Fairfax County considers options for housing public safety headquarters

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fairfax County is planning to move its public safety headquarters as the 43-year-old, asbestos-plagued Massey Building continues to deteriorate and spark health concerns.

Several architectural firms responded by Wednesday's deadline to bid on the construction of a building for Fairfax's police, fire and sheriff's departments. Officials are looking to build or move into a 268,000-square-foot building to replace the Massey Building on Chain Bridge Road, a 14-story office tower that opened in 1967. Many of the 460 employees at Massey have complained for years about the building's slow elevators, sparse parking, poor ventilation and cramped quarters.

In February, The Washington Post obtained hundreds of pages of government reports, inspections and internal e-mails that revealed that the Massey Building has been falling into disrepair, creating increasingly dangerous working conditions. Portions of it have been closed twice in the past year, including once in mid-December, when water flooded the top two floors and asbestos fell from holes in the ceiling.

A March PowerPoint presentation to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors showed that a complete renovation, including asbestos removal from ceilings and walls, would cost about $81.1 million. The 1960s-era design also limits a full expansion: The building is not in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and any additions could encroach on the neighboring county courthouse.

That presentation also highlighted The Post's findings about the Massey Building's health hazards.

"We all agree that something needs to be done. It's an old, old building, and it's just a place that's not worth renovating," said supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D), who also leads the board's budget committee.

Fairfax officials are considering several options, including building a headquarters on county-owned property, possibly on a baseball field near the county's Government Center or at an office park in Chantilly; or purchasing or leasing an existing building. Bids and cost estimates are expected to be formally reviewed this fall.

Asbestos, a carcinogen once used to fireproof buildings, is the biggest concern in the Massey building, officials say. Air tests performed this year have not found any violation of Environmental Protection Agency health standards. But internal county reports concluded that the continued presence of asbestos "may pose a potential health risk" for employees and visitors. Asbestos removal would cost at least $5.2 million, officials say.

"The building is really at the end of its useful life," said José A. Comayagua Jr., the county's facilities management director. "We have to look at all of our options, and the chief one is to move."

Comayagua said that the building has not been closed since the mid-December incident but that workers have noticed leaks and tripped breakers recently.

Of about 180 county-owned buildings, Massey is in the worst shape. Among the most critical problems are the building's overloaded electrical system, outdated heating and cooling systems, faulty plumbing and roof, obsolete fire alarms and asbestos-caked pipes and beams, according to county inspections and reports.

Several of Fairfax's aging public buildings, including Massey and the Pine Ridge police facility in central Fairfax, have been slated for renovation or demolition for years. More than a third of county buildings are more than 30 years old, and almost 60 percent are more than 20 years old.

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