Between a rock and a hard place

Boulders from underground vault repurposed for plaza

Victor Greco, principal architect with the Mills Group, stands near the large stones — once part of an underground vault — that have been repurposed for use in the outdoor plaza at the Health Plan’s new headquarters in downtown Wheeling. — Scott McCloskey

WHEELING — When several large underground vaults were unearthed during site excavation for the Health Plan’s new headquarters, some may have believed the project was caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

But in a classic example of turning an obstacle into an opportunity, project planners decided to incorporate the large boulders that once formed those vaults into the landscaping of the almost-complete building’s spacious outdoor plaza along Market Street.

As the vaults — thought to have been used as storage for beer, wine and liquor during the 19th century — were revealed, it was decided early in the construction process to repurpose that slice of Wheeling’s history for its newest addition, according to architect Victor Greco of the Mills Group, which designed the Health Plan’s headquarters in the 1100 block between Main and Market streets.

“All these stones were down there as part of all that,” Greco said of the boulders that now decorate the plaza.

Greco said officials of the Health Plan were excited from the beginning about the opportunities the discovery presented.

“The Health Plan was pleased to be able to repurpose the stones from the vaults and incorporate it into the overall design of the landscape architecture. We were happy we could preserve a little bit of Wheeling’s history,” said Wendy Hodorowski, marketing director for the Health Plan.

Greco said once company officials decided they wanted to create an outdoor plaza space with the larger stones, a number of people worked together to make it happen.

“They didn’t want this to be a big sea of parking, they wanted this to be part green space and part parking lot,” Greco said, adding the natural slope of the terrain fit well in creating an amphitheater for the employees to enjoy. “They plan on having events out here … plus it’s a nice park setting for the employees.”

Greco said the city was gracious about allowing the boulders to be stored on city property until it was time to put them in place.

“They are designed to sit on, have a lunch out here, plus if an event goes on … it becomes a seating wall,” Greco said. “We were conscious about the stones in their original place and it had a lot to do with the heritage of Wheeling,” Greco said.

Dino Colaianni, owner of Colaianni Construction of Dillonvale and general contractor for the Health Plan project, said despite the boulders weighing hundreds of pounds each, it was not a difficult task to create the walls with the help of an excavator.

Greco said he is extremely excited not only with the outside landscaping end of the project, but about how well the entire project has turned out.

“I’ve been on this for two and a half years. I have to thank Don Rigby … and Craig O’Leary at (Regional Economic Development Partnership) for introducing the client to us. It’s not often that somebody who works three or four blocks down the road has this caliber of a project in their backyard,” Greco said. “It’s fun, there’s some historical overtones, it’s got an industrial feel inside and there’s textures of stone and wood.”

The first 60 or so employees moved into the building last week, with a total of about 350 expected to be working in the building by the end of January.