Investigation approved for Peak Innovation Center construction, flooding issues

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 827 views 

The Fort Smith Public Schools Board of Education voted during a special called meeting Wednesday (June 21) to have an independent third-party investigation into drainage failures at the Peak Innovation Center and the drainage systems now in place at the facility.

Peak, a unique regional workforce education center, has flooded three times since it opened March 28, 2022.

The board also decided that the company chosen to do the investigation will be selected by the board and would answer only to the board and not the administration. An addition was included that any motion regarding the company or the report would exclude board member Sandy Dixon, who recused herself from discussion of any action on the subject once it was decided an investigation would commence.

Dixon is president of Fort Smith-based Turn Key Construction, which was the construction manager at risk for the Peak Innovation Center project. She was elected to the school board in May 2022 and is serving her first term on the board. Prior to Dixon being elected to the board, the company informed the school district that Turn Key would no longer participate in any district projects.

There was lengthy discussion Wednesday on whether Dixon should recuse herself from discussion of a third-party investigation. Dixon did not recuse from the discussion on whether an investigation should take place. She repeatedly said she welcomed a third party investigation, and she wanted the investigator to have no ties to the district administration in order for a complete and inclusive investigation.

Some board members questioned if she should not recuse herself from that part of the discussion, as did administration and the district’s attorney, Marshall Ney. Deputy Superintendent Marty Mahan said if Dixon was going to be involved in the discussion, he felt all parties involved in the project, including the architect, engineers and others, should be involved.

Ney said Dixon using her position as a platform to question the administration’s complicity in the issues at Peak “makes it uncomfortable for the public to have faith in the process.” Ney then said Dixon and Turn Key had often expressed dissatisfaction with FSPS admin during the construction and was now using her position on the board to continue pushing that agenda.

In a Jan. 19, 2021, meeting Turn Key said that since the beginning of the project they have noted, and made known water migrating to the top of the slab and noted that it was water underneath the floor coming up because the floor slab did not have a vapor barrier.

”This condition should be addressed now as it is serious and may slow the project later if not remedied,” representatives of Turn Key said during the meeting.

Turn Key noted that early borings conducted by GTS for under slab investigation produced borings that were so saturated that soupy mud was extracted. Open trenches cut and excavated for sanitary sewer drain lines were producing enough water that they needed to be pumped daily.

“While a French drain along the north elevation may satisfy the immediate need for providing an alternate route for the groundwater to travel, this may not solve the water that exists under the raised slab areas in question. The grade beam exterior foundation walls are at least two feet below exterior grade and water may be driven by the presence of hydrostatic pressure from the hillside above,” Turn Key reps said during the meeting. “Whatever action is taken to alleviate the issues, Turn Key Construction recommends that the solution to remediate the water be considered and acted upon now before proceeding with the erection of metal stud walls and consider removing the existing concrete sealer if a topical solution is required or recommended.”

Danny Haynal, vice president of Turn Key Construction Management, said in a letter emailed to members of the Fort Smith Board of Education on June 7 that Turn Key “repeatedly raised the red flag” over water issue concerns with the building. They were told in a letter from the Friday Law Firm, written by Ney, that it was appropriate for the district to follow the advice of its design professionals, whose job it was to design and engineer a project. It was Turn Key’s job to construct it, the letter from the law firm said.

Turn Key on March 4, 2021 presented district officials with a letter stating they would have no liability or responsibility in the event that the proposed French drain system does not fully and finally resolve the moisture problem, Haynal said. Ney brought up that letter at Wednesday’s meeting, citing it as one reason Dixon should recuse from discussion of the investigation.

While Dixon participated in discussion of having a third-party investigation and the vote to have one, she recused herself from any discussion or decisions on the scope of the investigation, how it should be decided, who would be chosen to do it and what would be done with the report.

“What I have been saying is that I am fully, 100%, in favor of an investigation,” Dixon said.

The board agreed that the scope of the investigation should be to review documents concerning the project, look at what led to the failures that have been documented, interview all parties involved, prepare a report on failures, indicate the parties at fault and provide ultimate recommendations. Mahan asked that the investigation look at the entire project from start to present. The board agreed that would be prudent.

The board also agreed that Dalton Person, board president, would be the day-to-day contact for the investigation once a company is chosen but the district could advertise the request for qualifications to get applicants for the project. The board, minus Dixon, will chose the company to do the investigation.

“I think we need to cast as wide a net as possible (for RFQ submissions). Quite frankly, I don’t think any local company would want anything to do with this,” Person said.

Following the board decision, Haynal said Turn Key was happy with the decision made by the board to pursue a third party investigation regarding the flooding and money management of the Peak Innovation project.

“From the onset of Turn Key’s involvement with the project (June 2020) to the present, Turn Key feels that the districts representatives and the hired program representation of Hoar Program Management (HPM) out of Dallas were repeatedly informed by the design and construction teams of the limitations and issues with the site and were repeatedly told to continue on with the project due to the financial limitations of the district throughout the duration of the project,” Haynal said. “These financial decisions are now costing the Fort Smith taxpayers money due to the fact that extensive redesign is now having to be done on the project. Turn Key Construction agrees with a prior statement by the Board of Education stating that the board owes it to the taxpayers to investigate these issues to ensure that something like this does not happen again in the future.”

“In addition, Turn Key has never been reached out to regarding what information and/or assistance we would have been able to provide regarding the building of the Peak Innovation project,” Haynal said, noting that such an investigation could reveal mismanagement of tax-payer money by HOAR Program Management (HPM) of Dallas, the project manager for the district’s millage-related construction projects.

“The ultimate thing is to learn from (this) and be able to move on from this discussion,” said board member Matt Blaylock.