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Statehouse Beat: Pharmacy board headquarters proves challenging

State Board of Pharmacy executive director David Potters may have felt like he was in a bad episode of “Flip or Flop” while overseeing the renovation of the board’s new headquarters on Kanawha Boulevard.

(Actually, I’ve never seen a bad episode of “Flip or Flop,” the reality show where a realtor couple buy distressed houses, renovate them, and sell them for a nice profit. Every show seems to have a cliffhanger where they uncover some potentially disastrous problem — only to have the contractor come up with a cheap and simple solution after the commercial break.)

When the board — which receives no state funding — bought the 7,065-square-foot house at 2310 Kanawha Boulevard for $370,000 back in 2010, the plan was to spend about $250,000 to make renovations and bring the house up to standards for commercial office space, Potters said.

However, after nearly four years, two rounds of bidding, and three change orders on the contract that was ultimately awarded to N-Powell Co. of Weirton, the total cost of renovations are $733,294, pushing the total project cost to $1.1 million.

“The intent was never to spend that much money,” Potters said.

However, as the change orders indicate, and as anyone who has renovated an older house can appreciate, multiple issues surfaced as the project moved forward: An inspection found the house was painted top to bottom in lead-based paint that had to be abated, interior and exterior gas lines had to be replaced after leaks were found, a water pipe in the house’s crawl space froze and burst, all water lines had to be replaced because of leaks and corrosion, and most expensively, the original tile roof had to be replaced with asphalt shingles after substantial deterioration was found.

That’s on top of all the upgrades required to make the house meet standards for government office space, including making it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, adding a sprinkler system, etc.

“It’s a big figure. It is high,” Potters added. “It wasn’t what we were planning or expecting.”

At some point, there was talk of walking away from the project, selling the house and cutting the board’s losses, but board members decided there was no alternative to meet their goal of having a headquarters near the Capitol with adequate office space and parking, he said.

On the plus side, the building should serve the board’s needs for at least the next 30 years, and relieves the board of paying $3,500 a month in lease payments, in addition to paying for parking spaces at the old downtown location, he added.

Also, Potters noted the board was able to set aside funds for the new office building without imposing any increases in licensing fees. The only fee increase in recent years was on wholesale distributors, and that’s to cover costs of the board’s new controlled substance monitoring program, he said.

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Legislators will be holding three days of out-of-town interim meetings in Bridgeport, beginning today.

With tours and visitations to various points in Harrison, Marion and Monongalia counties dominating the agenda (21 of 38 scheduled committee meetings are tours or visitations), some are suggesting the August interims are more about making sure north-central legislators get photo-ops going into the fall campaign than about researching issues to be considered during the 2015 legislative session.

Indeed, after skipping interim meetings in July, essentially skipping April, and with May interims being primarily organizational in nature, the “off-season” is now more than halfway over, with no real opportunity yet to study issues to be considered in 2015.

On the positive side, West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee will be hosting a reception for legislators at the President’s House on campus this evening. I’m told the dress code is bow-tie optional.

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Finally, there’s something charming about living in a state small enough that a relatively mundane event, such as the opening of a small restaurant, is of such significance to warrant the governor’s appearance at the ribbon-cutting.

I thought of that last week with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s participation in the ribbon-cutting for the Bistro Express in the state Regional Technology Park in South Charleston.

That prompted me to Google “governor attends restaurant ribbon-cutting.”

I came up with three entries. One was for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker doing a ribbon-cutting for the downtown Milwaukee Marriott hotel (which came up because the article referenced restaurants in the hotel).

Next was Florida Gov. Rick Scott doing a ribbon-cutting for a Planet Hollywood in Orlando — but as I read the article, I realized it was not for a new restaurant, but for the company’s international headquarters.

The closest thing I could find was in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie took part in a ribbon-cutting for a Margarittaville in Atlantic City. (Resisting temptation to insert a Gov. Christie and food comment here.)

In Tomblin’s case, there were two extenuating circumstances: One, he had to be in the neighborhood anyway, for the dedication of the Advanced Technology Center at the tech park; and two, Bistro Express owner Sherri Wong is a Democratic candidate in the House of Delegates’ 35th District race.

Reach Phil Kabler at, 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

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