Published November 29, 2012
UPDATE - Consultant: $161M to replace GA buildingBrad Shannon
What to do about the aging General Administration Building near Washington’s Capitol remains an unanswered question two years after Gov. Chris Gregoire called it a liability and a “pit” and proposed to demolish it. The latest evaluation by SRG Partnership Inc. shows it would cost $161 million to demolish and replace with a new facility that includes the State Library and a Heritage Center. Of six options outlined by SRG, only two come as “recommended” – the full replacement option and a lesser renovation option costing $124.56 million that includes installation of a big light well structure from the roof down to the 2nd floor. Copies of the more than 350-page report were part of a briefing this morning to the state’s Capitol Campus Design Advisory Committee, which reviews Capitol Campus proposals and forwards its recommendations on to other state bodies. Copies are to be posted at a later time at www.des.wa.gov. Republican state Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County sits on the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee, and he’s long advocated replacing the building with a Heritage Center promoted previously by Democratic Sen. Karen Fraser of Thurston County and retiring Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican. “I just want a clear message from the advisory committee that this is the preferred method – we want a new facility and let’s get over spending money on alternatives. Let’s start looking at a pathway to do exactly that,” Alexander said after the briefing session. He said Sen. Fraser and Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, share his concerns. Other members of the advisory committee had questions about the GA structure, but there were too few attending to take action on any recommendation, and its next session is not scheduled until Feb. 17. But after hearing the briefing, Alexander said he’s interested in calling a special meeting very soon to address the building issue by itself. The SRG report was ordered by state lawmakers a year ago in House Bill 1497, and its cost is estimated at $150,000, according to the Department of Enterprise Services. Democratic Rep. Hans Dunshee of Snohomish, who writes the House capital budget, has suggested the building should be knocked down and replaced by pasture, an idea that drew rebukes from Olympia lawmakers and local businesses when he broached it two years ago. Dunshee’s skepticism about replacing the building was rooted in the recession of the time, and it is unlikely to change soon given costs outlined by SRG. The new report is actually the third done - following serious reviews of the GA building in 1992 and 2006. SRG’s findings reiterate past concerns about the safety of the building. These include its seismic durability, and SRG calls out deficiencies in its environmental and utility systems, too. The building was completed in 1956 and designed by architect A. Gordon Lumm in what is called the “International Style.” It was erected before modern seismic codes were adopted, and no major upgrade has occurred since, according to the 2006 report, also done by SRG. The GA building has a historic mural and other features. It also continues to be used despite Gregoire’s claims in 2010 the building is a safety liability and “pit,” and it is home to several hundred state employees. Of those, more than 200 are with the Washington State Patrol, which has been unofficially reluctant to pull its headquarters out of the building. In his briefing to CCDAC, Dennis Forsyth of SRG Partnership pointed out the structure’s many weaknesses and high costs needed to strengthen the structure so it could bear the weight of a library, which the Office of the Secretary of State would like to return to the Capitol Campus from temporary quarters in Tumwater. “It is beyond its useful life,” Forsyth said at one point. “You are kind of stuck when you start to put any money into it,” he added at another juncture. And once such investments are made, Forsyth said “the problem is you still have what we call a big box” that is not conducive to bringing natural light into interior work spaces. The result is that if a renovation is done, the firm’s second recommendation is for the atrium, which he said would provide a “much better building.’’ Forsyth also said the gap between renovation and replacement costs are widening - from just $2 million in 1992 to the roughly $30 million of his report. One historic register report kept by the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation says the GA structure was the first major building on the Capitol Campus after the Great Depression. The project represented the post-war growth of state government and its “re-centralization after a 1954 Supreme Court ruling that said agency headquarters needed to be in the Olympia area. The report says the architecture used an “exterior minimalist” style and the interior had flexibility that included moveable steel wall panels. As I reported in 2010, the white-colored GA building:
“commands a view of Capitol Lake and southern Puget Sound but is considered a risk in an earthquake. Water from its taps isn’t drinkable. Workers on a couple of recent Monday mornings shivered in overcoats as the building’s 43-degree interior warmed from weekend chills. Then there are the ventilation and fire sprinkler systems that fall well short of modern codes. A heating system failure this fall required more than $500,000 in emergency repairs to fix steam valves and piping that left the building without heat or hot water for six weeks, and a full renovation of the building could cost $90 million more. Those are among the reasons Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed to relocate about 600 workers using the structure and spend $6.3 million to knock it down – starting as soon as December 2011.Of course, Gregoire's plan fell apart. And even that plan was a fall-back position. Under earlier plans championed by Reed and Fraser to build a Heritage Center and executive office building on the site of GA, the building was slated for demolition by June 2010. The original Heritage Center project stalled when the slow economy shrank a fund source. Although GA is listed on a national historic register, then-deputy state historic preservation officer Greg Griffith said in 2010 that that was an honorary recognition and would not block the demolition. Griffith also said GA had gone through a process to determine how to save historic features of the building including a large replica of the state seal on the exterior and a 315-square-foot mosaic or mural showing the state’s industrial, scientific and economic heritage. The mural was done in 1959 by artist Jean Cory Beall. In comments made in 2010, Steve Valandra of the year-old Department of Enterprise Services said that the 2006 pre-design report for the ill-starred Heritage Center project had provisions for the historic features at GA. He had said an historic building survey would be done prior to any demolition. That same pre-design report also said historic and character-defining features of the structure – including the mural, exterior sandstone, and the state seal – would be identified, salvaged and possibly reused. The mural is a key piece containing 180,000 pieces of glass and stone. UPDATE: Rep. Dunshee says there is no urgency to act on the GA building this year, although Enterprise Services is putting in a request in the 2013-15 capital budget for $750,000 for relatively minor repairs on the structure. The agency request covers possible system failures and safety repairs. That said, Dunshee did not completely rule out chances of a project in the next few years. In fact, he said the GA location on the north side of the Capitol Campus is "a great spot to have a lot of agencies" at whatever time the state starts moving agencies together again. It is close to the Legislative Building and also to downtown, he noted. "As we shrink (government), that's the place we should shrink to," Dunshee said.