A proposal to demolish the General Administration building is slipping further into limbo while state budget writers await Thursday's gloomy revenue forecast.
General Administration officials recently estimated that costs to "mothball" the Capitol Campus structure are roughly $500,000 to $600,000 to keep its operating systems "maintained minimally enough to return the structure to use again." A cheaper "life-support" option would only maintain the life-safety systems such as fire alarms and building access controls, and it would cost $220,000 to $225,000.
Both are considerably cheaper than the $6.3 million demolition that Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed last December in her 2011-13 capital budget. Olympia-area lawmakers are still pushing for the demolition of the GA Building in January but are split on knocking down a nearby parking garage and adjacent offices.
House Capital Budget Committee chairman Hans Dunshee said today that the GA project "may be one of the last in or out" of the capital budget depending on the revenue forecast due at noon Thursday. The forecast is expected to be below previous forecasts, which would further reduce the state's ability to pay for construction projects or move the 600 employees (from several agencies that use the GA structure) to new digs.
Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed to spend $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's plan also demolishes 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.
Dunshee said today he won't divulge the direction he is taking in the capital budget – or the GA project – until the two-year budget is released next week, potentially March 21-23. But the chances of demolition sound slim. Dunshee also claimed not to have seen the new "mothball" and "life support" cost estimates that GA staffers say they sent to lawmakers a few weeks ago.
But Dunshee did say that the State Data Center construction project is already going on near the Capitol and that an additional demolition project would offer more jobs here at a time legislators "are saying, 'I want jobs in my community.' There's a desire to spread it around the state more."
In January, Dunshee had asked for mothball cost data from GA and complained that the demolition of GA and an adjacent block of buildings would leave a two-city-block vacant area. He described that as putting "a sheep field" into the north campus’ neighboring commercial district.
Dunshee said he's also hearing that the State Patrol "doesn't want to go" from GA, despite the governor's claim it is a safety and legal liability. A WSP spokesmen insisted in January that the agency leaders didn't have a preference, despite murmuring at that time they wanted to stay put.
GA director Joyce Turner is sticking with the governor's plan to knock down the GA building, the office building at 1063 Capitol Way, and the parking garage, which has weight limits for vehicles. Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, said today she also hews to that line.
A report done in 2006 for GA said renovation of the structure could cost $90 million, including seismic improvements. That would be more than a new executive office building on the site was predicted to cost in 2007, according to the agency.
Senate capital budget chair Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, refused to say where he's going in his budget plan – until he releases it after the House budget is announced. But he said: "In a time of constrained capacity we are looking at the merits of every potential expenditure and focus on things that are going to grow jobs in the short term and lay the foundation of economic growth in the long term."
Democrats such as Fraser, Rep. Chris Reykdal of Tumwater, and Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia, and Republican Rep. Gary Alexander have questioned leaving the GA building in place. Many believe it is a health risk and vulnerable in an earthquake.
"We don't need a dilapidated building on campus. I think we need to get the employees out of there. I think there are health issues," Reykdal said. He added that he "wouldn't do anything with the next block until we have a comp plan for the north end of the campus."
I guess that means no one should lay any bets or make any plans.