School Construction Update

The School Board is now on track to move past two contentious issues that have threatened to slow the construction of the new high school; the special use permit from the Town of Berryville and a resolution over the final fire flow solution. With the construction phase of the project approaching the School Board turned its attention, in part, to security considerations in the new building.

At last night’s meeting School Board Chairperson, Robina Bouffault presented revised construction easements prepared by site engineer, Jon Erikson. A comprehensive site easement plat is just one of several conditions required by the Town’s special use permit. Bouffault said that the in addition to the construction easements, the lighting plan and fire flow appear close to resolution, “All systems are go and we are pleased with our progress.”

While an agreement with the Town over fire flow appears to be close, there was disagreement within the School Board about the legal fees associated with the agreement. At issue is how to handle attorney Joe Luchini’s fees which appear to be higher than a “not to exceed amount” of $9,500 for fire flow work agreed to by the School Board.

Jennifer Welliver expressed concern that Mr. Luchini had exceeded the stipulated limit without contacting the School Board for approval. “We set a not-to-exceed amount for fire flow and said that he needed to come back to us if it was going to cost more. But he didn’t do this. We wouldn’t accept this kind of behavior from Gannett Fleming or Crabtree. When do we draw the line?”

Chairperson Bouffault defended Luchini’s approach likening it to not asking a surgeon to stop in the middle of an operation over cost. “You can’t expect an attorney to stop midway thru the day to re-calculate their hours. Attorneys estimate how much it will cost but it becomes difficult to hold them to a number when we are the ones requesting the changes.”

Other School Construction News

The School Board discussed a request by Clarke County Administrator David Ash to take advantage of trenching associated with school construction to relocate County sewer lines. Bouffault said the School Board would take the request under consideration provided that it did not slow down the school completion schedule.

School Superintendent, Dr. Mike Murphy reported that school staff is reviewing the use and placement of security cameras in the new building. “We’re having a second set of eyes look at the CRA security plan,” Murphy said. “We want to make sure that whatever equipment is installed is internet protocol accessible and can be monitored by central alarm through the school system’s fiber backbone.”

The School Board unanimously approved invoices totaling $153K for Crabtree Rohrbach & Associates, $17K for Gannett Fleming and $21,704.35 for ReedSmith, Attorney Luchini’s employer.

Comments

  1. Jim Gibson says:

    You perhaps wouldn’t stop a surgeon, but – still – Mr. Luchini knows his billable rate, he knows the hours he’s billing, and he knows the agreement with its do-not-exceed limit. He should have been in contact with the entire board, and thus be in accordance with the agreement set forth. I would think it would behoove the chair to remind Mr. Luchini that there is an agreement, and that he is expected to work to it.

    Still…it is good to see more positive steps be taken than negative.

    • Debacle Watcher says:

      The Chair is clearly more agreeable to sucking legal fees out of the construction budget than getting the school built. Nothing new here.

      • Bond, James Bond says:

        What now? Is the sky too blue? At any point, any Board member could have made a motion to fire Mr. Luchini, but none did. They could have called time-out to negotiate a new agreement with Reed Smith, wait for the next School Board meeting to discuss it and vote it up or down, but they did not. In the mean time the rapid exchange of legal documents and agreements between the School Board and the Town that has occured in May would have come to a screeching halt. In the mean time, bid requests and bid awards would be delayed for another month or two. In the mean time, potential bidders would be loading up their project queues for the summer, and as a result the bids would come in higher than they otherwise should. I think the accounting term is “penny wise and pound foolish”.

        • Tony Parrott says:

          Come on Bond, really?
          No, this isn’t surgery. Any customer would expect notification if cost is getting close to your agreed limit; even you.
          Robina knows a thing or two about legal expenses. Any idea how much she has cost the county in legal expenses? Has the KL lawsuit been cleared up yet? Not to mention the $7k+ in legal expenses as a school board elect that was graciously gifted by formal counsel after he was hired on as the SB attorney. This is all typical Robina. You have to admire her Teflon ability.

          But don’t get me wrong I’m happy to see progress.

          • Bond, James Bond says:

            Come on Tony, really?
            Did any other School Board member ask “how close to the limit are we?” in the almost daily negotiations with the Town, the resulting assignment of tasks to ReedSmith, and the attendant legal costs? NO. Do you ask your bank to tell you when you are getting near a zero balance on your checking account? I think there is a Not to Exceed understanding with your bank. Remember the oversight provisions placed on Ms. Bouffault where additional Board members are to be privy to the negotiations?

            Sorry, but I do not share your faith that a lawyer will tell a client during the heat of a negotiation that “hey, your legal meter is on empty” I have no illusion that this profession operates on anything other than an a la carte basis.

            I have not seen the”Not to exceed” agreement with ReedSmith, but I would bet, with the subsequent requests for amendments and redos, that it would be unenforceable. Remember, this is a lawyer we are talking about.

            Again, Ms. Boufault, the other members of the Board who were involved in the oversight of the negotiations and the balance of the Board could have told ReedSmith to take a hike and start afresh with a new legal team and a new learning curve on the project. Or, as they did, they could express their concern and move on and finish this #*$%##! project.

          • Lonnie Bishop says:

            James, the simple fact is that the agreement stipulated that he was to contact the Board if his fees, based on his work, were approaching the predetermined limit he agreed to with the Board. He, the lawyer, did not abide by that agreement. Ms. Welliver is well within her right to call him to task on that, and remind everyone of the agreement’s principles. The fact that the chair seems willing to allow such overruns is not surprising, but to justify it with such a glib remark is disappointing.

          • RJ Johnston says:

            It is good the process is progressing. But I really dislike being over billed without notification and/or approval.

        • Lonnie Bishop says:

          Hmmm…so, it’s perfectly OK for a lawyer to submit a bill that is more than twice the “do not exceed” amount agreed to at the beginning of the process? If only 1 SB member is really privy to the dealings with the lawyer, or any other facet of the project, do the other SB members have sufficient info to “call time-out” or whatever else you suggest?

          To me, the issue is that the lawyer clearly went over the rate first established, and there was no discussion of modifying the predetermined amount.