The Clarke County Board of Supervisors has awarded a contract worth nearly $1.5M to Minghini’s General Contractors of Martinsburg, West Virginia to build the new Active Living Center in Berryville. The project is being funded in partnership with the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging (SAAA) which will cover approximately $500K of the cost while Clarke County taxpayers pitch in the remaining $1M.
The project was approved today after an optional $58K backup generator was removed from the contract at the suggestion of Supervisor John Staelin (Millwood). However, two additional options, a fully equipped catering kitchen and an expanded parking lot near the current Parks & Recreation facility, were approved as part of the project.
The cost of the kitchen and expanded parking area total approximately $102K.
The Active Living Center facility is intended to provide Clarke County seniors with recreational and social opportunities through exercise classes, education and fellowship. Although the facility has been funded, in part, by private organizations, its implementation comes at a time when the Supervisors have been practicing fiscal austerity at the expense of many budget requests, most notably School and County employee salaries that have not increased in four years.
Prior to today’s approval, several individuals who have supported the center submitted letters to the Supervisors requesting that the kitchen not be cut from the budget.
Parks and Rec director Lisa Cooke told the Supervisors that in addition to providing a space for cooking classes for seniors, the new kitchen will increase rental income through use by local groups seeking a place to hold fundraisers as well as private events.
“This would definitely open new avenues of revenue for us” Cooke said.
SAAA’s Bonnie Dodson said “We want to continue to cook the meals that we provide to our seniors.” Dodson said that according to SAAA’s new executive director there are no plans to contract the meals out due to “the costs, the preparation, and temps that we have to go by – VDA and Health Department guidelines.”
In a letter to Supervisor chairman Michael Hobert (Berryville) SAAA interim executive director Cynthia Palmer said that SAAA had experimented with transporting food from one center to another but found that food quality and temperature suffered.
But while the case was being made for retaining the budget for an in-house food preparation facility at the Active Living Center, budget saving alternatives do not appear to have been seriously considered.
Clarke County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy has suggested that several of his division’s three existing school kitchens could provide the SAAA’s 30 “Meals-on-Wheels” meal requirements as well as serve as a location for cooking classes.
Clarke County Public School food service contractor, Sodexo, had also confirmed that it could easily provide the food service support necessary for the new facility and the Meals-on-Wheels program.
On April 20, former SAAA president Helen Cockerell stated that a kitchen was not needed in the facility.
At today’s meeting, Supervisor David Weiss, who had previously questioned the need for the kitchen said that he was now satisfied that the expenditure for the facility was necessary even though the issues that he had raised may have cause some heartburn.
“I know that there have been conversations about combining with Sodexo and the schools” Weiss said. “But I think that these facilities will be utilized in a good way and one never knows how those other contracts will go in the future. I think that this gives us better control and coverage and a better relationship with SAAA in the long run and we can control our own destiny in this way.”
But despite the potential cost-savings from using existing County facilities and contractual relationships, no formal discussions were conducted between the Supervisors and the school division regarding utilization of existing County food preparation facilities nor was Sodexo asked to provide a statement of capabilities or a cost estimate for providing “Meal-on-Wheels” food service support.
The Supervisors unanimously approved award of the contract.