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Town building closure won't affect department work

By Alex Bridges

Strasburg's emergency closing of its public works building this week shouldn't affect employees or keep them from performing their duties.

Town Manager Judson Rex said Friday that most of department's 21 employees don't require office space for long periods in the day because they work outside.

"A lot of what they do is outside, which is fortunate," Rex said.

Employees may read meters, perform maintenance on water and sewer lines or check storm drains, Rex explained. Workers will continue to perform those tasks as the town looks for a temporary home. The department does employ one administrative staff person who has since moved into space in the wastewater treatment plant facility.

Department workers can still access the building but on a limited, as-needed basis, Rex explained. The building still houses much of the department's supplies and materials.

"Nobody's to enter the building without the permission of the public works director and myself," Rex said.

Town Council members heard about the situation at a special meeting Thursday and voiced support for the decision to vacate the building. Rex said he hopes to give council more information about options for a temporary home and any associated costs.

The building was evacuated after engineers found numerous deficiencies. Engineers said the building does not appear on the verge of collapse but they recommended the town stop using it after cracks other problems were discovered. Engineers recommended the town make repairs to the building.

The situation did prompt town officials to look at the construction and safety of other Strasburg buildings. But the problem appears limited to the public works building.

"We know the buildings we have and we kind of ran through them and we don't see that there's any issues with any other buildings," Rex said. "Everything else was designed by an architect and an engineer and went through a permit process and inspections ... even some of the older structures. We're confident in their structural integrity."

The public works building likely was built on shrink-swell soil that can cause structural problems. Soil testing performed around the site as part of the work for the plant expansion detected clay with a high probability of shrink-swell problems, Rex said.

Officials don't know if shrink-swell caused the structural problems.

"That can be addressed through a properly designed building, properly engineered building, and so that's data that the contractor will use to build the Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade, " Rex said. "If you put a building together with a proper foundation and you know what type of soils you're dealing with it doesn't become a problem. It's when you don't sort of follow the proper procedures and design techniques that soil can be an issue."

The town recently contracted with English Construction to build a new public works facility on land in the North Shenandoah Industrial and Business Park. Rex noted that English must follow the regular procedures and abide by the usual requirements when building the new headquarters. As the town moves into the design process, Rex said the firm would have to follow the local requirements for the building's construction.

Whether the town employees who built the public works building followed Strasburg's own design standards at the time, or regulations under the state building code, remains uncertain.

At the special meeting Thursday, Councilman Donald Le Vine commented that the situation makes it even more apparent that the town needs to follow whatever building regulations it imposes on residents and developers.

Rex said the point Le Vine was trying to make is that it's important for local governments to follow the same processes others are required to. "Not only ensure that there's fairness but also the same aesthetic standard applies to a local government building as it does to any other structure."

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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