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Costs escalate in fixes to Public Service Commission building

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.

Building's history

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.

In 1989, Gateway realized there was water damage to their building. They accused Hess of failing to construct underground drainage facilities in accordance with the contract, and tried to recoup money from Hess and others associated with the project.

The case made it to the state Supreme Court, and, according to documents on the case, Hess declared bankruptcy in 1991 during the proceedings.

TAG Architects designed the commission building. In March of 1983, Design Coordinator Norman Krecke told the Daily Mail about the building's longevity.

"This is a building we expect to last for 50 to 100 years," Krecke said at the time. "You design differently for a building of that life."

At the time, architect Tag Galeyan Jr. owned the firm. Galeyan now lives in Lewisburg and runs a successful company that designs luxury hotels across the country.

In a phone interview Wednesday, he was surprised to hear about the condition of the commission building's facade.

"It was a beautiful building that we were very proud of," he said.

Galeyan wasn't sure why there would be a problem, and said he had not see the report detailing the issues. He guessed if the brick is failing, it probably has something to do with water damage; it says in the report that's part of the problem.

It was the first time he had worked with Hess on a project, he said. In 1985 Galeyan sold TAG Architects to the employees and moved to Lewisburg. They moved the company to North Carolina, where it later failed, he said.

He's lived away from Charleston since then, but he's seen his building, and he's not happy.

"I've driven by it a few times, and I always get upset with how its not being maintained," Galeyan said.

He said it's dirty and the trees on the grounds aren't maintained very well. But brick should not be in danger of falling off a building that's less than 30 years old.  

"Yeah, that building should be there until the end of time. If you maintain it," he said.

Three options

Swanke and CAS presented three recommendations for the facade and one for the arch in their report. The first is more of a non-option: they say repair of the existing masonry is "not feasible."

They suggest either removing the existing brick and starting over or replacing the brick on the second and third floors with a glass wall. Both involve plenty of time and money.

The first option means removing and replacing 20-foot segments of brick; installing new flashing, new reinforcement and new windows; and completely rebuilding all 10 arches around the top of the building's exterior.

That's all assuming the concrete block behind the facade isn't in poor repair, the report states. If it is, then it would have to be repaired or replaced as well.

"We suspect the disruption to the workplace resulting from this scenario would be also be (sic) extensive and could take easily twice as long as the (glass wall option)," the report states.

The glass wall option might take less time, but the report states it will also cost more. In this case, a contractor would remove most of the brick and replace it with a glass curtain wall.

Swanke and CAS seem to lean toward this option. While they admit it costs more, they say it would save time and could potentially save energy costs through improved natural lighting for the building.

The commission recognizes there is a problem with the facade, said spokeswoman Susan Small. They do not believe the building itself is structurally deficient.

To that end, Small provided a statement from John Strickland, a project manager with Maynard C. Smith Construction, which says "it is our opinion based on construction experiences, that the PCS building is structurally sound without settlement or other issues of concern related to the building's competence."

The commission is moving forward with possible solutions to fix problems highlighted in the Swanke and CAS report, Small said.

"We are currently working with the State Purchasing Department on an Expression of Interest in order to provide architectural/engineering services to further develop the various options recommended in the Final Conditions Assessment Report provided by our architect."

An expression of interest is a call for companies to submit plans that further develop the potential options Swanke and CAS recommend. The plan would develop 35 percent of those options; from there, the state would bid out the actual construction.

The company that wins that bid would work with the design firm that wins the expression of interest to complete the final design for whatever fix is determined to be the best.

The expression of interest went out June 28. They'll open the expressions of interest July 16, according to the paperwork. The company who wins this bid has 120 days to complete the design work, according to the parameters of the expression of interest.

Diane Holley Brown, spokeswoman for the Department of Administration, said the department does not comment on how much projects are expected to cost, in the hopes of receiving the most competitive bids possible.

The expression of interest includes language from state code for submitting information on projects estimated to cost more than $250,000. Holley Brown said that is not uncommon for an expression of interest document.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or Follow him at


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