Sparks Fly Over School Board Fire Flow Discussion

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.6493_fire_hydrant_2

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.

Joseph S. Luchini, partner Reed Smith, practice includes representation of owners, general contractors subcontractors, and bonding companies in both state and federal courts and before arbitration panels - Photo courtesy Reed Smith website

Joseph S. Luchini, partner Reed Smith, practice includes representation of owners, general contractors subcontractors, and bonding companies in both state and federal courts and before arbitration panels - Photo courtesy Reed Smith website

Kenneth W. Wire, associate at McGuire Woods, assists clients in all aspects of the development review and approval process, including due diligence preparation, zoning and site plan approvals, and obtaining special use permits and variances - Photo courtesy McGuire Woods website

Kenneth W. Wire, associate at McGuire Woods, assists clients in all aspects of the development review and approval process, including due diligence preparation, zoning and site plan approvals, and obtaining special use permits and variances - Photo courtesy McGuire Woods website

“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.

Comments

  1. I believe that some of the comments in this article require clarification, which I am offering below.

    1) The alternate fire flow design proposed is not an “off-the-shelf” design. It is a pre-engineered/fabricated design based upon the PHR&A design, but far more cost efficient, and which is an option allowed by the current VDH permit. Both the functionality of the design and the equipment are equal to that of the “stick-built” PHR&A design.

    2) The Flowtronex estimate, contrary to the town manager’s comment, is not just a “price quote from a salesperson”, but a detailed estimate based specifically upon the PHR&A schematics that were provided to Flowtronex last February to ensure an apples-to-apples comparison. Flowtronex is a national company specialized in pre-engineered booster pump station designs utilized throughout the country. Their estimate, in fact, includes some very sophisticated electronic controls equipment not provided in the older PHR&A design.

    3) The Town’s own engineers, Chester engineers, have within the last five years, worked with the City of Martinsburg to install TWO Flowtronex booster pump stations in that city, and the city’s Utility Director indicated by phone that they were very pleased with their performance.

    4) ALL of this information was provided to the Town Council and staff via e-mail last March, over a month ago – but has been, until now, ignored. Nothing “last minute” about it.

    5) The Town’s waterworks currently already have an emergency generator – required by law – an old one that needs upgrading – and the $53,000 cost is not generated exclusively by the new school yet to be built, but by the town’s own infra-structure requirements as well.

    6) The upgrades to the town’s waterworks system (long overdue) will not be benefiting only the new school, but the entire town of Berryville, as the town is currently unable to provide sufficient fire flow that their own ordinances require – and have required for the last 20 years.

    7) And lastly, it isn’t about politics. It IS about getting getting a good, cost effective, fire flow system in place without unnecessary over-spending. One that will not only provide the needed fire flow for the school building, but also provide much needed improvements to the Town’s own waterworks infra-structure. It will benefit everyone.

    If the Town Council refuses to even consider the potential savings to the town and county taxpayers of some $200,000 for this project, I believe they need to tell the public why.

    RRB

    • Tony Parrott says:

      The answer to the question is trust and creditability; or lack of.

  2. Lonnie Bishop says:

    But…when was the PHR&A plan submitted to, and subsequently voted on, by the Town poobahs? I can see the validity of the Flowtronex system, assuming that RRB’s details are legit and accurate. However, at this stage in the game, when the turning of dirt is so agonizingly close as to almost be classified as cruel and unusual punishment for its teasing…is it really worth it to go back and reopne everything, hit the brakes on the whole process, and delay things even more?

    I don’t like Dalton’s feudal mentality any more than most people, but where were the Flowtronex details last year? After all, the SB – under RRB’s initial tenure @ the helm – purchased the plans for the school lock, stock, and barrel. This just seems counterintuitive, at best.

    • Lonnie –

      To answer your question, the PHR&A plan was an old one paid for by the prior school board for the prior 71 acre (Salvation Army) site in 2006-2007. It was not designed for the current school site.

      The Special Use Permit conditions, voted in by the Town Council on Oct. 29th, 2009, state that either the PHR&A design, or “such other plan providing comparable service as may be approved by the Town” – i.e. any other design with the same functionality – can be used. The VDH has also confirmed this week that the use of a pre-engineered/fabricated system is an acceptable option within the terms of their approved permit.

      The Town Council has been in possession of the relevant information concerning the comparable system for the last two months. It is permitted by the SUP conditions.

      The question remains: why isn’t the Town Council at least willing to look at this alternate solution, which would perform the exact same function as the PHR&A design, however at a substantial cost savings (up to $200,000) to both the town and county taxpayers, and which would allow the school board to put the money saved back into much needed equipment for the classrooms of the new high school???

      • Lonnie Bishop says:

        Robina, thanks for the added information. You ask a good question, and it would seem that Dalton & Co. are more interested in being pirates than seeing this building get done.

      • Doug Gibson says:

        The other question is this: if the town is willing to absorb ownership and maintenance and operational costs of the one already in the plans, is this battle worth it in the end? If, as RRB states, the Flowtronex unit really is equal to the PHR&A one, why is the town reluctant to admit that a better, less costly option was found?

        The unanswered questions, and the resultant mistrust, really only serve to mire this process in muck that doesn’t need to be there.

  3. Right Winger says:

    Sigh. Just another day in CC. What a waste.

  4. Bouffault and Dalton = obsessive control disorders…..Please, the two of you, move on. This game you two have been playing is tiring. Retire, move, QUIT…anything, please.