SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State lawmaker Amy Summers remembers walking through the State Police Crime Lab a few years ago with several other lawmakers and they noticed water dripping from a hole in the ceiling.

The rendering of the new consolidated lab
facility. (Photo/MetroNews)

“It was dripping in on equipment which could have also been evidence,” Summers, R-Taylor, said Tuesday at a groundbreaking for the new $250 million State Consolidated Lab project to be located at the West Virginia Regional Technology Park in South Charleston.

“We set up tours of every single lab and we said, ‘They’re deplorable. They are horrible,’” Summers said. “We need workers and these workers that we do have deserve better workspace, better conditions.”

Summers, the chair of the House Committee on Health, said the visits created the momentum that resulted in the funding for the project. The last half was approved in last August’s special session.

“And that’s what it took, it took taking people to the different labs to see the condition and realize we have to spend money on this,” Summers said.

House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said the state’s current labs are in sore need of replacement.

“They are at the end or well past the end of their functional life. We have people working in conditions that are substandard. We are unable to perform some of the services that need to be performed in a timely manner because of lack of space,” Hanshaw told MetroNews Tuesday. “We are unable to afford dignity to human remains that are in our care.”

State Department of Administration Secretary Mark Scott told state lawmakers back in February that the facility will be approximately 300,000 square feet.

Moving in will be the state Department of Health’s Office of Laboratory Services, which is currently three labs in separate locations. The state Medical Examiner’s Office, which is currently located on Charleston’s West Side. The State Police Crime Lab that is currently located at State Police Headquarters in South Charleston. The Division of Labor’s Office of Weights and Measures will move from its lab in St. Albans into the facility. Labs associated with WVU and Marshall will also have a presence there.

Although there will be some shared space like restrooms and lobby areas, each of the labs will be self-contained and strictly controlled by the agency in charge.

State Department of Health Secretary Dr. Sherri Young said her agency is excited to bring the Office of Laboratory Services and the Chief Medical Examiner into the new lab.

Dirt has been removed from the site in
recent months to create about 10 acres of
property for construction. (Photo/MetroNews)

“We’re going to be able to be more efficient in getting these services out to the folks of West Virginia and we couldn’t be more excited about it,” Young said.

Young, Hanshaw and Summers all agree the new facility will be a great recruitment tool.

“I’ve always believed that if we can get folks to West Virginia we can keep them and when you have a state-of-the-art facility this is just another tool in our pocket to get folks into West Virginia,” Young said.

Plans for the facility won’t be completed until early next year. Construction is expected to take two to three years. Gov. Jim Justice, who attended Tuesday’s groundbreaking, expressed hope that the project could move more quickly.

“I’m the most impatient person in the room,” Justice said.

Technology Park Executive Director Matt Ballard said the new labs will bring about 300 additional people to the park which currently has approximately 950 workers who are employed by 28 STEM-based businesses.

Crews have cleared about 10 acres at the park for the project. The dirt taken from the site was used on the Park Place shopping complex in South Charleston.

“This is very exciting and it further solidifies us as a science-innovation hub,” he said.

The state Department of Agriculture is not part of the consolidated lab project. Gov. Jim Justice announced plans earlier this year to build a new state agriculture lab at West Virginia State University. State lawmakers have yet to approve funding for the project.