Future of GA Building at Capitol in question

Report finds aging structure would cost $124 million-plus to renovate, $161 million to demolish and replace

Staff writerDecember 3, 2012 

The fate of an aging General Administration Building near the Capitol is looking less certain going into the 2013 legislative session after a consultant’s report pegged renovation costs at more than $124 million.

The report from SRG Partnership shows it would cost $161 million to demolish and replace the more than 55-year-old building.

But renovating it under the only scenario SRG saw reasonable could cost $124.56 million, far more than the $90 million SRG estimated in a 2006 report.

Whatever is decided, the 284,000-square-foot GA building has aging heat, plumbing, electrical and air systems as well as seismic weaknesses that leave it vulnerable in an earthquake. The state Department of Enterprise Services is asking state lawmakers for $750,000 next year for various repairs to keep the structure functioning.

State Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Thurston County, sees the report as more evidence it’s time to move on to a long-term solution that includes a new building. Alexander tried to get the Capitol Campus Design Advisory Committee to take a position on the report Thursday when it heard SRG’s presentation, but there were too few members available for a vote.

“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.

CCDAC is an advisory board that includes lawmakers and architects. It reviews Capitol Campus proposals and forwards its recommendations on to other state bodies, making it a first stop for vetting proposals on the campus.

SRG’s Dennis Forsyth said the only workable renovation includes installation of a big light well structure from the roof down to the second floor, as well as major shoring up to accommodate the weight of moving the State Library there.

Alexander’s preference to start over with a new building puts him in the company of other South Sound leaders, including Democratic Sen. Karen Fraser of Thurston County, Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia and Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican heading toward retirement in another month.

Fraser and Reed spearheaded a proposal to replace GA with a Heritage Center housing the State Library and archives, as well as a next-door executive office building.

Completed in 1956, the box-like structure houses the State Patrol headquarters as well as transition offices for Gov.-elect Jay Inslee, some state budget and personnel offices, and the state Judicial Conduct Commission, among others.

Fraser and Reed’s Heritage Center was on its way to reality, and GA was supposed to be cleared away in 2010 to accommodate it. But the economic downturn badly reduced a key funding source and the project was put on indefinite hold, even after a scaled-back version was drawn.

Then, fearing the GA building was becoming a legal liability, Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed in late 2010 to demolish the building at a cost of just over $6.3 million. In 2011, the Legislature authorized a new $150,000 evaluation by SRG.

Democratic Rep. Hans Dunshee of Snohomish, who writes the House capital budget, said last week that he had not seen the new report but sees no urgency for action on GA in the 2013-15 budget.

Even so, Dunshee said he regards the GA site as a good one for a future state office building that could further consolidate state agencies near the Capitol as state government continues to be streamlined under a new administration.

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 deficiencies in its environmental and utility systems.

In his briefing to CCDAC, 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.

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