Once again, a proposal to replace the General Administration Building and give the Washington State Patrol a new home is getting stuck on the prongs of partisan politics.
Most Capitol-watchers have had their eyes on the fight between House Democrats and Senate Republicans over whether taxes are needed to fund an operating budget.
But there is a second circus tent at the Legislature with an important show playing under it. This one deals with the capital construction budget, where key Senate Republicans have dug in with opposition to financing the remaining $69 million for the $82 million project.
Known as the 1063 Block Replacement Project, the sleekly modern structure would sit on the northeast corner of the Capitol Campus along 11th Avenue and Capitol Way. It is proposed on the site of buildings that once housed a children’s museum and TVW’s first studios, as well as an adjacent parking garage.
About $13 million was authorized in past budget cycles and — despite Senate Republicans’ concerns about the project’s size and cost per square foot — the Department of Enterprise Services has moved ahead with design work using some of the money. Last year DES authorized additional work by a design-build team of architects and contractors that won a bidding competition. The agency expects the design will be 40 percent complete by June 30.
To its small credit, amid the uncertainty, DES held off on demolition to clear the land. But in part because DES went ahead, $10.9 million has already been spent or is encumbered — which, in effect, means it must be paid even if the project is killed on July 1.
Democratic Rep. Hans Dunshee of Snohomish has been a major force behind the project, saying it can be an environmentally green model for new buildings that use far less electricity and have far lower operating costs than most private sector structures. As House capital budget chairman, he has contended the state can save some $57 million over 30 years and a whopping $880 million over 75 years if it owns the building instead of leasing office space from the private sector.
Dunshee also argues that its cost to tenants is actually going to be lower in the short term than rival private sector projects.
Some Republicans led by his Senate budget-writing counterpart, Sen. Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside, have questioned the size and cost of the project; Honeyford has suggested the state would not break even financially for many years compared to a leased building. For the time being, Honeyford has dropped his alternative proposal, which was to have private developers construct a smaller structure off campus for less money — and therefore, lower rents.
The project is an important one for Olympia. It would provide a new home to the State Patrol close to the campus, and it would help show the new way forward for public-building construction in our state. Several smaller agencies would also move in.
Most importantly, the state-of-the-art building would let the state finally empty the General Administration Building, which needs a major overhaul of mechanical systems and is considered inadequate in an earthquake. Getting GA eventually demolished — has been a goal of two governors, but the Great Recession killed the best previous chance of moving ahead.
Consultants have said renovating GA would be far more expensive than the new building proposed by Dunshee. Whatever is decided, the state would do our city great disservice by leaving vacant, deteriorating buildings in such a prominent location for years.
If costs are as low as Dunshee says, this State Patrol project needs to go forward.