Last night Clarke County School Board chairperson, Robina Bouffault touched off a fire-storm over fire flow. Bouffault’s fire flow proposal, intended to open procurement consideration for a less expensive, off-the-shelf fire flow alternative to the custom designed system being requested by the Town of Berryville, was dead-on-arrival.
At issue is the continuing disagreement between Bouffault and the Berryville Town Council over sharing the construction expense, and possibly ownership, of a fire flow pumping station necessary in order to build the new school. The Town of Berryville has already approved an engineering plan for the pumping station as well as offered to build, operate and maintain the system as a shared utility between the new school and the Town. The custom plan favored by the Town was designed by engineering firm PHR&A and has a price tag of $480K.
Bouffault believes that the same level of protection can be obtained using a pre-fabricated fire flow system costing only $189K.
“I don’t want to have to spend $200K more than we need to at the expense of the building fund,” Bouffault said. “The Town wants us to spend an additional $200K that we will not have anything to show for. This is saving $200K for the taxpayers.”
Bouffault presented her case to the School Board in a 19-page justification of the pre-fabricated fire flow approach. Bouffault’s document included a 6-page proposed utility construction cost sharing agreement between the School Board the Town of Berryville.
The meeting’s tenor turned contentious when School Board member Jennifer Welliver (Berryville) challenged Bouffault’s suggestion that the draft agreement be immediately forwarded to the Town for consideration. The discussion quickly lapsed into a series of accusations and incriminations.
“I’d like to discuss the document because I have some suggested changes,” Welliver said. Bouffault asked why Welliver was raising questions at the meeting given that School Board members had previously received the document through electronic mail and had not replied with changes. Welliver contended that the document had never been discussed in a public forum and that electronic mail was not a substitute for public deliberation. Welliver then proposed that the School Board members go through the agreement clause-by-clause.
As Welliver began to suggest changes to the agreement Bouffault pre-empted the discussion by asking whether either Welliver or School Board member Janet Alger (Russell) had any legal training that qualified them to make changes to the document. Welliver replied that she didn’t need to be a lawyer to know that the Town Of Berryville would never accept the agreement as presented in Bouffault’s draft document. Bouffault took issue with Welliver’s comment by asking if Welliver had “inside-information” that the Town Council would not accept the agreement.
Welliver replied, “No, but I wouldn’t accept as it’s written, so I don’t know why the Town would”.
The School Board later resolved to outsource its communication dysfunction by directing attorney Joe Luchini to contact Town of Berryville land use attorney Ken Wire to see if an agreement could be reached.
“Let’s have the attorneys work out the differences. Reaching an agreement is in the best interest of both parties so let the attorneys resolve it,” said School Board Member Emily Rhodes (Buckmarsh).
Despite the best efforts of legal counsel it seems doubtful that Bouffault’s proposal will be given new life by the Town of Berryville. The Town has already voted its support in favor of the PHR&A plan and Berryville Town Manager Keith Dalton expressed frustration after the meeting with what he sees as a last-minute and unsupported comparison between Bouffault’s Flowtronics fire flow proposal and the PHR&A design.
“The Flowtronics document is really just a price quote from a salesperson,” Dalton said. “The real costs and design requirements aren’t reflected in their [Flowtronics] cost estimate.”
Dalton also pointed out that the Flowtronics price quote does not include emergency power generation (estimated at $53K in the PHR&A design) or an independent water storage tank that will be needed should the School Board decide to build a facility independently from the Town.
“Berryville’s water storage is a critical system and is too important to ever allow an independent organization to tap into,” Dalton said. “After significant deliberation the Town of Berryville approved the PHR&A design because it meets the needs of the community. The PHR&A fire flow facility was designed for the school, it meets the site plan requirements, and the bid documents are ready to go. We’re now being asked to go back and spend more time and money on engineers. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Welliver questioned the financial wisdom of procuring the fire flow system independently from the Town. “With the Flowtronics plan we spend $189K plus engineering costs, but then we’ll still have ongoing maintenance costs.” Under the PHR&A plan the Town of Berryville assumes all operating and maintenance costs for the facility. Ongoing operating and maintenance costs would be paid for from the school budget if an independent school facility is built.
Jennifer Welliver says that, for her, it isn’t about whose plan is ultimately implemented. “I want to do everything that I can to make sure that we operate in good faith with the Town and that we get what is best for the community. I really dislike playing politics on these issues.”
As of last night, the School Board was holding out hope that the Luchini-Wire legal team can hammer out a compromise agreement in time for the Berryville Town Council’s May 5th meeting.