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Crowded clerks in W.Va. get little relief

June 25, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - While West Virginia's public employees were celebrating the state's 143rd birthday on June 20, Berkeley County Clerk John W. Small Jr. spent the holiday overseeing the repair of a failed air conditioning unit in his department.

The day before, Small said, temperatures soared above 100 degrees in his courthouse office after the unit's compressor failed. The office's already closely quartered staff labored in steamy, fan-circulated air.

"On top of that, my air conditioner in my car went out Monday," Small said Wednesday, when the courthouse unit failed again. The fans were purring.

There's no relief when snow falls, either.

"Heating is a problem," Small said. "Some of the offices roast in the wintertime, and others are freezing."

It appears that such days of workplace discomfort in a building with old wiring and lacking modern amenities will continue to test the mettle of Small's staff of 26 a while longer.

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The last county department expected to relocate to the former Blue Ridge Outlets complex was bumped from previously allotted space in the Crawford Building.

After holding an executive session, Berkeley County's three commissioners voted unanimously June 8 to dedicate all of the building's space for judicial services.

The commissioners also asked Small to meet with the architectural firm overseeing the transformation of outlet buildings to find a temporary fix for his increasingly cramped department.

"I'm supposed to stay here and expand into the old bank building" next door to the courthouse, Small said. The former County Commission office building connected to it is expected to be used for storage.

Now occupied by 23rd Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes and the Circuit Clerk's office, the bank building is expected to be vacated when the judicial center opens this fall.

The county commission already moved to the Dunn Building, where Small eventually expects his office to move.

When that will happen isn't clear because the space there is occupied by the Community and Technical College of Shepherd.

The school's lease on the space does not expire for another eight years, including 2006, County Administrator Deborah E. Hammond said Thursday.

"We have made them aware that we do not have additional space for them," Hammond said.

If the school is interested in renewing the lease with the county, Hammond said it would be up to a future commission, not this one, to make the decision.

The commissioners' decision to bump Small's department from the Crawford Building is expected to yield "significant savings" because it eliminates the need for redesigning entrances for the public, Hammond said.

In about six months, county leaders are expected to learn from the architect how much space for judicial services will be available in the Crawford Building to handle future growth.

The space expected to open in October will accommodate at least seven magistrates and three Circuit judges.

Officials hope to lump the financing for the Crawford Building renovation with the county's plans for a public safety building at the Tabler Station Business Park. Financing for Small's temporary fix could be paid out of the regular budget, depending on the amount of work needed to be done, Hammond said.

The commission's change in course for the Crawford Building's use reflects efforts by county leaders to plan for the long term, which didn't always happen in the past, she said.

Small is aware of that history, noting that other departments have moved multiple times while he has stayed put. The Sheriff's Department has moved at least three times.

"Planning has moved at least twice," Small said. "I told them I didn't want to move anything until this (general) election is over."

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