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It's just about a Dunn deal

April 20, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

A "Sale Sale Sale" is going on in the Berkeley County Assessor's Office. "First quality closeouts" are available in the tax office. Fitting rooms are present in several county offices.

By the end of next year, a former shopping outlet center in Martinsburg should be renovated and reopened as county offices. Now, sale signs, cash registers and clothing racks still abound in the empty former stores.

Friday morning, Berkeley County Commission President Howard Strauss took officials with the county's fire and ambulance boards to their future offices in the Dunn Building and also gave them a tour of the old warehouse.

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Part of the former Blue Ridge Outlet Center, the Dunn Building is at the corner of Stephen and Raleigh streets in Martinsburg. It is one of three former warehouses-turned-shopping centers the county bought in May 2002 for $3.8 million, a price that included 400 parking spaces. Another 111 spaces near the building were purchased separately at auction. Consequently, people who need to do business at the courthouse will never again have to put change in meters.

Consolidation is the one-word explanation for why the county dished out millions to buy the former outlet center.

County offices are scattered throughout several buildings in Martinsburg, including the historic courthouse. Moving offices into the Dunn Building will allow the county to sell several of its buildings, including a former bank on West King Street that houses the tax and assessor's offices along with a Circuit Court judge's chambers and courtroom.

Another former outlet building, the bigger Berkeley Building, is expected to be converted into a judicial center by the beginning of 2006, Strauss said.

A museum could open in what is now the courthouse, Strauss suggested.

"It's outlived its usefulness," he said.

College moving


The first floor of the Dunn Building will be the new home of Shepherd Community and Technical College, currently located in the Berkeley Building. College officials lease the space from the county for $150,000 a year. That construction is nearly complete and Strauss said he expects the college to open in its new location soon.

All of the floors above the first will be used for county offices. Wooden pew-like benches, cast-offs from Martinsburg's federal courthouse, are lined up in a large former store on the second floor. They will be put in a multi-purpose room which could be used as a meeting room or a courtroom until the judicial center opens.

Strauss said he hopes to hold county commission meetings there instead of in a small room at the courthouse. More than 100 people could attend if the meetings were moved.

Standing in their future offices, fire and ambulance officials took out a tape measure, studied draft floor plans, peered into corners, conferred and decided it was all wrong.

No problem, Strauss said. He encouraged them to sit down, re-design the space and get back together with him so he could go over the changes with an architect.

"I want to have the maximum amount of input from county offices," Strauss said.

He is showing all department heads and interested employees their future offices and seeking input. When officials with the county's planning department looked over their space, they asked that a former wall, which covered several windows, be removed.

The South Wing


One of Strauss' first goals is to open the South Wing, which he wanted to call the West Wing but decided against because it isn't geographically accurate.

That section, comprising several former stores along the Stephen Street side of the building, will house county administrative offices along with the planning and engineering departments. Once it is open, the county can sell its building at 126 W. King St. and use the proceeds for subsequent renovation work.

Construction could start on the South Wing this fall.

Strauss hopes work will begin this summer on the multi-purpose room, which has large interior windows that open to an atrium. The atrium will be used by county employees and college students. An open space, it extends from the first floor to the building's roof which has large skylights.

Dust-covered park benches that surround the atrium at its second floor opening probably will remain in place.

A former restaurant occupies one corner of the second floor, complete with neon signs in a window that read "Grille," "Salads" and "Sweets."

Dozens of tables are present, along with an industrial kitchen, dishes and glasses. Although it will first be used as an eating space for employees, the space could later be leased out as a restaurant, Strauss said.

When Strauss first toured the empty Dunn Building with its former owner, he said he envisioned a judicial center there. Security concerns prevented that, but Strauss said he knew the space could house offices and would be a vast improvement over what the county has now.

Some of the county's current buildings leak, or have air quality problems, Strauss said.

"I'd shopped in here many years ago and was impressed with this building," Strauss said.

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