School Contracting Process Continues to Evolve

The Clarke County School Board took up several issues impacting both its building budget as well how it will manage contractor relationships. Much of last night’s discussion focused on Gannett-Fleming, Inc.’s role in advising the School Board on matters related to construction of the new building. The Board also signaled a potential change in course on how it will award construction contracts. The Board’s decisions may have a significant impact on the ultimate cost of the new school building.

Clarke County School Board

Clarke County School Board

The School Board initially planned to award up to eight separate contracts for new school construction but now seems ready to reverse course. Chairperson Robina Bouffault said that the Board’s special legal counsel believes that construction bids and implementation should be handled through a general contractor due to liability concerns. The previous plan had envisioned joint contract oversight by two firms, Gannett-Fleming, Inc. and Crabtree-Rohrbaugh, Inc., with the actual construction contracts awarded directly by Clarke County.

Several School Board members seemed surprised by the proposed change. Board member Jennifer Welliver asked “Why wasn’t a general contractor considered originally?” to which Chairperson Bouffault responded “Money. General contractors mark things up. At the time we were concerned that we didn’t have enough money. But if we get things out quickly, now, the economic climate is favorable.”  Welliver then asked why Gannett-Fleming was needed if the general contractor approach is implemented.

Welliver’s question prompted a spontaneous discussion of Gannett-Fleming’s future role in the project; Bouffault responded “Gannett-Fleming would work with the general contractor and also develop the master schedule.” School Board Clerk Tom Judged asked if Gannett-Fleming’s on-site role monitoring a general contractor would increase the administrative overhead of the project.

A member of the Gannett-Fleming team present at the meeting conceded that use of a general contractor may lessen the level of effort required from Gannett-Fleming and that there could be savings in Gannett-Fleming’s “not-to-exceed” budget built into the contract. However, Gannett-Fleming defended the value of its role as the School Board’s “eyes and ears” on the construction site.

The School Board will have to assess how best to manage its sub-contractor costs as the project moves forward. For example, the School Board and Town of Berryville are currently exploring whether to share the costs and benefits of a fire flow booster pump needed for the new school. Although Gannet-Fleming performed an initial evaluation of the booster pump station in early 2009, its January 2009 invoice for approximately $2,300 was not approved for payment until last night. The payment delay was rooted in whether Gannett Fleming had been authorized to perform the work. Last night Gannett-Fleming requested a $3,500 “engineering change order” to cover additional oversight of the fire flow design meetings.

While the School Board initially seemed ready to accept Gannett-Fleming’s request, School Board Clerk Tom Judge challenged the move:

Clerk Judge: We hired Gannett-Fleming to be our construction manager and now you’re getting into design meetings. Isn’t that a conflict of interest?

Gannett-Fleming: No

Clerk Judge: Then why do we need a change order?

Gannett-Fleming: Because we can’t do this under our existing contract

Clerk Judge: Then the cost has to be within your not-to-exceed figure

Gannett-Fleming: We’ll make every effort to keep under our existing not-to-exceed amount but we don’t know what the future will hold. But this is not in scope

Clerk Judge: Then is it a change order? There seems to be a conflict to me. Either it is in scope or it is not.

Gannett-Fleming: We’d rather have a change order because it is one less battle that we will have to fight later.

After general discussion between the Gannett-Fleming team and the School Board:

Gannett-Fleming: We’d rather have a change order as an insurance policy. The meetings are not inconsistent with the scope of our contract.

Chairperson Bouffault: If it’s in scope Marty then you don’t get a change order.

Board Member Welliver ended the discussion by stating on the record that the School Board had listened to Gannett-Fleming’s concerns and that there was “no disagreement”.

Community concerns about contract change orders increasing the final cost of the school building are on-going. Crabtree-Rohrbaugh, another of the School Board’s construction advisors, stated last night that there may be a need to redesign the school’s food service facility because the Middletown Middle School design documents being used for Clarke’s building only accommodates 600 students. The Clarke High School cafeteria will need to accommodate approximately 1,000 students.

The School Board plans to meet with its construction lawyer on February 22 at 6:00pm to further consider whether a general contractor approach will be used. A quick decision will be required in order to maintain the current projected ground-breaking date.


  1. Does anyone get the impression that the school board itself isn’t on the same page so its impossible for them to present a united front to anyone; be it a contractor, the country, or even the public? I have a book for them to read: The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. I am not putting this up to be trite or cute, but as an honest concern.

    • Good point! Gannett-Fleming was hired to be the overseer of the project, but Ms. Bouffault has sought that power for herself. Now, she wants to hire a general contractor…yet G-F is still on the payroll. Confused? Understandable.

  2. Jim Gibson says:

    So…aside from the bickering over who’s in charge and such things, only NOW the architects are saying that the cafeteria (designed for 600 students in the plans already purchased by the School Board last year) has to be redesigned to accommodate the 1,000 students planned for by the School Board. Really? This rather important detail is only coming to light now? Ms. Bouffault, with all of her construction savvy, didn’t catch this when she led the push to buy these plans? It wasn’t discussed when they toured Middletown Middle School in PA last Spring? The plans are supposedly at “90%” completion, and such a basic thing as an appropriately-sized cafeteria is just coming up now? How sadly typical for this project…

    • Fact Checker says:

      It is a fact that the cafeteria at Middletown Area Middle School was designed for a school sized for 1000 students with 300 at each sitting. According to their Assistant Principal, Christine Mostoller, they are able to accommodate their entire current enrollment of 590 students by using two lunch periods. The capacity of the kitchen and preparation areas is not a factor in serving each lunch sitting.

      The Clarke County School Board slightly modified the design of its new high school cafeteria by moving a wall to increase the capacity to 350 students per sitting. With this change, the present four lunch periods for 754 students at CCHS can be reduced to three and still accommodate the full projected 1000 student population.

      What is the big problem with the cafeteria design?

      • Tony Parrott says:

        Is Fact your first name? Why would Crabtree bring this up if it wasn’t an issue?

        • Fact Checker says:

          I have always found that it is best to go to the source. In this case, I talked directly with the people who deal with the cafeteria design on a daily basis, Middletown Area Middle School, and they are quite happy with the results. Why would Crabtree bring up this issue? I was not there for the question, but if you would like to find out, why not talk to Crabtree? Their number is 434-975-7262 in Charlottesville.

          And I really like Mrs. Checker.


          • Tony Parrott says:

            I like you [redacted text], thanks for the number. Hopefully they will talk to me even if I’m not directly paying their bills.

            BTW you can call me Tony.

  3. Tony Parrott says:

    I never thought I would say this but “please BOS step in and help these poor lost souls”. This was supposed to be Ms. Robina’s shining moment because she has all the experience but all I see is the construction budget being siphoned away one nickel at a time. In her vendetta to control everything she is costing us more and more with NOTHING to show.

    I know two members of the SB that better wake up and smell the manure because this is looking like a bad joke; a very expensive bad joke.

    Who worked to get the new county building built? Yes there were cost overruns like any major project but “It’s Done”, complete, the SB even uses it.
    Can you say gross negligence?

    • Jim Gibson says:

      While I share your overall points about Ms. Bouffault, I am reluctant to ask the BoS to help steer this project. After all of their maneuverings on previous fits and starts (including one BoS member drawing up her own plans for additions to the current site with no thought to scale, impact on the learning environment, etc.), I’m not sure we want them sticking their noses into this project. Thanks to them, cost cutting at the current high school, Boyce’s renovation, and the J-WMS renovation/expansion all resulted in inferior facilities. Don’t believe this? Take a gander at the increased maintenance and service costs for J-WMS’ HVAC system alone; the cheap 3/8″ drywall used instead of cement block for the walls; and the entire facility that is the current CCHS.

      • Tony Parrott says:

        I wouldn’t say steer the project. I believe by law (not sure) the BOS only appropriates the money. The project it is totally the SB responsibility to get it done. My thought was “pressure” from the BOS. I wouldn’t be happy with the results thus far if I was a supervisor but that’s me….

        • I agree…but we had pressure from the BoS before, on this project. One supervisor drew up her own plans for an expansion. Another lambasted the SB, at meetings he bothered to show up for, about its ineptitude and such. They put strings on the $900K, strongly “recommending” that $500K be earmarked for the new high school instead of for critical needs this fiscal year for textbooks, etc.

          No, the pressure has been there, in various forms, from Day 1.

          • Tony Parrott says:

            I know about the pressure that was provided by the BOS on the previous SB. My point is some BOS members heavily backed a change on the SB (most recent election duly noted). They have gone “ALL IN” and failure could cost them their job next election if the project is floundering.

            I actually think the school will get built despite the incompetence, overly aggressive tactics and micromanaging of the SB chair. That is unless they find that “ancient Indian burial ground” on the site.