A proposal to demolish the state's General Administration building near the Capitol could soon morph into a plan to board up or mothball the white, boxy structure.
State Rep. Hans Dunshee, the Snohomish Democrat who chairs the House Capital Budget Committee, says it might be better to relocate 600 people from various agencies in the GA building and simply “abandon” the structure.
He also questions knocking down both GA and the adjacent structures, which would leave two big vacant city blocks.
“Right now, I’m not too hot on the idea of tearing it down and leaving it for a sheep field,” Dunshee said.
Gov. Chris Gregoire last month proposed spending $6.3 million to demolish the 55-year-old building, which is seen as seismically vulnerable, a liability risk and in need of extremely costly upgrades. The Democratic governor also wanted to demolish an adjacent square block of structures that have a parking garage and office space used by a law practice, the local children’s museum and other tenants.
GA director Joyce Turner told The Olympian’s editorial board this week that she and the governor still prefer knocking down the GA building, the building at 1063 Capitol Way and the parking garage, which has weight limits for vehicles.
But at Dunshee’s request, her staff is looking into the costs for “hard” and “soft” mothballing of the GA building.
Under the “hard” approach, the building would be left vacant without maintenance for vulnerable systems such as heating pipes – on the theory it would be taken down at a time that made more sense. A “soft” approach would leave open a renovation option, but Turner was skeptical of that penciling out.
“You could build a modern building for less than it would cost to renovate the General Administration building,” she said.
Dunshee said he is bothered by the costs at a time when less money is available for capital projects, and the state needs the parking. Also, he has received queries from tenants in the office structure who wondered where they’ll get offices if the “1063 building” is knocked down.
Dunshee’s concern about leaving a big vacant space is shared by some businesses that already have seen state agencies move out of two big Columbia Street buildings on the north side of the Capitol Campus. Connie Lorenz, the executive director of the Olympia Downtown Association, said last month she understood the state’s desire to consolidate agencies, but not to level two city blocks.
“The thought of empty lots there – what are you going to do? Why take out the parking? Why not just leave them up, like the (campus) greenhouse, until you’re going to have something there?” Lorenz said.
Turner said “there is a downside” to leaving the areas vacant but that it would be temporary, and new structures eventually might go there.
“Everyone recognizes that the economy will get better. It’s not a permanent proposal” to leave barren land, she said.
Democratic Sen. Karen Fraser of Thurston County is among those who favor demolishing the GA building. And Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia and Republican Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County have raised their eyebrows over leaving it intact.
“I think we either use it or we tear it down,” Hunt said, fearing what plywood covered windows and vandalism might bring to the scene. “You don’t want it to look like post-war Berlin.”
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/politicsblog