Halff cites ‘loss of trust’ in declining future work with Fort Smith Public Schools

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,350 views 

Halff Associates is the second company to let Fort Smith Public School officials know the professional services firm will not be working with them in the future following negative experiences with the district’s Peak Innovation Center.

Peak Innovation Center opened March 28, 2022, after numerous delays. Since its opening, it has flooded twice. The first occurred when record rainfall in Fort Smith caused flash flooding in the city June 7, June 8 and June 10 of last year. That incident caused flooding in the east parking lot of the facility. Water came into the Peak Innovation Center during the rainfall June 7 from two sources, according to FSPS reports.

Travis Brisendine, vice president and Fort Smith operations manager for Halff Associates (formerly Morrison-Shipley Engineers, Inc.) sent an email to Dr. Terry Morawski, superintendent, and members of the FSPS Board of Education on Wednesday (May 31) stating it would decline any future design services at the innovation center.

“Following up on our meeting yesterday with Martin Mahan, Shawn Shaffer, and Joseph Velasquez, we are confirming Halff is declining the opportunity to provide additional design services for any further drainage solutions that FSPS pursues at the Peak Innovation Center.  The reason for declining this opportunity is our loss of trust with FSPS staff. We will complete our obligations under the current Contract as executed by FSPS on January 27, 2023. We will also be attending future BOE meetings and stand ready to answer any questions you or the board may have related to our services,” the email said.

Brisendine wrote a letter to school board members and the district May 12 expressing concern over “unique drainage challenges” at Peak and information that has been shared with the school board.

“The property on which the PEAK Innovation Center is located has some unique drainage challenges that were well known to us before construction began. Some of these have contributed to recent damages from record rainfall events. While there are several complicated factors that contributed to rising waters and subsequent damages at the PEAK facility, it is our concern that some have not been clearly articulated to the school board following these rainfall events,” Brisendine said in the letter.

Brisendine told the school board May 22 that he believed technical information Halff provided the district was not provided to the school board and thus Halff’s expertise in the matter has been questioned. In his original letter, Brisdenine said school officials have not provided the BOE with all the info they should have had to make project and funding decisions.

The district declined to comment on Halff’s May 31 letter. The school board has discussed the option of a third-party investigation of flooding and other issues at Peak. Link here for that story.

This is the second time a company involved with the Peak project has declined future work with the district. In early 2022, prior to being elected to the school board, Sandy Dixon, president of Fort Smith-based Turn Key Construction Management, sent a letter to the district and to the school board stating that her company would no longer do business with FSPS because of its experience with the Peak project. Prior to that Turn Key had successfully completed more than 18 projects with FSPS, ranging from the $2 million renovation of Morrison Elementary to the $35 million expansion of Southside High School. Turn Key was the construction manager at risk for stage one of the Peak project.

“These eighteen projects have helped Turn Key Construction Management grow as a Fort Smith construction company and have been personally rewarding to me. … However, at this time, with my very recent experiences at PEAK, where the district’s inability to make timely decisions drastically hurt our schedule, I must withdraw Turn Key Construction Management from consideration for the upcoming school facility construction projects. Again, this decision did not come lightly, but at this time it is not in the best interest of Turn Key Construction Management to provide services to the current Fort Smith Public Schools Administration and its staff,” Dixon noted in the letter.

Like Halff, Turn Key also raised concerns about water issues at Peak during the construction process and questioned decisions that were made. As Talk Business and Politics reported in May 2022, district officials were not happy that Turn Key kept raising alarms about moisture under the building’s concrete floor. A letter from the district’s attorney, Marshall Ney, dated March 19, 2021, to Turn Key concerning the Peak project and water issues states: “While you state that Turn Key ‘repeatedly informed’ the District, Corgan, and HPM of the existence of a moisture problem and subsurface conditions, the truth is that the District has long been aware of moisture and subsurface conditions that needed to be addressed during the construction process.”

But that awareness did not result in taking actions suggested by consultants and others.

Turn Key told the district in 2020 the moisture issue could be resolved with a new slab that included a moisture barrier. While that option would have cost the district no more than $410,000, it could have been completed in eight weeks and would not have significantly delayed construction, Turn Key officials said. That work is now virtually impossible and would cost millions of dollars if an engineering solution could be found.