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Renovations at tech park at standstill

By Megan Workman

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Renovations planned for one of West Virginia Regional Technology Park's buildings have been delayed because costs are about double the initial $10.5 million price tag.

Phil Halstead, executive director and CEO of the tech park, said Tuesday he isn't sure when construction on Building 770 -- which was supposed to start no later than Feb. 1 -- will begin.

He spoke during a meeting of the South Charleston Economic Development Authority.

Officials are now focused on figuring out how to fund the building's renovations.

"The original estimate of $10.5 million for Building 770 was based on improving the facility's energy consumption including a new HVAC system, replacement windows, and other energy upgrades," said Paul Hill, chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, which oversees the park. "Since the original review, the building has been evaluated in greater detail to determine the costs associated with a full redesign ... [and] the projected costs have increased significantly."

The tech park in South Charleston sits at the top of Union Carbide Drive, off Kanawha Terrace.

The HEPC acquired the 258-acre park through a donation of land and facilities from Dow Chemical. A November 2010 study by analysts Battelle Technology Partnership Practice and CH2M Hill recommended the changes.

The HEPC has secured the $10.5 million. Of that amount, $5.25 million is coming from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and will be matched with $5.25 million from the state.

Morgantown-based architecture firm Alpha is designing the renovations.

Halstead said the architect's estimates are now more than $17 million plus an additional 25 percent fee for "soft costs," including architectural and engineering fees.

"We've got to find ways and means to make this happen," Halstead said.

The renovations will increase the building's energy efficiency and lower its operating costs. The 139,000-square-foot Building 770 has four floors of laboratory and office space. As it is, Building 770's energy costs make it too expensive to rent, Hill previously said.

Supplying electricity to all buildings at the tech park accounts for about one-third of the park's operating costs, Hill said.

To help cut costs, the tech park will save $1 million a year since it shut down its central steam plant and put individual boilers in each building, Halstead said.

Also, the entire tech park campus is going completely tobacco-free starting July 1, he said.

"This is a major health move for students and faculty to be a tobacco-free environment," he said.

He said "life in the tech park has changed" since students began classes in August at the new Kanawha Valley Community and Technical College campus. The college opened Aug. 15 in Building 2000 at the tech park. The X-shaped building that once housed Union Carbide scientists and engineers had $26 million in renovations to become a regional education and research center.

"At the height of Union Carbide there were between 3,000 and 4,000 employees and now we have 2,500 people utilizing tech park buildings," Halstead said. "You'll have a hard time finding parking spaces."

In part, parking is harder to come by since employment at the tech park increased more than 13 percent last year. There are now more than 678 employees, compared to 597 at the end of 2011 on campus and 550 employees at the end of 2010, Halstead said.

In other news during the Economic Development Authority meeting, Halstead said construction on the Advantage Valley Advanced Technology Center is 25 percent completed. Construction on the facility started Aug. 1 and should be completed by October, he said.

The 50,000-square-foot, $15 million facility will offer five core academic courses that including mechatronics, instrumentation, information technology, power plant technology and chemical operators.

Mechatronics combine mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, computer engineering, software engineering and other forms of engineering to design and manufacture products.  

Also, MATRIC is now occupying a pilot plant in Building 771. Pilot plants allow companies to test chemical products before bringing them to market.

"This is a huge step because it puts the plant under MATRIC control, which is going to utilize 100 percent of the plant and it's a 'bait-and-trap' to attract outsiders in the tech park," Halstead said.

South Charleston High School Principal Mike Arbogast attended Tuesday's meeting to discuss the success of the high school in the last year. Arbogast noted that the high school had "the biggest growth in ACT scores nationwide."

Arbogast also discussed how South Charleston High is the only authorized International Baccalaureate school in the state. Participating students, like Advanced Placement students, may receive college credit for their high school coursework.

"We want to push toward a 21st-century school and we have been able to do that with this program," Arbogast said. "The International Baccalaureate program is working."

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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