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Justice’s budget includes $8M for WV Capitol dome repair


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice’s 2017-18 West Virginia budget plan includes proposed tax increases and spending cuts, but few new appropriations.

It’s notable, then, that the proposed budget includes an $8 million appropriation for repairs to the Capitol dome.

“We’ve had a water leak, and it basically rains in the dome on a regular basis,” Administration Secretary John Myers said Wednesday of damage to the 292-foot-high dome, one of the state’s iconic images.

The problem was detected last spring, when workers noticed large areas of peeling paint and other damage to the surface of one of the panels of the interior dome.

Last summer, the state hired consulting engineering firm WDP and Associates, of Charlottesville, Virginia, which spent two weeks in July trying to determine the source of the water damage.

The engineering report concluded that damage to the interior dome panel is being caused by bulk water infiltration caused by failures in the inner drainage system in the exterior dome.

“The volume of water entering the building at this location is … leading to significant damage in the interior plaster at the Colonnade level, but is also splashing onto the plaster of the inner dome itself, which could lead to more interior damage to the inner dome plaster over time,” the report found.

It also found water leakage around upper windows in the exterior dome and found areas of coating on the upper dome that are starting to fail, as well as clay tile shingles on the portico entrances that are cracked.

The structure of the Capitol dome actually consists of two domes, the exterior dome and an interior dome, located 60 feet below.

Some of the design flaws uncovered by the engineering survey date back to the original construction of the Capitol, the report notes, citing correspondence from Capitol Building Commission representative Bonner Hill to architect Cass Gilbert and then-Gov. William Conley.

In a July 9, 1932 letter — about three weeks after the Capitol’s dedication — Hill cited water leaks seeping through the plaster of the inner dome, concluding that stone in the upper dome had not been properly set or grouted.

In a letter from 1931, Hill raised issues with preparation of metal cladding for gilding of the dome, stating at one point, “In other words, it is a rush job and does not fit properly.”

The Department of Administration redacted the portion of the report that outlines recommended repairs, on the grounds that it could provide information that could benefit contractors that bid on the project.

Myers said Wednesday the report offers three repair options, from a “Band-Aid” plan to stop the worst leakage to a plan that would fully resolve issues with the dome.

Myers said he is optimistic that the total cost of the repairs will be considerably less than the $8 million to be allocated.

The report noted, “The challenge for this project will be the unique access requirements in order to execute the repairs.”

In 1996, when the interior dome was repainted, workers had to erect nearly 240 feet of scaffolding from the floor of the Rotunda to access the ceiling of the inner dome.

The report also notes that engineers were unable to access eight drains in the upper dome drainage system that are enclosed within walls, stating, “consideration should be given to replacing those drains while access is provided.”

The report also warns that if the drainage problems are not repaired, the water leakage could eventually damage structural steel supporting the dome.

Myers told the House Finance Committee that the one-time appropriation is preferable to paying for the repairs over time out of regular Capitol Complex maintenance accounts, since that would require dragging out repair work for three years or more.

“The downside risk would be the further deterioration of the inside of the Capitol dome,” he said.

Justice spokesman Grant Herring said the governor believes the dome repair is critical.

“What message does it send to the outside world that West Virginia can’t take care of one of our tourist attractions?” Herring said. “The only way to revive West Virginia is with the governor’s budget.”

Myers said the project will not go out to bid until the funding is secured.

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