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Berkeley County signs off on $5.3 million for upgrades

December 22, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Little more than a week before leaving office, Berkeley County Commission President Howard L. Strauss on Thursday signed off on a $5.3 million bond issue that will continue his long-standing goal to improve government facilities.

The sale of 30-year bonds handled by Crews & Associates on behalf of the commission came with a 4.19 percent interest rate, Strauss said at the last meeting of his six-year term.

"It is the lowest interest rate the county has ever received," Strauss said after the session. "We could not have timed it any better."

The additional debt assumed by the commission is expected to pay for architectural and engineering designs for the second phase of the Berkeley County Judicial Center in what is known as the Crawford Building, formerly part of the Blue Ridge Outlets complex off West Stephen Street.

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Designs for the planned Tablers Station emergency services building, along with the overhaul of the air conditioning system for the Dunn Building, repairs to the historic structure's roof and improvements to two nearby parking areas, also are to be paid for with the money, Strauss said.

The bond issue brings the county's total debt incurred for building projects to about $32 million, Strauss said. The county's building assets are valued at more than $40 million.

The bulk of the bond money will be needed for the Dunn Building work, which Strauss said could begin by next fall. Commissioners said another bond issue will be needed to actually renovate the Crawford Building for additional courtrooms, including a 110-seat ceremonial judiciary chamber that could accommodate hearings by the five justices on the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

A second bond issue will be needed to pay for a chiller plant to serve the Crawford and Dunn buildings, said Commissioner Steven C. Teufel, who along with Commissioner Ronald K. Collins praised Strauss for his vision to consolidate county offices.

Strauss said he had no interest in assuming any paid position to continue working on the county's building projects, but didn't rule out running for an elected office again or volunteering in some capacity.

"You have to look at Howard's track record," Collins said. "Should a position like that open up, I would hope he would apply for it."

As of Nov. 27, the construction cost for the first phase of the judicial center totaled $19,331,248, including $2,287,248 in change orders, according to an American Institute of Architects (AIA) document provided Thursday by county Administrator Deborah Hammond.

"We're very proud of this project," said Matthew Hjermstad of DMJM, the consulting architect for what he added was a "first-class facility for Berkeley County."

"Howard keeps us straight ... he really looked after the judicial community very well, all of them, too," Hjermstad said.

The county purchased the Berkeley, Crawford and Dunn buildings along West Stephen, South and Raleigh streets in 2001 for $3.8 million.

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