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Berkeley County looks at building issue

December 20, 2000

Berkeley County looks at building issue



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Incoming Berkeley County Commissioner Howard Strauss Wednesday joined Commissioner John Wright in suggesting the price to fix air quality problems in the county annex may be more than the building is worth.

The commission has three members.

The commissioners and Berkeley County Administrator Deborah Hammond - who all have offices in the building at 126 W. King St. - have been given a report by the Funkstown, Md., consulting firm of Lakin and Moats, Architects.

According to the report, "the present building ecology is not balanced and occupants are experiencing the effects and physical consequences of working in an unbalanced indoor environment."

The building also has "several areas of non-compliance" with building codes, the report states. Most have to do with ventilation. Several employees are experiencing allergy problems, possibly due to mold in the building.

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The consultant's suggested cost to fix the problems is $121,405.

"I can tell you it would be cost-prohibitive to put that kind of money into that building," said Strauss, who takes office in January. County officials are waiting until Strauss takes office to decide what to do. They have asked the consulting firm to prepare specific cost estimates in case bids are sought to fix the building.

Strauss said the long-term fix is a new county judicial and administrative building. In the short term, the county may need to move the employees out of the annex and rent. Wright has suggested razing the structure.

County Administrator Hammond said there may be obstacles to that plan. The county is halfway through a five-year purchase of the building from the former One Valley Bank, now owned by BB&T. The county purchased the annex at and the other bank building next door for $1.45 million in 1995.

"I don't imagine the bank would be too thrilled to have us tearing down their equity," Hammond said.

"I don't think that building is worth much more than $100,000 to $200,000," Strauss said. "I'm not interested in throwing good money after bad."

Hammond said the county is aware of the code violations. It's an old building sitting on a dirt foundation, she said.

"It's not that uncommon with old buildings," she said. "The building was built a long time before there were any building codes. There are many old buildings around the county in the same position."

Strauss said he wants to see the 1995 appraisal of the building and the exact cost of fixing it before agreeing to take any action.

But he said this should spur action on a new county building.

"This adds one more reason to the list of reasons why we should do that," he said.

The county is also checking legal documents to determine whether One Valley Bank knew about the air problems when it sold the building. A spokeswoman for BB&T said the company is researching the issue.

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