The Clarke County School Board accepted a pro-bono offer to provide preliminary architectural design of the division’s three aging education facilities last night. OWPR, Inc. of Blacksburg, Virginia says that it will provide the county with a “no-cost” design and review that will help school officials establish the best approach for renovating Cooley Elementary, Berryville Primary and the current Clarke County High School.
OWPR president Randy Jones told the School Board on Monday night that the purpose of the study is to come up with viable solutions for creating a pre-Kindergarten through secondary elementary school for Berryville-area students.
“Our study will utilize the information contained in the March, 2012 facility survey of Clarke County Public Schools by the Virginia Department of Education, but will be conducted independently with the potential for differing or added solutions” Jones said.
Jones says the Blacksburg-based OWPR, which also has a regional office in Martinsburg, West Virginia, has been in business for nearly fifty years and specializes in school design projects. According to Jones, OWPR has designed many Virginia school buildings including Skyline High School in Front Royal as well as a renovation and addition for Warren County High School.
The OWPR design review will include a kick-off meeting with Clarke County Public Schools to
provide context and understanding of what specifically will be required for the PK-Secondary elementary school followed by facility tours that will allow OWPR architects and engineers to individually assess building systems, life safety deficiencies, ADA deficiencies, and other renovation considerations. Once the assessments are complete, OWPR will provide a written assessment report as well as schematic floor plans, schematic site plans for a PK-Secondary elementary school at one location or possibly a combination all three school sites.
“OWPR will provide cost estimates for the possible solutions with the understanding that the total available funds for this project, including soft costs, is $7.2M,” Jones said.
School Board acceptance of OWPR’s no-cost proposal came only after urging from School Board member and Construction committee chairman Jim Brinkmeier (Berryville). During discussions leading up to last night’s presentation, several School Board members expressed skepticism about whether any architectural firm should be spending time generating design documents without strong direction from the School Board. Concerns were also raised about the ethicality of accepting “free” services from a firm that might later submit a bid on a subsequent CCPS construction procurement.
Clarke County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy explained to Jones that there are also concerns from Clarke County procurement staff about accepting pro-bono services from a potential construction services provider like OWPR.
Jones worked to allay future procurement concerns and told Murphy that he is very familiar with Virginia procurement regulations and that OWPR’s offer has no strings attached.
“While OWPR is offering to provide the services at no cost to Clarke County Public Schools, we understand that no special favors or considerations will be given after the fact for our participation in this study,” Jones said. “If we never get any business from Clarke County then that’s OK too”.
Last night’s discussion provided individual School Board members with the opportunity to share their concerns about the renovation design process.
School Board member Chip Schutte (White Post) said that he still had doubts that the current high school could be converted to a single school solution for all of the Berryille area’s PK – secondary elementary students because of storm water management considerations. Schutte cautioned that any expansion of the current school footprint would trigger extensive storm water management plans and subsequent costs.
Dr. Beth Leffel (Buckmarsh) asked Jones to include consideration of a footpath that would allow students to walk between Cooley Elementary and the existing high school in the event that all students are not able to be housed in a single building. Leffel also raised concerns about traffic management as well as conforming as closely as possible to Virginia Department of Education space guidelines for elementary schools.
School Board chairman Janet Alger (Russell) and member Barbara Lee (Millwood) echoed Leffel’s concern for adhering to classroom space guidelines as much as possible.
“We need to determine how best to divide our students if we can’t use just one facility,” Lee said. “However we divide things we want to have enough capacity to last for the next 25 years.”
Alger added that natural light is an important factor in learning and urged OWPR to look for creative ways to use glass in the design recommendations. Alger also noted that a new natural gas pipeline currently being installed near the existing high school could provide more efficient heating and air conditioning options.
School Board member Brinkmeier said that being mindful of cost is very important.
“We need to stay within our budget,” Brinkmeier said. “We don’t want to design a Mercedes Benz if we only can afford a Chevy.”
Brinkmeier added that he wanted to ensure that the school division has room to expand while avoiding the use of mobile classrooms at all costs.
Jones said that he plans to have OWPR’s professional team on-site as soon as appointments can be setup with school division representatives. Jones said that once the on-site evaluations are completed OWPR will need two – three weeks to generate its recommendations.
Another local engineering firm, PHR&A, is currently working on a pro-bono assessment of storm water management requirements for the existing high school. PHR&A’s recommendations are also expected in the next few weeks.