CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The brick covering the outside of the Public Service Commission of West Virginia headquarters is in danger of falling off the building, according to an architectural report.
"Based upon our observation of the existing building, we conclude that the exterior masonry skin is severely compromised and in an advanced stage of deterioration," the report states.
The commission knows about the problems, and the contractor who built the commission's parking lot says the building itself is structurally sound.
The state has already spent more than $140,000 in emergency demolition and planning for the structure on the corner of Brooks and Quarrier streets in Charleston.
Now it's examining options for fixes that could cost much more.
Swanke Hayden Connell Architects of Washington, D.C., and CAS Structural Engineering Inc. of Alum Creek presented the dangers to the commission in a May 20 report. The two firms have worked for months on investigating issues with the building.
Originally hired in late 2012, they first examined a freestanding arch on the side of the building facing Quarrier Street. The team determined there was a great chance bits of the arch could fall, and told the city of Charleston to declare its masonry in "emergency condition."
Michael Albert, chairman of the commission, explained the situation in a Dec. 5, 2012 letter to state Purchasing Division Director David Tincher. Albert asked in writing to proceed immediately with the demolition and further investigation of the building.
The purchasing division appears to have been caught off guard by the discovery. There are handwritten notations on the letter, provided by the Department of Administration. Two words were written in capital letters next to the paragraph describing the emergency demolition of the arch: "OH CRAP."
Funds for the demolition and further examination of the building were soon approved.
In March, Maynard C Smith Construction of Charleston won the demolition contract, submitting a low bid of $119,400. It's the same company that built the commission's parking lot in 2004, at a cost of about $3 million. The parking garage was not included in the report, and there do not appear to be problems with its structure.
The construction company ended up spending $116,000 - although it did not need to remove the steel frame of the arch, it spent an unexpected $6,200 on "overhead protection."
That's because before Swanke and CAS submitted their final report, they warned the commission in April the protection covering the side of the building was necessary. They explain in the May report, which is comprised of about 10 pages of written information, and about 50 more that are devoted to schematic drawings and pictures of the building.
The architects were awarded a $25,710 bid to conduct the investigation over a two-day period. They received $1,000 of that amount to look for mold, which they didn't find.
There is a brick facade around the entire exterior of the building. Swanke and CAS opened four square feet of the facade in 10 different areas to do independent investigations of the building. Both firms agreed there were serious problems.
"When the face brick was removed we observed the required reinforcement to secure the brick or cast stone to the building was often missing completely or inadequately spaced," the report states.
"Our assessment is that the building was not constructed as required by the building codes in effect at the time of construction."
The architects and engineers focused their examination on smaller brick arches that surround the building. In many cases, they couldn't find evidence of anything actually holding the brick in place, or anything connecting it to the building.
"We're not quite sure what is supporting this portion of wall located over the main entrance to the building, but we are sure that it isn't very much," states a caption of a picture in the report.
Many other issues with the facade are caused by failures associated with keeping water out of the wall.
In theory, there are two safeguards at the building to keep moisture from staying in the walls: a flashing and weep holes. In practice, neither is working.
Flashing is a material installed between the facade and wall to prevent water flowing into any part of the building. Best practices say copper or some other metal should be used for the flashing. Instead, there's a PVC, or thin plastic, flashing. The report says PVC flashings are less costly, but don't stand the test of time.
The weep holes are small tubes inside mortar joints used to drain water that does get inside. The report states at least half of the holes are plugged with mortar.
This has caused water damage to both the exterior and, in some instances, the galvanized steel reinforcing the brick, according to the report, which also calls out the contractor for aspects of the brick installation.
It says the shelf angles, intended for structural support of the brick, weren't built properly. This left the mason in a bit of a conundrum, forcing the contractor to "cobble together a solution."
"The masonry construction at shelf angles locations (all three floors and roof) is strikingly unusual in that the actual construction is upside down and backwards," the report states.
Any design "shortcomings" were compounded by the mason's "lack of attention to detail and poor execution of many basic masonry requirements," according to the report.
There are too many problems with the brick facade to determine exactly who is to blame, the report states.
The commission called the state Capitol home until the early 1980s, when the House of Delegates decided it wanted more room. In 1981 the House appropriated $7 million for the construction of a new building, according to Daily Mail archives.
At almost $4 million, John R. Hess Construction of Pennsylvania submitted the lowest of nine bids for the contract in the spring of 1983. The company began construction in May of 1983, finishing in November of 1984. The state opted for extras in the project, bringing the final cost up to $6.5 million. That's about the same as $14.5 million today, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
At the same time, Hess was building what was then the headquarters of WOWK-TV in Huntington. He contracted with then-owner Gateway Communications in 1983, completing the project in 1985, according to court documents.