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WNCN Investigates

State of Disrepair: Crumbling state buildings lead to multi-billion dollar crisis

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The Administration Building at 116 W Jones Street in downtown Raleigh. The Administration Building at 116 W Jones Street in downtown Raleigh.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

Decades of wear and tear have created a nightmare, multi-billion dollar crisis that is putting government employees and buildings at risk, a WNCN Investigation has found.

There are more than 12,000 state buildings in North Carolina, and 6 million square feet of state space in Raleigh alone. Thousands of state workers call these buildings their home away from home, but many buildings are in critically bad shape.

"The average building we have in the state is 45 years old," said Secretary of Administration Bill Daughtridge Jr.

Daughtridge works in the Administration Building in downtown Raleigh, which could be considered the nerve center for state government as it also houses the governor's office.

In the Administration Building alone, Daughtridge points to an asbestos problem in the ceilings.

And that's just the beginning.

Opening doors in the Administration Building is something many there would rather not do out of fear of what they might find. One example: a utility closet was a fire trap waiting to happen as years of wiring lay astray.

In fact, another utility closet did catch fire recently after overheating. The fire happened in a closet that lacks ventilation for a server station.

The building, built in the 1960s, does not have sprinklers, which is common for the state's buildings constructed in that era, according to Daughtridge.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal is tasked with yearly fire inspections on state buildings. However, in its recent report, officials identified the unprotected wiring as a clear hazard, but gave no mandate on repairs.

According to the fire marshal's office, it is not an imminent hazard that would need immediate attention.

"If we were to fix everything, and renovate it up to a current level, it would be a $5 billion problem," Daughtridge explained of the looming repairs at all state facilities. "We're doing an analysis right now of where we would like to spend the money."

The problem, Daughtridge said, is that a lack of funds led to a "Band-Aid approach in the past."

"The previous administration, I don't think, looked at it as a priority," he said.

WNCN reached out to the secretary of administration under former Gov. Bev Perdue for comment, but our call was not returned.

Since 2000, the most cash set aside annually for repairs and renovations of University of North Carolina and state government buildings was $222 million for the 2006-07 fiscal year, according to legislative data. But since mid-2009 and the Great Recession, the total net amount has been less than $70 million combined.

Sen. Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, co-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said budget shortfalls and emergencies, particularly with Medicaid overruns, have siphoned away most of the repair and renovation money.

"We always start out by reserving the money on the long sheet and it ends up being lost to those emergencies, so one of the answers is you've got to get rid of the emergencies that you have," Brunstetter said.

State law directs lawmakers to set aside 25 percent of the money unused or over-collected at the end of a fiscal year in a special repair and renovation account. But the General Assembly often grants itself exceptions to the rule, particularly in bad economic times.

Speros Fleggas, the Department of Administration's deputy secretary for buildings and construction, said his office has focused recently on safety improvements and repairs that otherwise would render a building unusable.

"The way we've managed over the years during these shortfalls of funds is to try to hit the critical things," he said. "You forego some of the cosmetic (items) until it becomes unbearable." 

But even on Fleggas' list of 90 high-priority items, only 19 items are now being funded, such as escalator repairs at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Needs still awaiting funding are a cooling tower replacement at the State Bureau of Investigation Laboratory and deck repairs to the USS North Carolina battleship historic site.

While Daughtridge cites $5 billion in repairs, Gov. Pat McCrory has earmarked $300 million in his proposed budget to go toward emergency renovations of government buildings.  McCrory used the fire at the Administration Building to highlight what he said are the needs of the state's aging government buildings.

"Before we build any new buildings, we've got to... take care of some of the existing buildings and make sure, first, they're safe for employees and make sure we have sufficient security in place for information systems," McCrory said.

Asked if the money doesn't come through, is there a Plan B?

"We will continue to repair as we have to," Daughtridge said. "The renovation part of it we will be unable to do without more money."

Meaning the foundation will continue to crumble, with "Band-Aids" being the norm.

In more than 300 pages of Facility Condition Assessment Reports, detailing the decay at state buildings, WNCN Investigates found that while some buildings were inspected as recently as 2010, repairs weren't made due to a lack of funds, and some of those unfixed problems date back nearly a decade.

Furthermore, those Facility Condition Assessment Reports inspections, which are completed every three years, are done in-house -- meaning the state keeps giving itself a pass.

Experts say that since the legislature is Republican controlled, the governor's budget proposal will likely pass, allowing for the $300 million in earmarked funds. House Speaker Thom Tillis says he supports the proposal and will urge others to as well.

Jonathan Carlson

Jonathan is an investigative reporter and anchor with over a decade of experience. Jonathan has broken stories that have resulted in local and statewide change. Contact our Investigative Team anytime HERE. More>>

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