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.
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?
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.