In the other budget show at the Capitol Wednesday, the House Democrats laid out a $3.6 billion capital-construction plan that puts more into environmental programs than the Senate’s Republican-dominated coalition proposed.
The House plan also funds several closely watched South Sound projects.
The biggest surprise of all is a major $82 million office replacement project in Olympia. The House plan earmarks $18 million from state bonds and $64 million in future tenant rents to pay for replacement of the General Administration Building. The Washington State Patrol, Judicial Conduct Commission and other agencies still use the GA structure that was built in 1956.
House Capital Budget chair Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said the GA replacement proposal solves a problem that has bedeviled previous proposals to demolish it.
That is because it provides a new home to agencies potentially displaced by a demolition. The new GA building would be built a block away, in the space that now houses the “1063 Building” – a large structure that faces Capitol Way and until recently was home to a children’s museum. The old GA building would then be knocked down.
“It’ll save money for taxpayers and it would be the cheapest building in the state inventory (to operate and maintain) when you make the moves,” Dunshee said.
Demolition of the GA building has been sought for years, and former Gov. Chris Gregoire once called it a legal liability and money pit. The aging structure was deemed vulnerable in a 2006 report to earthquakes, and costs to keep up systems in the building continue to rise.
The Senate budget did not have money for knocking down GA – although the demolition idea got a unanimous vote of support last week by a Capitol Campus advisory group. Negotiations among the two chambers and the governors will determine whether it emerges in the final capital budget.
Several other Thurston County projects are included in the House budget plan, including money for the Thurston County Food Bank and Washington Center for the Performing Arts – both of which were funded in the Senate plan.
The House capital budget also includes a project in west Olympia for the Boys and Girls Club of Thurston County and $386,000 to help buy land for a city park on Olympia’s isthmus between Budd Inlet and Capitol Lake.
But the House plan does not specifically call for a Heritage Center project, which lost funding during the Great Recession, on the existing GA Building site. Neither does the Senate’s.
“I could be pleased with the whole capital budget if we could get some language around the eventual design and construction of the Heritage project,’’ Republican Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County said after the House announced its capital budget plans. Alexander and Secretary of State Kim Wyman are hoping the State Library could also have a permanent home in the Heritage project.
Despite uncertainty about the Heritage project, Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia called Dunshee’s proposal “extremely positive. I think it’s a good step in the right direction. We can’t afford to do everything that we want to do. But it takes a tired old building and gets it out of service.”
Hunt said the plan leaves open a place to the west of the new GA building that could be developed “for something.” He declined to say it should be for the Heritage project, although he says he liked former secretary of state Sam Reed’s idea to set it into the slope overlooking Capitol Lake. Whatever does happen, Hunt said the GA site has slope stability questions that need to be worked out over time.
But Alexander said he won’t support the plan until he sees more. “Until I see at least some linkage to that happening, I’ll be doing everything I can to get language revisions into the capital budget to make sure that happens,” Alexander said.
Dunshee said he is staying neutral on the Heritage Center proposal. He said he is willing to add language to meet Alexander’s concern and agrees the existing GA site is logical for another state office building, but he said the budget cannot bind future legislatures.