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WNCN Investigates

State of Disrepair: NC names facilities to get upgrades

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

The state Department of Administration outlined Monday how it plans to spend millions in funds to improve the safety and infrastructure of government buildings statewide.

The Office of State Budget and Management recommended 191 construction projects across the state at a cost of $90 million.

"This is the first step of fulfilling my promise to the people of North Carolina to rebuild and repair state facilities that have been ignored for far too long," Gov. Pat McCrory said in a statement. "These long-needed renovations will not only produce more efficient buildings, they will also protect and enhance the public's investment, particularly at our state universities."

McCrory made fixing the state's infrastructure a priority after being elected and becoming concerned about state facilities.

Read the full list here

The total given by the General Assembly was $150 million, with $60 million for the UNC Board of Governors and the other $90 million to OSBM for state agencies.

"We have state facilities that have been neglected all over North Carolina," said Bill Daughtridge, secretary of administration. "We've prioritized public safety needs, and then we focused on preventive maintenance projects that would save the State money in the long run."

The priorities come after a WNCN Investigation last May, which revealed decades of wear and tear at state buildings -- leading to a multi-billion dollar crisis putting government employees and buildings at risk.

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," Daughtridge said.

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 pointed 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. Daughtridge said that is common for the state's buildings that were constructed in that era. 

The Office of the State Fire Marshal is tasked with yearly fire inspections on state buildings. However, in a 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 recently 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 the 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."  

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.

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