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Ground broken for education center at tech park

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ground has been broken at the West Virginia Regional Technology Park for the $11.6 million Advantage Valley Advanced Technology Center, said Phil Halstead, the park's executive director.

As previously reported, The Neighborgall Construction Co. of Huntington was awarded the contract last month. The building is being erected where Building 701 once stood, near the park's Kanawha Turnpike entrance.

Halstead's announcement came Tuesday when he gave a brief report to the South Charleston Economic Development Authority.

He also announced that the remodeling of Building 770 will begin no later than Feb. 1. The work, aimed at increasing the building's energy efficiency, was originally expected to begin in December.

After the meeting Halstead said he had met earlier in the day with Alpha Architects -- Engineers of Morgantown, the lead architect for the Building 770 project, and HDR Architecture Inc., laboratory design experts of Bethesda, Md.

"They outlined a schedule leading up to commencement of the remodel," Halstead said. Bids will be advertised Nov. 14. There will be a pre-bid conference on Nov. 28. Bids will be opened on Dec. 12. The contract will be signed Jan. 4.

"January 11 is the projected date for commencement of construction," he said.

As previously reported, the state Higher Education Policy Commission has received a $5.25 million grant for the work from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The commission is matching the grant with state money.

The four-story, 130,000-square-foot laboratory building is currently vacant.

Also at Tuesday's meeting, South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens received permission to sell a home the city built on Tremont Street.

Asked to explain the history of the project, Mullens said, "It wasn't that we wanted to be in the housing business. But we had an area of the city with an older, dilapidated complex of four buildings and two houses. We had 98 police calls in one year. Paramedics would not up there without a police escort."

About three years ago the property owners were willing to sell. The city couldn't find a private company that would redevelop the property so the city bought it for $478,000, tore the buildings down and created three lots for single-family residences, Mullens said.

Employees of the city's Public Works Department built the house that is about to be sold, Mullens said. The sales price is $250,000.

Mullens said the city is destined to lose money on the redevelopment, "but it created a wonderful situation in a good neighborhood. Our employees did a wonderful job with it. I think if you asked, people in the neighborhood would give us a standing ovation.

"This is a unique situation," he said. "We don't have another situation like this. I felt comfortable pulling the trigger on this." The footers are being poured for the second house to be built on the property. "One down, two to go," he said.

Mullens said the project could be classified as urban renewal: "Take a bad situation and make it good again."

Dale Oxley was the meeting's featured speaker. Oxley is owner of Modern Home Concepts in Hurricane and president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Charleston, which -- despite the name -- is headquartered in South Charleston.

Referring to the Tremont Street project, Oxley said he and Mullens had exchanged correspondence about the city getting into the home-building business.

"We were concerned that if the city of South Charleston decided to get into building, it would actually drive many of our members, who are in South Charleston, out of business," Oxley said. "We worked through that.

"I was hoping to hear it was the third and final house the city sold, not the first. South Charleston can see how difficult it has been to be in the business."

Moving on to his prepared remarks, Oxley said that Putnam County has been known for its housing and South Charleston for its business climate. But no cheap level land remains in Putnam County so "the playing field has come back towards Charleston or South Charleston," he said.

Oxley said it has become clear to him that in the future, energy efficiency is going to play an increasingly important role in home construction.

"In five, seven or ten years you're going to see an equation where the percent of debt to income won't be the only thing used for a mortgage," Oxley predicted. "Soon our energy costs will exceed or meet our mortgage. So people will ask, 'Can I afford a house with this mortgage cost and this energy cost?'"

South Charleston will find a niche market if it requires new homes to be energy efficient, he said.

"Austin, Texas, now requires any new residence or new building to be built to Energy Star certifications and new buildings to LEED certifications," he said, referring to Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design standards.

"It's amazing how far behind the building code you can be and still be compliant," Oxley said. "We're still building in West Virginia t the 2004 code level. Next summer you'll see the 2009 energy code become relevant."

Also at the meeting:

* Mullens welcomed Steve White and his son, Ryan, who have opened a law office at 332 6th Ave., South Charleston.

* Bob Anderson, the city's business recruiter, introduced Kim May and Jessi Adams, United Bank branch managers. Contact writer George Hohmann at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.


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