By PHIL KABLER
Work to repair the state Capitol dome is progressing, but will take longer and be costlier than originally expected, General Services Division Director Greg Melton told the Capitol Building Commission Wednesday.
Work began in January 2018 to repair major water damage and structural problems in the dome, and Melton said Wednesday project engineers have discovered the damage is more extensive than originally thought.
"We have found some issues the engineers are working with as we speak," he said.
He said that was not entirely unexpected, since the full extent of damage could not be determined until sealed concrete interior walls inside the exterior dome were opened up during the repair process.
"We're not in any unexpected place," he said, adding that he will know more about the specifics of the additional damage that has been discovered after a scheduled briefing by project engineers next week.
"We have experienced some delays, and we anticipate the delays will become more obvious to us when we meet with the engineers next week," he said.
Initially, plans were that the project would be completed before the start of the 2020 legislative session, but Melton said Wednesday, "We anticipate that to slip."
During repairs, the Capitol rotunda - normally a center of activity during legislative sessions - has been closed and sealed off.
The contract for the dome repairs was initially awarded to Wiseman Construction, of Charleston, but the state canceled the contract in September, after Wiseman engineers concluded they could not comply with a requirement that exterior scaffolding around the dome not come in contact with the cladding of the dome.
The state then awarded the contract to the second-lowest bidder, Pullman Power, of Pittsburgh, at $13.52 million and work on the project resumed after about a month's delay.
Shortly after, engineers discovered that clay tile used in walls of the Capitol dome and stairways as firewalls was breaking up, presenting a safety hazard. That forced the temporary closure of offices adjacent to the dome, as well as certain stairways.
Melton said that while that problem has been corrected, the repair work further delayed the overall project.
He said the total cost of the project will exceed the $13.52 million contract, and will be handled through change orders.
Meanwhile, Melton said construction of exterior scaffolding around the dome is proceeding, and the dome should be entirely scaffolded and covered when the commission meets again in July.
The last time the dome was covered was in 2004-05 when it was regilded and repainted. Part of the current contract will entail repairs to the exterior dome where gilding and paint have been damaged.
The dome has been an issue since the spring of 2016, when General Services workers noticed paint peeling from one of the interior plaster walls of the interior dome.
A year later, while investigating possible sources for the water damage, engineers with WDP Associates, of Charlottesville, Virginia, discovered a potentially more critical structural failure in the dome: They determined that the tensioning system - a system of metal rods that allow the external dome to hold up the inner dome - had failed, leaving the inner dome resting on the non-load-bearing interior walls.
That could eventually lead to a catastrophic failure of the interior dome, if left unrepaired.
Also Wednesday, the commission gave approval to the House of Delegates to proceed with renovations to seven restrooms in the East Wing and main Capitol.
House Clerk Steve Harrison said the renovations were originally part of a 2012 proposal to renovate all 34 Capitol restrooms, a plan that was put on hold when the low bid of $9.4 million was $3.4 million over budget.
In 2017, the Senate renovated the eight restrooms under its control at a cost of $860,000, a project that drew criticism from, among others, Gov. Jim Justice.
"We've got schools with bathrooms that don't work and these politicians want the taxpayers to pay for gold-plated toilets? You've got to be kidding me," Justice said at the time.
Harrison said the restrooms in question have not had significant renovations since the East Wing opened in 1927, and the main Capitol opened in 1932.
Another issue, he said, is that while there is a private, members-only restroom for male delegates, there is no equivalent private facility for female delegates.
He said the renovations would rectify that, by converting part of one of the restrooms into a female members-only facility.
Harrison said he does not have specific cost estimates for the project, but said it should be in the ballpark of what the Senate spent on its renovations.