Officials weigh in on requested payment

BEVERLY — Randolph County officials and the mayor of Beverly are weighing in on a request from the Randolph County Development Authority for Beverly to pay more than $18,000 for water system improvements done in connection with an expansion project at Armstrong Flooring.

The 85,000-square-foot addition to the Armstrong Flooring facility in Beverly increased the size and capabilities of what was already the largest pre-finished hardwood flooring plant in North America, officials said.

Beverly Mayor Cindy Karelis notes, “It was with excited anticipation that we all heard about the proposed Distribution Center construction in the announcement made by the RCDA in October 2017.”

In a prepared statement to The Inter-Mountain, Karelis writes that in October 2018, “Armstrong Procurement Manager Claudette Calder contacted town maintenance workers to discuss the town’s ability to ‘contribute’ to the costs involved with the project. I obtained her number and left a voicemail instructing her to communicate with me instead, and thus began in November an email dialogue where Ms. Calder described Armstrong’s decision to ‘install a new insertion valve in the line at Scott’s Lake.’ She insisted that ‘these improvements would assist in protecting the water system in the event of a waterline break.’

“Further, she requested in her first email that ‘the City or its water utility contribute $17,600 for these improvements.’ Plans were made for her or other Armstrong Flooring Industry representatives to attend the Dec. 11 Town Council meeting, (but) she later personally cancelled due to inclement weather.

“Zak Campbell, Senior Project Manager for Pickering, and AFI official Travis Thompson did, however, attend the December meeting where they explained that ‘a waterline issue arose’ at the construction site, complicating the progress. Mr. Campbell declared he was speaking for Ms. Calder when he, too, requested that the town pay toward the costs of installing the line. But this time, the request was for $18,600,” Karelis writes.

“The Council was advised by Campbell that the project was already entirely funded through grant and loan money, but that Armstrong ‘would be willing to accept in payments any contribution from the town,’ according to Town Council minutes.

“Funding for the project included monies from the Economic Development Administration, the West Virginia Department of Highways, the Randolph County Commission, and the RCDA, according to Mr. Campbell.”

During that meeting, according to Karelis, RCDA Executive Director Robbie Morris “encouraged a ‘financial contribution’ from the town due to the ‘positive economic contribution made to our county by Armstrong.’ Council and the mayor still believed at this point that any monies paid would be going to Armstrong. The Council was reassured that there was no rush in making a decision regarding the ‘contribution.’

“Six days later, a letter was composed by Mr. Morris and addressed to the Mayor and Council members in which he stated, ‘I am formally requesting that the Town of Beverly reimburse the Randolph County Development Authority for waterline work performed on the Town of Beverly’s water system that do not directly relate to the Armstrong expansion project. This time, the ‘reimbursement’ requested was for $18,850, with no explanation as to why the figure rose once more from that given at the Council meeting only a week before.

“Citing in his letter ‘upgrades that make the Beverly water system stronger, safer and easier to manage/maintain,’ Morris insisted that the RCDA was ‘not requesting any money for design or engineering fees,'” Karelis writes. “‘We are simply requesting direct cost reimbursement for the items related to the Beverly system only,’ Morris continued about the initiative that was conceptualized, designed, and implemented without any prior consultation with Town of Beverly officials.

“No cost estimations or quotes were received by the town before the work was completed in December, and no contract was signed between the two parties,” Karelis writes. “No communication regarding a funding request ever transpired before Ms. Calder’s early attempts in October. Yet, the RCDA mailed the town an invoice for the full amount ‘requested’ in January 2019.”

Morris also offered comments on the situation.

“The RCDA has enjoyed a great working relationship with the employees of the Beverly utility services throughout the duration of this project,” Morris wrote in a prepared statement given to The Inter-Mountain. “We continue to have a great relationship with them to this day. From as early as January 2018 representatives of Pickering Associates, the engineering/architecture firm for the Armstrong expansion project, have been working with Beverly utility representatives on the design of the utilities under their jurisdiction. They have been consulted on any and all aspects of the utilities that concern them and the work necessary for the expansion project to be completed. We have done the same with MonPower, Mountaineer Gas, Suddenlink, and Frontier. All have been very helpful and excited to work on this project.

“From the time of design to actually doing the work, there were conditions and situations discovered that were different than what our site contractor and Beverly utility employees anticipated,” Morris writes. “These types of things happen when working on a project of this size and scope. As soon as we were made aware of differing conditions underground we notified the Beverly water department and began making the necessary plans to get the work completed as soon as possible. This occurred in late October 2018.

“This project is very complex because of the phasing necessary to keep the plant operating, while adding a massive addition to the building. All utility work needed to be coordinated in a specific way so that each individual utility could perform their work, while keeping Armstrong’s utilities on. The work for the water line needed to be completed prior to the work for the gas line. The gas line had to be operational by a certain date or Armstrong would’ve had significant issues relating to availability of kiln dried lumber in the spring.

“The site contractors began working on solutions and estimates immediately,” Morris writes. “We worked with Beverly utility employees from the beginning in creating the scope of work, details of what needed to be done, when they needed to be done, etc. Estimates of the work were relayed as soon as they were developed.

“As the Mayor noted, Beverly was first made aware of the work in October; however the insertion valves, and the other items associated with this work was not completed until the first week of December. The first ballpark estimate received from the site contractors for the Beverly portion of the work was $17,600. When we told Beverly what was going on, discussing our options, our plans, etc. it was mentioned that we felt part of the work that needed to be completed was not the responsibility of Armstrong, but that of the Beverly utility department. Therefore, we would be submitting a request for reimbursement for that work only and we would get them a final number as soon as it was known.

“The entire waterline issue had a price tag of $85,450. The only part of that we requested when all was said and done was $18,850,” Morris wrote. “I’m not sure where the $18,600 number came from unless it was just said in error by someone at a meeting. Everything that has been requested in writing is $18,850.”

“During the March meeting of the Town Council, Beverly Water Plant Operator Corey Weese stated that the water line work performed improved the Beverly water system. It was also noted and agreed upon that Beverly utility board could never have performed the work covered under the $18,850 if it was performed as a stand-alone project. By doing what we did, when we did, the Beverly water system was strengthened and at a steep discount. From what I understand water utility employees are appreciative, utility board members are appreciative, and Town Council members are appreciative about what was done and for the price we are requesting reimbursement.

“I agree that things happened quickly and the exact plan of what needed to take place changed as more information was received and meetings were held,” Morris writes. “However, given the extent of the work that was performed, a fluctuation of price between an initial ballpark estimate of $17,600 and a final requested amount of $18,850 (a difference of $1,250 or approximately 7 percent) is pretty good. All of this complex and difficult work was performed without incident and with customers being down approximately eight hours. The way in which was the work was performed also helped to greatly minimize the customers that were affected.

“It appears as though trying to keep everyone in the loop with the latest and greatest information we had at the time was our downfall. If we would’ve just waited until all of the work was done and then given a price, the change wouldn’t be an issue. However, we felt it best to let everyone know what was going on and our intentions from the very moment an issue was discovered.”

Karelis disagrees about when Beverly officials were told about the costs of the project to the town.

“Engineers and contractors on-site communicated with our Chief Operators and Maintenance and Distribution personnel but only on matters of technical assistance,” she writes. “No financial details were discussed or relayed to board personnel or the Mayor as chairperson.”

Karelis contends that “townsfolk are concerned that this ‘contribution’ will be reflected in their utility bills. Residents are contacting me daily asking if they will wind up ‘absorbing the costs.'”

She writes, “It is this mayor’s hope that when such a discussion transpires, a clarification of a static and unchanging dollar amount requested – and to whom it will be given – will be forthcoming. It is my job to insist on a clear and concise rendering of any request for a slice of Beverly’s water revenue, just as it is my pleasure to look forward with the regional community to Armstrong/AHF prospering in Randolph County for many years to come.

“I hope that Randolph County officials will utilize the proper channels to be placed on the April 16 Town Council meeting agenda or the Water Board meeting to follow — or both — by calling the Beverly Town Clerk at 304-636-5360.”

Morris writes, “In reference to the December 17, 2018 formal letter requesting the reimbursement, I was asked, during the December 11, 2018 Town Council meeting to prepare a letter summarizing what had been presented to the council that evening, along with a detailed explanation from our engineers as to what was performed, justifications for the costs, and what exactly was being requested for reimbursement. That is why I wrote the letter, I was asked by council to do so. To imply that I said there was no rush and then sent the letter as a way of contradicting myself and demand payment immediately is irresponsible and false. I am confident that members of Town Council and the Utility Board will verify that I have not pushed anyone into making a decision. I have simply followed up after meetings to see if the issue was taken up by the Town Council or Utility Board and if so, what was decided.

“In regards to the proper channels for putting an item on the agenda. I was contacted by (Randolph County) Commissioner Mark Scott asking that I try and ensure that a representative of Pickering Associates and Armstrong be available for the March 11, 2019 Town Council meeting so that any questions regarding this issue could be addressed and a decision made,” he writes. “I was told that request came from Mayor Karelis. Everyone that was requested to be there, was there, only to find out that the item was not on the agenda.”

Scott also commented, writing, “I’ve always had a great relationship with the town council of Beverly and their utility board. I fully expect that relationship to continue. I look forward to a bright future for Beverly, their council, and their utilities.

“I did request Robbie contact Pickering and the Armstrong plant manager to come to the March meeting after the mayor assured me it would be in the agenda,” Scott wrote. “When it was not, I questioned the mayor about why it was not. She said I never confirmed we would be there. That is not the process that is usually followed. Normally people who are on the agenda are contacted by the body to confirm their attendance.”

Morris sought to clarify why the payment request was made.

“The reason the money is being requested by the RCDA is we are the fiscal agent for the project,” he writes. “All of the grant monies, from all sources (USEDA, WVEDA, WVDOH, Armstrong, Randolph County Commission, RCDA) are being handled from one grant account with the RCDA. This is a requirement of USEDA. Therefore, any money that is spent comes from the RCDA grant account. Likewise, any money reimbursed by the Town of Beverly will be placed into the RCDA grant account. This has been explained multiple times during meetings and in writing.

“In no way has this work been performed, dollar amounts been hidden or increased, in any malicious way. All circumstances surrounding the issue were dealt with in the best manner they could be given the time constraints we were dealing with. Again, the Beverly utility employees, utility board members, and Town Council have been great to work with. They understand the importance of this project to Beverly and Randolph County. Armstrong currently purchases approximately $15,000 per month in services from Beverly utilities. That is $180,000 annually in revenue to the utility department. That number is only going to increase once the new building comes online.

“The RCDA and Armstrong are happy that we were able to correct issues, improve the water system, and keep this project moving forward with as little disruption to residents as possible. Now, if there happens to be a water issue at Armstrong, residents will not be without service. If there is a problem with water service in that area that isn’t Armstrong related, they will not have to shut down the plant and send employees home because their fire suppression system is not functioning,” Morris writes. “It is a win-win for Armstrong and Beverly alike. One of the valves that helped make that happen was purchased 100 percent by Armstrong. Does it NEED to be there, no. Does it benefit them and Beverly equally, yes. Therefore, they were happy to do it. A small portion of this project that was not of Armstrong’s making is kindly being requested for reimbursement, and it is not more complicated than that.”