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DOH to rebuild Smith Street campus

Lawrence Pierce
The DOH Ruffner Building (right) would be demolished and replaced with a multipurpose shop in a later a phase of the District 1 campus overhaul. In planned Streetscape project, all utility lines will be buried underground.
Kyle Slagle The state Division of Highways is planning a $35 million overhaul of its Region 1 campus along Smith Street in Charleston. Some buildings will be renovated, while others will be demolished entirely and replaced with new construction and additional parking.
Lawrence Pierce The state Division of Highways plans to tear down the former Smith Street Fas-Chek, which it bought last year, and build a new shop in its place, as part of a $35 million to $37 million overhaul of its District 1 headquarters.
Lawrence Pierce Highways officials plan to tear down what they call the Summers warehouse building, left, which they bought last year. And once they build a new headquarters they'll demolish the yellow 1970s-era headquarters.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state Division of Highways is gearing up for a $35 million overhaul of its Region 1 campus along Smith Street in Charleston, members of the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority learned Wednesday.

In the first phase, starting in March, the DOH will build a new regional headquarters and renovate the old State Road Commission building, said Travis Knighton, project manager for the DOH building and grounds division.

Later phases call for construction of a new shop building, renovation of the existing shop/lab building and the Ruffner Building, which is used for parts storage and a laboratory

The DOH also plans to tear down two warehouse-type buildings it acquired last year beside its existing Region 1 headquarters building -- the former Natures Furniture building and what Knighton called the Summers warehouse building -- to provide more parking.

The project is part of a statewide DOH effort to upgrade and modernize its regional campuses, spokesman Brent Walker said.

"In updating these district headquarters, the footprint [in Charleston] fit," he said.

The total budget is $35 million to $37 million, Walker said. It's all state money from the DOH budget, spread over several years, he said.

Money has been appropriated this year to pay for construction of a new headquarters building, to renovate the State Road Commission building and to tear down the two warehouse buildings, Knighton said.

If the highways commissioner approves, the old Fas-Chek and Casto Tile & Marble buildings also will be demolished this year. Those properties, on the south side of Smith Street, were acquired last year. In addition, work could start this year on the new shop building on the Fas-Chek site.

The new headquarters building will be built in a parking lot between the existing headquarters and the State Road Commission building. Three stories high and about 28,000 square feet, it will be built of concrete blocks with a brick veneer to blend in with its neighbors on Smith Street, Knighton said.

"It's a typical district headquarters," Walker said. "We've built three previously with the same design. We try to standardize them so we don't have to hire an architect each time." The others are in Moundsville (District 6), Lewisburg (9) and Princeton (10), he said.

The project is out for bid, with a bid opening planned for Feb. 5. Construction could start as early as March.

Once the building is finished next year, the existing headquarters will be torn down. It was built in the late 1970s as a temporary structure, Walker said.

The State Road Commission building, which dates back to 1930, was an early home for the agency that became the DOH. The brick structure has been empty and boarded up.

"We're looking to renovate that and make it a historic information center -- we don't call them museums -- to showcase our past, our future projects and educate the public, maybe get kids interested in careers in highways," Walker said. "The second floor will be all offices for the district office."

That project is also out to bid, Knighton said.

The DOH has had early talks with the owners of two businesses that sit across Smith Street from the main district campus and between the Casto and Fas-Chek sites -- Mountaineer Wholesale and West Virginia Heating and Plumbing, Walker said.

"The layout you see, that's the current plan," he said. "It's safe to say we're clearly interested in these properties."

The properties would add breathing space to the district campus, Knighton said. "Our typical campus is 12 acres. We're now at eight [after the additions last year]. It's kind of cramped."

DOH designers have been working with city leaders to add Streetscape-style improvements throughout the area, at the conclusion of construction.

The DOH is responsible for the sidewalks front state-owned property, said Rob Dinsmore, project manager for the Chapman Technical Group in St. Albans, which is working with the DOH.

"[The DOH is] not allowed to do city-owned property. That is what brought us before CURA. They were very successful in doing Streetscape on Washington Street in the East End. We wanted to continue that in this portion of the city."

While final plans have not been drawn up yet, the Streetscape would be similar to the Washington Street East project, Dinsmore said.

"Concrete sidewalks with brick bands, some street trees, lighting, probably some architectural elements like benches and trash cans. The important thing is we'll be putting all the utility lines underground."

The DOH plans to run the Streetscape along the north side of Smith Street from Pugh Furniture east to Ruffner Avenue, north on Ruffner to the railroad tracks, and on the south side of Smith in front of the Fas-Chek and Casto properties.

Susie Salisbury, a vice president with the Charleston Area Alliance, asked CURA board members to apply for a federal grant to extend the Streetscape along both sides of Smith Street from the Pugh Furniture building to Morris Street.

She asked board members to provide 20 percent matching funds for the $600,000 grant. They agreed, and committed $120,000 for a minimum of three years.

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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