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Statehouse Beat: Capitol Complex plans revealed

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After nearly five years, two governors, and about $1 million in cost, the new Capitol Complex Master Plan is finally ready for release to the public -- minus about 16 of 328 pages that were deleted for security reasons.

The project, a collaborative effort headed by the architectural and design firm Michael Baker Inc. and four consulting firms, assesses the current state of the Capitol Complex. It also proposes a 30-year plan for development that ultimately would include six new office buildings and three parking facilities on an expanded campus stretching from Laidley Field to the west to Veazey Street to the east.

"After 80 years of partially implemented master planning and independent construction projects, the Capitol Complex is an agglomeration of buildings and landscapes lacking in cohesion or clean identity," the plan notes.

Among its findings:

* Office space in the complex is overcrowded, particularly in the main Capitol, intended to provide offices for about 750 employees, but occupied by more than 1,200.

Because of the overcrowding, offices have been located in the basement, in former closets and storage rooms, even former restrooms -- spaces never intended for office use and that fail to meet life-safety codes and, frequently, ADA accessibility requirements.

Because of the lack of adequate office space on the campus, the state has also had to lease office space around Charleston, the plan notes.

Ultimately, the plan calls for constructing six office buildings, most with five stories and underground parking, with the first three to be constructed on Washington Street, east of the current Capitol Complex.

Over the course of the 30-year plan, it calls for additional five-story office buildings north of Building 3, often called the DMV building, and north of the Veterans' Memorial and on the site of the current Capitol parking building.

One of the new buildings would be a legislative building -- housing House of Delegates' offices and committee rooms, as well as offices for Legislative Services and Joint Committee staff.

When completed -- if ever completed -- the new buildings would provide 667,000 square feet of new office space to accommodate up to 2,668 employees.

* Parking at the complex is inadequate to handle peak demand, even though a large amount of the Capitol Complex is taken up with paved surface parking lots.

There are just more than 2,800 parking spaces on campus, at least 850 spaces short of what is needed during peak periods.

The plan notes that on any given weekday, the campus population runs between 3,500 and 5,500 employees and visitors, but peaks out at as high as 12,000 a day during legislative sessions and during special events.

The master plan would move virtually all parking to the perimeter of the complex, with the exception of underground parking under the new office buildings.

It proposes ultimately constructing three new parking buildings, with two to the west of campus  -- one across Greenbrier Street from the current parking building location, and one next to Laidley Field, currently a surface parking lot.

The third building, and actually the first to be constructed under the plan, would be north of Washington Street, between Michigan Avenue and Veazey Street.

* Security. Most of the recommendations regarding campus security proposals were redacted in the public version of the master plan.

However, it does indicate that by moving parking to the campus perimeter, the main campus would basically be closed to vehicular traffic.

It also would expand campus green space by closing Washington Street between California and Michigan avenues, and closing California from Washington to Quarrier streets.

It also calls for some immediate security measures, including creating 80-foot security "set-backs" from Building 3 (currently vacant) and Building 5 (the office tower adjacent to Piedmont Road) by closing parking and setting up planters and other temporary barricades in those areas.

The report also goes into great detail about improving landscaping and upgrading utilities on the campus, but frankly, I just scanned those sections. Also, about 12 pages detailing electric, water, sewer, and telecommunications services to the complex were deleted for security reasons.

The master plan also makes note that, given the historical, cultural and civic importance of the Capitol Complex, the campus is not very visitor -- or tourist -- friendly.

In addition to inadequate parking, the master plan notes that access to the complex either by car or on foot is confusing for first-time visitors, with inadequate signage and directions.

It says the main entrance at Washington and Greenbrier is "unsigned and uncelebrated." The plan proposes constructing a 4,000-square-foot visitors' center at the Greenbrier and Washington entrance to provide information and orientation for visitors, as well as amenities such as restrooms.

The master plan is an interesting read, but as it notes in its preface, five previous master plans -- including the first started by architect Cass Gilbert in 1932, but uncompleted at the time of his death in 1934 -- were only partially implemented.

Cost obviously is a major hurdle, considering that Building 3 has been sitting vacant for nearly three years as the administration struggles to get the project within its $27 million budget.

*

Finally, thanks to the Pittsburgh Pirates for an exciting and unforgettable season, and a summer that extended three weeks into autumn.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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