CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The $860,000 state Capitol bathroom project that has erupted in dispute this week could have been even more expensive.
The state Senate this week began renovation of eight restrooms throughout their offices in the Capitol’s main building and West Wing. The goal is to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities act while also maintaining the historic character of the Capitol.
Five of the restrooms are public, and three are semi-private, although they are used by staff and by members of the public who may be attending meetings.
That work is part of a larger project that would have meant restoring 34 restrooms and related spaces such as janitor’s closets at the Capitol at an overall estimated price of $9.364 million.
MORE: Read a request for proposal for the original state Capitol bathrooms project.
State Senate leaders said the project was originally conceived in 2009 by then-Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin. The winning bid in 2012 came in about $3 million over the original estimate, sending it into spending purgatory.
This year, the Senate decided to launch its part of the bathroom renovations. The money was to come from the Senate’s own budget, where money had been set aside over the years. The Capitol Building Commission, which had a teleconference last week for an update, had vetted and approved the project.
The project is expensive not only because of the need to make the bathrooms ADA-compliant but because of the desire to preserve the Capitol’s architectural history.
For instance, the description in the request for proposal is a fairly complex job for each bathroom:
Bathroom remodeling projects will include (but not be limited to) new ceramic mosaic tile flooring, ceramic cove base, white structural glass wainscoting and toilet partitions, concrete masonry and clay tile masonry patching and repairing, patching and repairing of plaster, electrical and lighting upgrades, plumbing piping and fixture upgrades, mechanical exhaust system upgrades, minor sprinkler piping modifications, new fire alarm systems and miscellaneous toilet accessories upgrades.
Similarly, projects within the same scope of work to upgrades janitor closets are more complicated than you might realize:
“Janitor closets renovations/restorations will include (but not be limited to) new ceramic mosaic tile flooring, patching and repairing ceramic cove base, patching and repairing white structural glass wainscoting, concrete masonry and clay tile masonry patching and repairing, patching and repairing of plaster, electrical and lighting wiring upgrades, plumbing piping and fixture upgrades, mechanical exhaust system upgrades and miscellaneous accessories upgrades.”
There is also a specific requirement for the use of American-made aluminum, glass and steel.
This Wednesday, Gov. Jim Justice blasted the project as expensive and out of line with priorities.
“Based on how poorly the Legislature did this past year, the taxpayers shouldn’t pay them for a new outhouse— much less a new luxury bathroom,” Justice stated. “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 continued, “I’m new to the political process, but is this what they mean by ‘live within your means’? If the facilities are so bad for our lawmakers, I’m happy to get them an outhouse delivered to the Capitol grounds.”
That prompted a response from Senate President Mitch Carmichael, first on MetroNews’ “Talkline” and then in a statement distributed by his office.
“If the governor finds it so deeply offensive that the Senate would choose to spend its reasonably managed operations budget on making our state Capitol more accessible to West Virginians with disabilities, I’m proud to be the person who offended him,” Carmichael stated in the release.
Today on “Talkline,” Senate clerk Clark Barnes said he too was upset by the charges from the governor’s office.
“I am totally disappointed by the disrespect that our governor shows for the institutions that were established by our founding fathers and ratified by the people of West Virginia,” Barnes said.
Barnes said the cost of the current project is significantly less than the total cost of the renovations of 34 bathrooms, which he noted would have averaged $273,500 per bathroom.
“The question is not could we have done it cheaper — the question is, could we have done it for a whole lot more, because that was the plan,” Barnes said.
.@wvsenate Clerk Clark Barnes justifies the cost of bathroom renovations to @HoppyKercheval. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIAoe1 pic.twitter.com/IhoOawWL86
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) July 13, 2017
Barnes said the expense above and beyond a normal renovation project has to do with the need to match the Capitol’s historic architecture.
“We’re talking about a building with architectural integrity that is very, very special. We are required to maintain not only that architectural integrity but that historical integrity that is in this building. So that becomes very, very expensive.
“It’s not like we can just tear things out or put a bunch of plastic up — or we can just paint the floor or something of that nature. When we tear up the floor, which is going to take hours and hours of labor, then we’re going to have to put down a floor that pretty well matches the architectural drawings of this building in 1932.”
Specifically, contractors will have to match Vitrolite, the name for a kind of pigmented structural glass that was used in the original tiles in the bathrooms. As architectural tastes changed, that kind of glass stopped being manufactured.
“If you’re going to purchase it in this country, you’re going to have to find it used,” Barnes said.
Justice administration chief of staff Nick Casey, also appearing on “Talkline,” said the priority of spending on Capitol bathrooms should be reconsidered while the state is strapped for money.
For example, he said the Division of Corrections has $74 million in deferred maintenance costs.
“Think of it like this: You don’t have a leak on your roof at the state. The roof has fallen in, and these guys are fixing bathrooms. You’d better get out there and fix the roof,” Casey said.
Casey continued, “Wake up everybody. The place is on financial fire. We’ve got to get serious about this.”