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Waste Watch: Costly state construction projects

The Public Service Commission Building is undergoing a major overhaul, because flaws which occurred during its original construction have now been discovered and they pose safety hazards. (WCHS/WVAH photo)

State construction projects are lucrative for contractors with companies bidding for the right to grab that work.

The Public Service Commission Building is undergoing a major overhaul, because flaws which occurred during its original construction have now been discovered and they pose safety hazards.

“This is not cosmetic at all. This is public safety. I mean, there is a free-standing arch on the front of the building and you could see the cracks. It was moving back and forth in a strong windstorm. We've got areas of the building where the brick veneer is not even attached to the cinder block wall underneath. So, there are portions of the building we've had to put scaffolding up to keep the public safe from getting hit by falling bricks around the building,” West Virginia PSC Commissioner Susan Small said.

Built in the early 1980s, the PSC building was put up by a Pittsburgh company which has since gone out of business. However, even if that contractor was still working today, the state wouldn't be able to go after them to pay the $4.1 million in renovation costs. That's even after inspectors found the masonry work, installation of flashing and other aspects of the construction were substandard.

Inspectors said, "One thing that is painfully clear is that given the frequency and enormity of these defects, they would have been immediately obvious to anyone who may have been looking. Hence we can only assume that there was little or no construction supervision."

“There's actually a law on the books that says there's a 10 year statute of limitations against going against the construction company for construction flaws,” Small said.

While contractors can't be held liable for defects discovered 10 years after the building is finished, the head of the state's lobbying organization for builders said the PSC situation is rare and unique. And that laws are now in place to protect against anything like this happening again.

“Every contractor in the state of West Virginia is now tested and receives a license prior to doing work. So, you have qualified contractors number one. Secondly, under architectural laws now, the architect has to provide construction oversight on all the projects they are hired to do. Also, most every public project has an owner working for that public agency. So that person is on the job every day, signing off on everything that occurs on that job site. And if it is not done right, the contractor will be responsible to tear it out and put it back in based on specification and design,” Mike Clowser, with the Contractors Association of West Virginia, said.

However, utility rate payers are still on the hook for this four million dollar fix. The PSC's spokeswoman said the agency takes that seriously.

“So we've hired an independent quality consultant firm that's watching every step of the construction to make sure the job's being done right,” Small said. .

Most of the major repair work being done on the PSC building should be finished by November.

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