Berkeley County buildings in 'state of disrepair'

February 03, 2001

Berkeley County buildings in 'state of disrepair'

By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W. Va. - The effects of old age and new growth on Berkeley County government's buildings are beginning to consume the time of county leaders.

At every County Commission meeting, they discuss problems afflicting their stock of 11 buildings - overcrowding, mold, sewer gas, poor security, radon and a sense the structures are falling down around them.

"They are just in a state of disrepair," said Commission Chairman Howard Strauss. "There's something rotten in the state of Berkeley County.

"Over the past decade, the county has been putting on Band-Aids on it. My bottom line is we are being nickeled and dimed to death because of maintenance problems and we are not providing proper service to the public."


County employees also dislike their working conditions, some of which they say could be affecting their health.

"Nobody should have to work in these conditions," said Louise Yauger, a deputy circuit clerk who works in the basement of the building at 110 W. King Street. Employees in that office smell sewer gas regularly - usually in the morning. She and others believe the building is contaminated with mold which is affecting them.

"My nose runs all the time when I'm here," said Deputy Circuit Clerk Karen Sunderlin. "When I leave, it stops. So it's got to be something here."

Air problems

Next door, at 126 W. King St., big air cleaners and filters run all the time to keep the mold and bad air problems under control. The county will pay at least $10,000 to fix them. Sewer gas also can be smelled in those buildings.

High levels of radon, which causes lung cancer, were found in the Health Department Building 802 S. Queen St. Tests will determine if the nearby Emergency Services and Sheriff's Office building has radon.

Almost all county buildings are overcrowded as the number of employees expands to handle the increasing number of county residents, officials say. Berkeley County is the fastest growing county in West Virginia.

The outer part of County Clerk John Small's office in the Courthouse at 100 W. King St. shows workers jammed cheek by jowl in tiny, cramped quarters.

"John Q. Public, they don't realize and they don't know how it is. But when you work here every day, you do," said Janet Holzhauser, a deputy fiduciary supervisor who works across the hallway from Small's office in relative spacious quarters.

Sarah Clark is a deputy circuit clerk who daily visits the basement of the old John Street School at 120 W. John St., now home to Magistrate Court. She lifts heavy boxes of files off shelves in decrepit, dungeon-like old rooms that are literally falling apart.

"It's just nasty," she said.

"These are old buildings," said county Facilities Manager Walt Davis. "And we have to continually pour money into them to keep people in them. This is a continuous drain on the taxpayers of Berkeley County."

Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely refused to stay in her old Courthouse offices several years ago. Nothing worked right - heat lights, plumbing - and the sewer gas odors and pigeon problems were distasteful.

"And I can't tell you how many times the ceiling literally fell in on my desk," she said.

Although those problems have since been fixed, she moved to 205 College St., but that building has security concerns and hundreds of thousands of dollars are being used to renovate it.

New building?

All the problems add up to county leaders seriously looking at erecting a new county building, perhaps across King Street from the courthouse complex. The county owns much of the block, but would have to purchase some property and demolish the John Street School.

"We've looked at doing this several times in the past and the reason we haven't can be summed up in one word - money," said long-time Commissioner Robert Burkhart. "We didn't have it and didn't know where to get it."

Commissioners long ago knew they would need a new building, so they took revenue-sharing money from the federal government and bought the property, he said.

The commissioners agree the only way to build the structure is to have a contractor build it and lease it to the county, with the intent to buy. A contractor would not have to pay prevailing wage rates required by the state and federal governments for government building projects cutting about one-third off the cost, Burkhart said.

Rent would probably be cheaper than paying off a huge bond, he said.

The commission will appoint a committee of about 25 people to study the problem.

Strauss said a new building should house strictly judicial activities, not administrative functions.

"That's still an open question," Wright said.

What appears to be a closed question is the need for new facilities.

"We need a whole new complex," Holzhauser said. It's long overdue."

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