As part of her budget request to the state Legislature, Gov. Chris Gregoire is proposing to spend $6.3 million to demolish the outdated General Administration building on the bluff overlooking Capitol Lake.
The building is wearing out and deserves demolition.
“That thing is a liability. It’s an unfunded liability. It is a pit,” Gregoire told The Olympian’s editorial board while discussing her 2011-13 budget proposal.
We agree. The fact is the aging General Administration Building is draining state coffers at an alarming rate. This fall the heating system failed and it cost half a million dollars to repair. The white-block building was without heat or hot water for six weeks.
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The building is a serious liability should a sizeable earthquake rumble through the South Sound. Water from its pipes is not suitable for drinking. On a recent Monday morning the building’s 600 workers shivered at their desks while they waited for the building’s internal temperature of 43 degrees to climb to tolerable levels.
It’s time for the building to go.
The governor’s proposal is not new. As part of the plan to build a Heritage Center — a combination visitor information and state library — the GA building would be demolished. The project, which has been put on hold because of the state budget crisis, could be built in a different location when the recession ends and the economy rebounds.
When plans were announced to destroy the GA building as early as June 2010, there was no community outcry to save it. In fact, most South Sound residents responded with a “good riddance.”
The building, which was designed by architect A. Gordon Lumm in what is called the “international style,” was completed in 1956. It simply is not a good fit with the monumental buildings and their stone pillars that dominate the west Capitol Campus. The General Administration Building stands out, not for its outstanding appearance, but, instead, as an unassuming and unattractive oddity on what many consider to be the most beautiful Capitol Campus in the United States.
A report done in 2006 for General Administration concluded that renovation of the building could cost $90 million, including seismic improvements. It would cost more to renovate the structure and bring it up to seismic codes than it would to build a new executive office building.
Although the GA building is listed on a national historic register, deputy state historic preservation officer Greg Griffith said that is an honorary recognition and would not block the demolition.
If, as the governor asks, the Legislature agrees to relocate the employees and demolish the building, it’s imperative that a couple of the building’s key historic features be salvaged.
The large replica of the state seal featuring a profile of President George Washington is definitely worth saving. As is the impressive 315-square-foot mosaic mural showing the state’s industrial, scientific and economic heritage. The mural dominates the lobby of the General Administration Building and draws rave reviews from visitors.
Its 180,000 pieces of glass and stone could be — and should be — relocated.
Moving the 600 employees who work for more than a dozen agencies will be a challenge — but not an insurmountable one. With shrinking state government, there is space available in and around the capital city. In fact, moving the employees fits nicely with Gregoire’s separate budget plan to combine government agencies. The governor is proposing to combine General Administration with other small agencies into a Department of Enterprise Services.
The governor’s demolition plan also calls for leveling of the General Administration parking garage and buildings that make up the adjacent block that now houses the Hands On Children’s Museum. The museum is heading to a new home at the Port of Olympia in early 2012.
Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, who has drafted the Senate’s construction budget for years, is right when she says, “The problem is the GA building has reached the end of its life. The conditions in there are terrible.”
We agree. It’s time for lawmakers to summon the wrecking ball.