Thursday, October 31, 2013

Page Middle School; Wrongful use of Public Body?

Questions To Ask Board Members:

Mr. Hutson and Mr. Andersen:
As a constituent of the district you represent in Gloucester County; I respectfully ask you to read what is written below and answer the following question:
What will be done to address the unethical and unlawful use of Gloucester's Public School System and it's elected Public Body?

Sometime in May or June 2011 the Gloucester School Board, and the Gloucester Public Schools Superintendent Benjamin Kiser began publicly disregarding input from Gloucester’s residents and the Gloucester Board of Supervisors on matters pertaining to the rebuilding of Page Middle School which was damaged by a tornado on April 16, 2011.  School Board and Board of Supervisor meeting videos and minutes pertaining to Page Middle School reconstruction clearly document the level of disregard, as do circumstances and conversations that I have uncovered during my research.  It appears that what began as a community disaster quickly turned into the means for the School Board, Mr. Kiser and others to assist certain land developers in having Gloucester tax payers and VDOT pay for several million dollars worth of infrastructure.  Many Gloucester residents believe numerous improprieties and violations of law have occurred throughout the Page Middle School rebuilding process.
County records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reflect that the Page Middle School building, its contents and property in the open were insured for a total of $13,513,744 at the time of the April 2011 tornado. (Attachment )  Belfor USA Group was contracted almost immediately after the tornado to commence recovery and cleanup services at Page.  The Group was paid more than $624,000 for services provided.  Services included testing for lead paint, asbestos and other toxins.  It also included clean-up of debris and placement of security measures including fencing.  Of the $624,000, $51,303 was paid out for roof patching and other work to preserve the less damaged portions of Page.  $62,600 was paid out to remove exposed asbestos.  $4,000 was paid out to demolish selected areas of the building.  At the end of the insurance negotiation process, the insurance carrier’s settlement offer to fund returning the school to an upgraded and functional state and to repair all outbuildings, lights, fences, the concession stand and bleachers was $8,235,687. (Attachment )  Due to claims of initial low offers by the insurance carrier which are dated July 6, 2011 and July 14, 2011, Mr. Kiser instructed RRMM Architects to provide another assessment of the damage. In RRMM’s assessment and analysis packet dated August 4, 2011, they elaborate on their solid knowledge of the building and its general character due to an April 2009 contract with the County to do a study on conversion of Page Middle school into an Administrative Operations Center(Attachment ) This professional services contract was extended about a month prior to the tornado.  This makes it clearly evident of the County’s intent to keep the building and property long term.  In their assessment RRMM noted several areas in which they disagreed with the insurance carrier’s assessment.  In all fairness to RRMM, the areas they disagreed with appear to be justified and would have enhanced the safety, quality and durability of the building significantly.  RRMM’s final estimate of damages was $9,994,355.  That is a difference of $1,758,668 with both estimates being well under the $13,513,744 coverage limit.  Because of age it is only reasonable that the utility infrastructure servicing the building would have needed to be upgraded or replaced.  These costs would in no way have been as great as what it will now cost to install the same type of infrastructure to the newly developed Page site on T.C. Walker Road.  The parking and driveway areas would have needed to be upgraded to compliment the rest of the re-construction. According to recorded minutes of the November 9, 2011 School Board meeting, Mr. Kiser stated it would cost around 2.2 million dollars to build school administration offices on the Page site.  Let’s say RRMM’s estimate turned out to be the correct cost.  Let’s say the County contributed another $10,000,000 to upgrade the utilities, parking and drive areas and to construct the administration facility.  That would have been a total of $11,758,668 the County would have contributed to opening a fully functional middle school and administration center.  Costs to date reported by the public school system are in the neighborhood of 29 million dollars.  The expected recovery time started at 18 months to 2 years and is now expected to be four years and five months.  There is also an expected one million dollar shortfall for furnishings and technology.  6.4 million dollars of the proceeds for construction are from the sale of Qualified School Construction Bonds which entitle the County to a direct federal subsidy to offset 100% of the interest payments on this loan.  12 million dollars is a loan with interest from the sale of Bonds through the Virginia Public School Authority.  These two loans will cost the tax payers over 20 million dollars. 
The acreage of the original Page school site is in excess of the Virginia Department of Education guidelines of ten acres for a middle school complex and contained actively used sports fields with fences, lighting, seating, concession stand and parking.  The lighting, seating and concession stand were removed from the property, but the fields are still actively being used thru utilizing a portable concession stand and portable lighting systems. The School Board ultimately voted to rebuild Page Middle School on Gloucester County owned property that is located across Route 17 from the Page site and about three tenths of a mile down T.C. Walker Road.(Attachment )
As part of the recovery process, Mr. Kiser formed an Ad Hoc Committee to seek long term solutions for Page Middle School.  No evidence has been made available that demonstrates the committee was provided with the actual assessments of damage to Page.  A FOIA request for Committee meeting minutes resulted in a reply from ---- Diane Gamache which states: “Please be advised that while I have requested minutes (that neither Dr. Kiser nor I possess) from RRMM.  I have yet to hear from them on this matter.  I am uncertain if they retained such meeting notes once the proposals/recommendations had been accepted/agreed upon by the members of the Committee and then presented to both the School Board and the Board of Supervisors.  As soon as I hear from RRMM I will notify you.”  The third point of RRMM’s fee estimate to facilitate the Ad Hoc committee dated June 30, 2011 states: “RRMM will generally steer and lead the committee meetings, take meeting minutes, provide graphics and other materials necessary for the facilitation and bind the conclusions into a hard copy that can be reproduced and distributed at the discretion of GCPS.”  Virginia law allows study committees to meet without a requirement to take minutes, however RRMM explicitly stated they would take minutes.  These minutes should in fact be considered public record once they were compiled.  These minutes, along with other compiled information should have been obtained by the school system before RRMM received final payment for services.
In a FOIA obtained email conversation dated June 15, 2011 from School Board member Ann Burruss to Mr. Kiser, the School Board and others starts out with Ms. Burruss providing an update on the WHRO Committee meeting she attended.  Ms. Burruss then writes: “After speaking to Anita today, I feel that I was in error in not “announcing” that I had spoken to Dr. Kiser about serving on this Ad Hoc committee for Page at the same time it was determined that there would be one, which I believe was at the meeting giving the update on Page.  I am reasonably sure that something can get worked out before any final committee membership is determined by Dr. Kiser, as we did foist upon him the task of deciding the make-up of this body.”  School Board member Starr Belvin then wrote: “Does this mean that the board will now have 3 representatives on the committee (you, Anita and Jean)?”  Mr. Kiser then wrote: “Only two board members can serve on this committee.  Ms. Parker and Dr. Pugh were the only ones to express their interest last night.  If the meetings are open to the public, then anyone can be in the audience.  If the Board wishes to give me further guidance on this matter then time can be set aside next week.  Thank you.”  Once three members demonstrated their interest in serving on the committee the committee meetings should have become open to the public or the School Board should have appointed their representatives at a public meeting.  Mr. Kiser’s third sentence demonstrates efforts to conceal the committee meetings from the public.  Concealment of this committee’s deliberations is further evident in the committee’s agenda dated July 18, 2011.  In the first item of the agenda it is written: “Discuss necessity for Confidentiality until recommendations are complete and agreed to by majority.”  Mr. Kiser further demonstrates concealment of the committee’s deliberations in anAugust 04, 2011 email in which he writes to the committee members: “Please consider this information as confidential until it is presented to the School Board.” Mr. Kiser was referring to the results of the committee’s deliberations that were presented to the School Board at the August 9, 2011 regular meeting.  
According to the FOIA released emails, Mr. Kiser received 15 emails of interest from teachers, 11 from citizens, 1 from a County Supervisor and 1 from a School Board member. (Attachment ) However, evidence exists that indicates there were restrictions preventing emails sent from the public to the School Board and Mr. Kiser via the Schools Website throughout the recovery process.  
Also provided were conversations between Mr. Kiser and Committee member Mike Hagar, beginning on June 30, 2011 with Mr. Hagar saying, “Dr. Kiser, I received your voicemail request for volunteers to serve on a planning board that will address how best to recover from the destruction of Page Middle School.”  Why did Mr. Kiser personally invite and then select this individual to serve on the Committee?  How many other Committee members did Mr. Kiser plant? (Attachment )
Also provided was an email conversation in which Mr. Kiser informs School Principles, Tony Beverage, Dave Daniel and Bryan Hartley that he would need them to attend the committee meetings. Committee members Tony Beverage and Bryan Hartley then inform Mr. Kiser that they would only be able to attend the first two meetings.(Attachment )  Mr. Beverage and Mr. Hartley should not have been on the Committee because he could not dedicate the required time and there were other principles who likely could have attended. 
Also provided were email conversations between Mr. Kiser and Committee member Jay Napier which begin with Mr. Napier’s request to be on the Committee and reminding Mr. Kiser of them previously playing golf at a Virginia Association of School Superintendents conference and of Mr. Kiser inviting him to the Abingdon Ruritan Club.(Attachment )  For Real??
Also provided was an email between Committee member Jennifer Latour and Mr. Kiser in which Ms. Latour informs Mr. Kiser that she would be unable to attend the second of three meetings. Mr. Kiser responds: “The second day will probably be a critical day in the committee’s deliberations but Mr. Daniel speaks highly of your involvement.   I am unsure at this point whether the third day will be needed but maybe we could communicate prior to the 27th in order to get you up to speed.  I have a committee of 17 people and something may prevent any of them from attending on a given day. With that said, I look forward to your participation on the 18th and let’s see what will be needed from that point. Take care.”  Ms. Latour should not have been on the Committee because she could not dedicate the required time and there were other citizens who could.  What involvement was Mr. Kiser referring to?
Also provided were conversations between Committee member Russell Fletcher and Mr. Kiser.  Mr. Fletcher first attempted to send his submission to the School Board via the School’s website Email the Superintendent option on the school’s website.  This attempt resulted in the same type email none delivery message I received several months later when attempting to email the School Board through the school’s website.  Mr. Fletcher’s email was not received until he spoke with Administrative Associate, Carol Dehoux and resent his email with the error message to her email address on July 7, 2011.  There is no indication of who initiated the call between Mr. Fletcher and Ms. Dehoux.  Mr. Kiser sent email notifications to the persons who had been selected for the Committee on July 5, 2011 and notified Mr. Fletcher of his selection two days later on July 7, 2011.  This was the same day his email of interest was received by Mr. Kiser.  Why was he added at the last minute when there were other applicants who submitted on time and were not selected?     
Also provided was an email conversation between Supervisor Buddy Riley and Mr. Kiser which started with Mr. Riley’s request to be on the Committee. (Attachment ) Later in the conversation and after forwarding the email with comments to the Board of Supervisors, Mr. Riley informed Mr. Kiser that he would be representing the Board of Supervisors and that some people were not happy about it.  In a later email conversation Mr. Riley informed Mr. Kiser that he would be unable to attend the 3rd meeting.  Mr. Riley approaching Mr. Kiser about being on the Committee seems inappropriate.  Mr. Riley should not have been on the Committee because he could not dedicate the required time and there were other Board members who could.
Also provided was an email conversation between Mr. Kiser and Committee member Kathy Tucker in which Ms. Tucker informs Mr. Kiser that she would only attend the first two meetings. (Attachment )  Ms. Tucker should not have been on the Committee because she could not dedicate the required time and there were other teachers who could.
The continual decrease in Gloucester Public Schools student enrollment associated with the nations economic down turn brought about the possibility of having to close a school.  Information received under FOIA demonstrates RRMM Architects was awarded a contract on April 21, 2010 for the purpose of providing possible solutions for the “Repurposing of Page Middle School into a School Administration and Operations Center.(Attachment ) On March 25, 2011 that contract was extended to June 30, 2012.  On April 16, 2011 Page Middle School was damaged by a tornado.(Attachment )  On June 6, 2011 a Purchase Order submitted by RRMM was approved by Gloucester County in the amount of $10,000.00 for “emergency work done to support investigative needs of schools to assess damage”.(Attachment )  On June 6, 2011 another Purchase Order submitted by RRMM was approved by Gloucester County in the amount of $17,000.00 for “emergency work done to support investigative needs of schools to assess damage”.(Attachment )  On June 15, 2011 a Request for Professional Services to “review the potential for reconstructing Page Middle School” was advertised.(Attachment )  On July 7, 2011 another Purchase Order submitted by RRMM was approved by Gloucester County in the amount of $13,545.00 for “schematic design/feasibility study-committee facilitation for Page Middle School options study”.(Attachment )  This work included creating rough cost design and construction estimates for committee proposed facilities.  These rough cost estimates included the costs for land acquisitions, land clearing, storm water management, wetlands mitigation, utility infrastructure extensions, highway and road improvements (including traffic signals), facilitating a Schools Superintendent appointed study-committee and presenting those options and estimated costs to the School Board.  It needs to be noted that every option created by the Committee included signalization of the Route 17 andT.C. Walker Road intersection even if it required purchasing land. (Attachment )  There was no VDOT requirement for a signalized entrance at the old Page school site.  At a School Board meeting on July 12, 2011 Mr. Kiser announced the receipt of eleven proposals in response to the June 15, 2011 Request for Professional Services.  On August 9, 2011 Duane Harver, Principle for RRMM, publicly presented information to the Gloucester School Board pertaining the July 7, 2011 study committee facilitation purchase order.  By this time RRMM’s involvement in the reconstruction professional services process was extensive.  RRMM was awarded the Professional Services contract on January 10, 2012.(Attachment )  RRMM was clearly given an advantage over the other architectural firms who submitted bids in that they were already performing work described in the June 15th RFP before the RFP was advertised and the contract awarded.  Having worked closely with project estimators in the past I contacted several of the bidder’s representatives who spoke freely and expressed the same opinion.  One bidder’s representative suggested their company had considered contesting the contract award, but ultimately decided against it.  
Also provided was an email conversation between Mr. Kiser and Mr. Harver in which Mr. Harver expresses concerns about being able to participate in the June 15, 2011 RFP if they commit to facilitating the Committee.(Attachment )  Mr. Harver referenced a previous RFP in which RRMM’s participation was excluded in Chesapeake because of their involvement in a study pertaining to the services requested in the RFP.  Mr. Kiser responded that RRMM’s work with the Committee would not preclude them from bidding and that he and Bill Lindsey, CPPO, CPM for the Gloucester Purchasing Office, had already spoken about it.  How could the other responsive architectural firms possibly have competed against RRMM in this instance?  This is another of numerous tactics utilized by Mr. Kiser to minimize the number of persons involved in the process. 
Board of Supervisor meeting minutes show that in 2003 Mr. Breckenridge Ingles submitted a proposal for consideration to the Gloucester Board of Supervisors for development of a high end golf and residential/retirement neighborhood with commercial spaces know as the Barrens.  It is also recorded that local business man and developer Harry Corr had land involved in this proposal. Several months and several hundreds of thousands of dollars later Mr. Ingles’ proposal, though recommended for approval by the Gloucester Planning Commission, was denied by the Board of Supervisors in October 2003.  Issues pertaining to proffers to the County, feedback various Supervisors received from their constituents results of various impact studies to include a County infrastructure impact study led to the Barrens proposal demise.  Immediately before the Board of Supervisors conducted their vote on the proposal Mr. Ingles requested the vote be postponed until after the then upcoming election.  His request was denied.(Attachment ) 
Property records reflect that along and across T.C. Walker Road from the new Page Middle School there are 1,854.24 acres of land that was consolidated into Ingles Investments, LLC on September 9, 2008(Attachment ) This is about 97% of the land contained within the circle formed by Routes 17, 628, 629 and 614.  2008-2009 is when the School Board began to discuss repurposing Page Middle School into a School Administration and Operations center.  Mr. Ingles is a partner in local law firm Martin, Ingles and Hensley, Ltd.  Gloucester School Board member Kimberly Hensley’s husband Devin Hensley is also a partner in the same law firm as Mr. Ingles.  
Property records reflect that one day prior to the Gloucester School Board publicly voting to rebuild Page Middle School on property it received from the Pella P. Hundley Trust, Harry Corr purchased all 26.79  acres of Route 17 road frontage property that is connected to the Gloucester County property where the new school is being built.(Attachment )  The Gloucester County property and Mr. Corr’s adjoining property also extend along T.C. Walker Road.  Property records indicate Mr. Corr purchased the Route 17 frontage property from the Hundley Trust for $420,000.00.  This was and is more than four times the assessed value.  When the Hundley property was received by Gloucester County in 2004 it appears the 26.79 acres of land that Mr. Corr purchased was divided from the property intended for Gloucester County and placed back into the Hundley Trust.  There is no apparent reason for this land division.  Mr. Corr owns and controls close to 400 acres of land that connects to the old Page Middle School land and connecting Gloucester Public School Transportation Complex.(Attachment )  The extension of the waterline and other utilities to supply the new school, placement of traffic control lights and other improvements to the Route 17, T.C. Walker intersection will financially benefit Mr. Corr who seemed to know prior to the School Board’s vote that Page would be built on the T.C. Walker Road property.
There is an existing waterline forming an incomplete loop from the Route 17, Shortlane Road intersection downShortlane Road and partially along T.C. Walker Road.(Attachment )  To complete this waterline infrastructure loop and maximize its supply capability the waterline would need to be extended the rest of the length of T.C. Walker Road and be connected to the main waterline located across Route 17 at the Route 17, T.C. Walker Road intersection.  Upon the School Board’s submission of the Page Middle School site work plans to the Gloucester Building Inspections Office, a requirement from that office to complete the waterline loop was initially made and eventually rescinded due to resistance from the Board of Supervisors and the community.  It was determined that a waterline extended from the opposite side of Route 17 and down T.C. Walker Road to the new school entrance would suffice in supplying the school’s needs and could be connected to at a later date to complete the loop. (Attachment )  Completion of the waterline loop, other utility extensions, traffic control light placement and other improvements of the Route 17,T.C. Walker Road intersection will financially benefit Ingles Investments, LLC.  During a recent joint meeting between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board, non-elected School Board member Kimberly Hensley suggested the Gloucester Public School’s transportation complex, which connects to the old Page Middle School property, be moved to a new Gloucester County Transportation Division/Public School Transportation Division complex that could be built on 22 acres of Gloucester County owned land located off of T.C. Walker Road.  Building the complex proposed by Mrs. Hensley would likely require completion of the waterline loop in order to satisfy fire suppression requirements.  Significant improvements to T.C. Walker Road would likely be required to facilitate the volume and type of traffic generated by this type of facility.
Mrs. Hensley has voted on matters pertaining to utility extensions and improvements to T.C. Walker Road without revealing a possible conflict of interest by association and she suggested moving the school transportation complex down T.C. Walker Road.
Mr. Kiser and the School Board have disregarded input from the community and the Board of Supervisors and have blocked or manipulated the recovery process to minimize their involvement.
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