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Bettendorf Schools won't work with engineering firm after back-to-back miscommunications with utility companies

Bettendorf Schools won't work with engineering firm after back-to-back miscommunications with utility companies

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Bush Construction project manager Bill Bruce, left, talks with congressman Dave Loebsack during a tour of the new Mark Twain Elementary School in Bettendorf on Aug. 8, 2019.

In back-to-back projects for Bettendorf Schools, miscommunications with utility companies led to hefty change orders for the district, a school official has informed the board.

Each change order cost tens of thousands of dollars more than the district anticipated.

Curt Pratt, the new director of operations, told the board Monday night he was taking steps to avoid working with RTM Engineering Consultants, the engineer for both projects. He is doing so by asking the district's architect to find another engineering firm.

“To be brutally honest with you, in the latest negotiations with Legat (Architects) ... I asked that they hire a different engineer,” he said. “That was just a judgment call I made."

The only step he took, he said, was to make the hiring request. The district does not intend to cut ties with RTM on projects already underway.

RTM Engineering is working on the new Mark Twain Elementary and the HVAC upgrades to Paul Norton and Bettendorf Middle School and will continue to do so. Pratt said they had also worked on some other summer projects in the district that were mostly wrapped up. 

“No complaint has been put against RTM,” said Kathryn Duytschaever, principal with RTM. She said she couldn’t speak directly to Monday’s meeting, as she was not there. “We consulted the school district, and these things, unfortunately, occur quite a bit."

At issue is a change order approved Monday night for $32,122.65 for infrastructure and supports around an additional transformer, but Pratt said there was enough in the budget cushion to reduce the financial impact of the requirement by about $4,000.

Pratt has worked for the district for less than a month, so he said he had to research the cause of the change-order increases.

“According to Legat, MidAmerican was too busy to address this request during design,” Pratt told the board. “The direction they received from the district at the time was ‘just go ahead, push on, get the project bid, get it under construction, and that will be figured out later.’ ”

MidAmerican told Pratt that his predecessor, Chris Andrus, had reached out to them in March, well before the project construction was underway. But Duytschaever said MidAmerican typically does not perform needs assessments until construction is underway.

“I’m not really clear where it dropped off,” Pratt said of communications. “Typically, you’d see the design team work with MidAmerican immediately to say ‘This is what we’re adding; this is how much power capacity we have, is this going to fit?’ I’ve done that on many projects. I’m not sure that occurred. 

“It seemed like the design team really just said, ‘This is MidAmerican’s issue. Figure it out.’ As the owner, it’s our issue. I don’t know that there was a good communication line between the design team and MidAmerican that occurred to facilitate that happening.” 

The district was going to have to pay for the latest change order regardless, Pratt said. He said that, when it comes to change orders, who pays comes down to the nature of the mistake and what documentation was kept. If a design team told the district a room needed 10 lights, but it actually needed 12, for instance, Pratt said the district would have paid for 12 lights, anyway. 

“You’d pay for it either way,” he said of the transformer. “Now, we’re paying for it on the back half.”

If, on the other hand, the team had neglected to put a door in — and the district had documentation saying they wanted a door there — Pratt said, the new costs of putting in the door wouldn’t fall on the district. 

Pratt conceded that, regardless, the change order should have been identified in the planning process and included as part of the bid. 

The first change order, discussed at the July 8 meeting, isn’t quite as clear-cut, though. The order was to add a second water line hookup for the new Mark Twain Elementary. Iowa-American Water Services spokeswoman Lisa Reisen said at the time that a state-level safety regulation required a second line in the case of a fire if the district’s water were to be turned off. She also said it “clearly” wasn’t the case that there was any specific concern about Bettendorf Schools paying its bills. 

To put the new line in, though, would require the school either lose roughly 900 square feet of playground surface or, as a more expensive option, would require the old water line to be reworked. The board elected to rework the old water line and maintain the size of the playground. The district had discussed seeking some sort of reimbursement from Iowa-American because of how late they received notice, but they no longer are pursuing that route.

“We have a water issue that was an oversight that was Iowa-American’s issue. … Now we have the same thing. This time it’s MidAmerican’s,” Director Gordon Staley said at Monday's meeting. “We’ve had two projects now, back to back, where this engineering firm and this architect have pointed the finger at utility companies on oversights. We’re writing the checks for it.

“We need to get something in place that doesn’t allow these guys to point the fingers. As long as I’m on the board, for four more meetings, I’ll vote no on any additional costs where they use that as an excuse.”

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