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Three companies want to design Public Service Commission building fix

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Three companies are interested in designing a fix for serious problems with the brick exterior of the state Public Service Commission's Charleston headquarters.

The companies outlined their plans in expressions of interest opened Tuesday afternoon.

A May report outlined extensive issues with the building's brick facade. Much of the brick surrounding the less-than-30-year-old building, which is located at the corner of Quarrier and Brooks streets, could fall at any time, according to the report.

"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.

Repairing the existing brick isn't an option.

Instead, the report says all of the brick covering the three-story building should be removed or the brick from the top two floors should be removed and replaced with a glass wall.

The PSC hopes revenue from an increased fee rate on utilities will cover the repair costs. The increase is expected to bring in more than $2 million.

The expressions of interest highlight a company's experience and how it would proceed with finding the best fix. The winning company would develop designs for 35 percent of the options listed in the report.

Companies expressing interest were Swanke Hayden Connell Architects of Washington, D.C., Alpha Associates Inc. of Morgantown and Williamson Shriver Architects of Charleston.

Each has extensive experience in West Virginia and has received large public contracts in the past.

Swanke, along with CAS Structural Engineering Inc. of Alum Creek, conducted the original investigation of the building for about $25,000. The company wrote the report upon which the requests in the expression of interest were based.

In its expression, Swanke states it wants to continue its work. It plans to continue working with CAS if awarded the design contract, as well as two other companies: Metropolitan Consulting Engineers of Washington, D.C. and Forella Group LLC of Virginia.

Metropolitan would assess any potential issues with the building's heating and cooling system. There could be issues once the brick is removed, or depending on which design Swanke and the PSC choose for the fix, it claims. Forella would estimate costs throughout the project.

Though it didn't give a preference in its expression of interest, Swanke seemed to favor the glass wall option in its original report. It would probably cost more than replacing all of the brick, but Swanke believes it would take less time and potentially cut energy costs by providing more natural light.

Swanke was also the lead architect on the re-gilding of the state Capitol dome in the mid-2000s and rehabilitated the Holly Grove Mansion at the Capitol Complex shortly thereafter.

Alpha has worked in West Virginia since 1969. It provided architectural services to many state projects, including work on the Cass Scenic Railroad, a state office building in Clarksburg and numerous facilities at West Virginia University.

Alpha also doesn't specify a preference in its expression of interest.

It outlines a nine-part development plan, describing how it would conduct its own review of the building's condition before deciding the best course of action. It also leaves the door open for an alternative fix, if Alpha deems one superior to other choices.

Williamson Shriver is well known in the education world. It frequently earns bids from the state School Building Authority to design schools across the state. Its designs include the new Buffalo and Mingo Central high schools, as well as University High School in Morgantown.

It seemed to favor the option of replacing all of the exterior brick.

It will consider other options as well, but states that option is a better choice for the long-term and would maintain the building's current aesthetic.

It also gives some detail about ways to move forward with that design, including using "precast concrete and brick panels" that a crane would lift over existing utility lines before attaching them to the building.

The state doesn't allow cost estimates in expressions of interest. This is intended to get the most competitive pricing for the project. All three companies say they could complete the design work within the 120-day mandated timeframe.

The PSC must use a committee of three to five people to pick the top three choices of expressions submitted and interview those candidates. After interviews, it ranks companies and tries to negotiate a price with the top-rated candidate. If it can't reach an agreement, it moves to the next company.

Commissioners were aware the expressions were opened Tuesday but hadn't seen them because they were in the middle of a hearing with Appalachian Power and other utilities, PSC spokeswoman Susan Small said.

She expected the hearings to take up a better part of the week, and wasn't sure when commissioners would begin interviews.

The building is structurally sound, Small emphasized, pointing at an assessment from the same construction company that built its parking garage.

Bids for construction will take place after the chosen design firm completes its work.

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

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