous uses. Shockey Construction plans to install a rock crusher at the north end of the property some time next week. Water is a critical ingredient in the gravel-making process.

“It looks like we may be able to use rock from the water outfall line to make gravel that can be used for the building pad” Castelli said. Castelli added the caveat that the gravel must meet a compaction rate of 95%. Compaction testing results for the site stone are expected next week.

If the site stone can be used to manufacture building pad gravel Shockey Construction will avoid both the cost of removing the huge amount of rock that appears to be just below the surface and also the cost of purchasing the gravel needed for the building’s foundation.

Castelli estimates that the stone crushing device will stay onsite possibly until early 2011.

The school board also discussed the possible inclusion of dozens of large concrete water pipes, already located on the property, in the storm sewer design. The pipes have been an eye-sore on the property for years.

School Board Chairperson Robina Bouffault instructed Castelli that the pipes should be used, if possible, because she has a verbal agreement from former property owner Alton Echols that the concrete pipes conveyed with the land. Bouffault said that the she was concerned that Mr. Echols may unexpectedly change his mind about the conveyance and send a truck to remove the pipes without notifying the school board and, thus, deprive the school of their use.

Castelli later said that the possible use of the large concrete sewer pipes was being considered but may not, ultimately, be cost effective. The more modern pipe already delivered to the site is made of plastic and is a different diameter than Mr. Echol’s donated pipe.

Whether the Echol’s piping is suitable to be crushed into gravel was not discussed.

The Cost of Quality

Perhaps the real story of the meeting is the nearly $263K approved for quality testing associated with the site.

“Third party testing is legally required for the work” said Joint Administrative Services Director Tom Judge. “The project owner is required to contract directly for the testing services in order to avoid the conflict of interest were the contractor to do the testing.”

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.

“The quality testing budget means that we can assume that things are going to be done correctly” Judge said. “The additional oversight is intended to prevent mistakes before they happen in some cases.”

Quality testing will be performed for soil and earthworks, building structure, HVAC and monthly financial reporting. HVAC testing alone is designated to cost $90K.

While quality testing is required for the construction project, the level of quality assurance, and its associated costs, bears consideration.

For example, for the HVAC system, Clarke County will pay one firm to install the system, a second firm to “test, adjust and balance” the HVAC system and yet another “commissioning firm” to verify the system yet again prior to the county taking possession of the building.

Yet, at each step of the HVAC process the county, in theory, will be invoiced and asked to pay for a system that supposedly already works correctly. Continuing with HVAC as an example, authorizing a budget amount before assessing the extent of necessary corrections could result in a windfall for the Air Balancing Engineers, the selected HVAC quality assurance contractor.

Whether the quality assurance contracts are “fixed fee” or variable “time and material” rates was not discussed at the School Board Meeting.

Engineering services for the project also appear to carry a similar overlap. At Monday’s meeting the School Board approved $15K for Urban Engineering for “periodic onsite observations and reporting during the course of the construction project.”

Yet, Gannett Fleming’s Michael Castelli describes Gannett Fleming’s role as providing the “eyes and ears” for Clarke County on the construction site. Similarly, a construction trailer has been set-up onsite to accommodate Clarke County Building Inspector Gary Pope.


  1. Travis Goodwin says:

    Gannett Fleming was hired to provide oversight of the whole project. Urban Engineering, the county’s boys, are also being foisted upon the process, as is “underutilized” building inspector Gary Pope. For all the steps forward, Clarke County just can’t seem to get out of its own way…