Politics & Government

O'Brien work timetable moves up

Renovations at the O'Brien office building on the Capitol Campus will speed up after causing problems for legislators and their staff members - including Adam McCrow, assistant for Rep. Barbara Bailey, who is forced to work amid boxes of office materials Wednesday.
Renovations at the O'Brien office building on the Capitol Campus will speed up after causing problems for legislators and their staff members - including Adam McCrow, assistant for Rep. Barbara Bailey, who is forced to work amid boxes of office materials Wednesday. The Olympian

A $52 million renovation of the O'Brien office building on the Capitol Campus is being reconfigured midstream after last summer's first phase proved "very disruptive" for staffers who worked through the commotion.

Some workers had to be moved to other buildings after unexpectedly harsh noise and health effects. Some had sinus and breathing problems triggered by jackhammer operation and dust; others shivered during heat outages.

Under the new plan, many lawmakers are giving up their private offices for the rest of the year, then moving into low-cost portables in December. By relocating everyone from the site, the project might be completed sooner and with less pain for everyone.

“We’re saving money, and it’s done one year earlier,” Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said Wednesday. He said he expects lawmakers will move back to the Depression-era O’Brien building by December 2011.

Dunshee and Republican Rep. Dan Kristiansen of Snohomish worked out the changes with House staff members and the Department of General Administration, which is overseeing the renovation by general contractor Berschauer Phillips Construction Co.

General Administration had thought the renovations could be done safely in four distinct phases – each done between legislative sessions, with employees rotated around the building to areas not being renovated. But the $20 million first phase was intense and intrusive – including major foundation work; installation of new vertical seismic-reinforcement walls; new electrical and fire-suppression upgrades to fix a serious electrical-fire risk detected by a consultant; and new heating, cooling, ventilation, plumbing, water-softening and telecommunications equipment.

Kristiansen described instances of water damage and a case of welders cutting into the O’Brien roof that caused some burning of ceiling tiles above the desks of legislative aides. Other staffers complained about heavy dust, sinus problems, noise and a lack of heat.

“Anyone who was around in the interim would not subject their employees to what we subjected them to. It was just awful,” said Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia.

The new plan is to put in low-cost portables – or trailer-style buildings – on a parking lot on the south edge of the Capitol Campus in October. These are to serve as temporary office spaces for legislative assistants and some House members during the 2011 session, and they are supposed to be removed by May or early June 2011.

“They are just job shacks. I think we told the neighborhood we wouldn’t even take off the wheels,” House Chief Clerk Barbara Baker said of the temporary accommodations Democrats and Republicans have agreed to use. “… We are not going to put them on concrete foundations or anything like that. … This is not standard for legislative accommodations.”

Some lawmakers, including Democratic Rep. Larry Seaquist of Gig Harbor, already have taken down nameplates next to their O’Brien office doors in anticipation of the moves to district offices. Legislators start leaving the building soon after they finish the special session that began Monday.

Others are going without offices and having their legislative aides “double-bunk” with colleagues in the Legislative Building, as Baker described it.

This week, Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, cleared her O’Brien office bookshelves and file drawers, took down wall art and readied almost 20 boxes of materials for storage or relocation into Capitol offices that her aide, Adam McCrow, will share temporarily with three other lawmakers’ aides.

“We’re actually doubling up, so instead of the two members, there will actually be four,” McCrow said, shrugging off the inconvenience that might lie ahead.

Like others displaced during the interim, Bailey will get temporary offices in the modular buildings in December for use during the 2011 session.

“I started as trailer trash,” Bailey joked, recalling that when she first came to the Legislature, it was in the middle of a renovation that forced House members into modular buildings in the Pritchard parking lot. “I guess we’re going to have to wait and see.”

Like many others, Bailey won’t have an office if she comes back to Olympia during the interim. But she will be able to use her desk and phone in the House chambers to do business.

Kristiansen said the idea of asking lawmakers to use their desks was suggested last year by Rep. Don Cox, a Republican who since has retired.

Hunt said most lawmakers are willing to live with the inconvenience, having gone through it before, like Bailey.

So far, the South Capitol Neighborhood Association is open to the changes. Hunt has served as a go-between for the state and neighbors, who have objected before to state encroachments.

“It is their parking lot; they have to do this work with O’Brien,” association president Greg Klein said. “We understand they are in this predicament. We are having ongoing discussions with them, and they have been productive. The nice thing is there are no surprises.”

But there still is a question about where cars displaced by the portable structures will park on campus, and Hunt said he wants to answer that question.

And lobbyists, who will lose their hangout area in the Pritchard Building, have not been told where they will be able to congregate during the 2011 session. One option is the General Administration Building, Baker said; another is space used by the capital press corps.

Baker said the state is saving about $3.2 million by doing the project in a shorter time. About half of that already was spent on replacing windows with more energy-efficient ones, doing roof-replacement work last summer and making other upgrades to audio-visual infrastructure; some of the other savings now could be spent on additional audio-visual upgrades for committee rooms and furnishings.

GA project manager Dwayne Harkness said the weak construction market has allowed an additional $2 million in savings realized in the form of low bids from subcontractors.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688