Politics & Government

‘It’s a great day’ in new state offices

Meri Masters got her first look at her work space Monday morning in state government’s newest building. Like many fellow workers, she was initially pleased but reserved a bit of judgment.

“So far, so good … I can sit down, and my computer is running,” Masters, a Department of Personnel recruiting specialist, said cheerfully on the third floor of the 1500 Jefferson Building. Beyond that: “I’ll let you know … It’s a beautiful building.’’

About 97 workers from the state Departments of Information Services and Personnel were in the first wave of employees to fill the $255 million office building and data-center complex. They had personal key cards to let them into secure sections of the building where they’ll work, and most still had to empty the orange plastic crates filled with office doo-dads they brought from their old locations.

Because their new home is a high-tech energy efficient building with automated climate control and no-glare window shades, they sat through a 40-minute orientation to learn “how to live in the building,” as Information Services spokeswoman Joanne Todd put it. That includes rules against having personal microwaves or coffee makers at desks.

The six-story, stone-clad structure has automated window blinds, as well as white-noise emitters that diminish the sound impact of conversations in worker cubicles. Low-energy lighting systems save energy and reduce the need for summer air conditioning.

“It’s a great day,” declared Cindy Edens, project manager for Seattle-based developer Wright Runstad, which oversaw the 22-month construction of the complex. The building is designed to qualify for the highest or platinum rating with the U.S. Green Building Code Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

Wright Runstad also is managing and maintaining the structure as part of a 30-year lease-to-own agreement between the state and a nonprofit, FYI Properties, that owns the structure.

Wright Runstad built the Department of Corrections building in Tumwater a few years ago, but the 1500 Jefferson Building is the first for Wright that might qualify for the platinum rating for sustainability. The firm’s calculations show it should make the cut by one point, Edens said.

Among the building’s features are low-flow toilets, high levels of natural lighting, including “solatube” sky lights in conference rooms, blinds to limit unwanted heat gain, energy efficient lighting, including motion-activated lights, recycled water for irrigating the landscaping, replanted trees surrounding the structure, and a program for recycling and composting waste materials. The building has eight exterior plug-ins for electric cars, and the project added a small triangular park nearby that links to a pedestrian and bicycle trail.

The project also is a second or third use for a seven-acre state-owned site a few blocks east of the Capitol. The landscape features oak trees that were dug up, then replanted – offering instant impact as they rise into view from third floor office windows.

Edens said some landscaping and a few features of the building, including furnishings, still need to be finished. Things still missing: software being developed for the blinds and large coffee machines that will be installed in kitchen areas.

A cafe in the south building side – which eventually will house the state data center and computer servers that are part of a new Consolidated Technology Services agency – is not expected to be in operation until early next year, according to Gail Powell, a Wright Runstad general manager and part of the building’s property-management team.

A few workers had questions. One wanted to know how to get into the building if he came in before security officers were staffing the structure at 6 a.m. each day. Another had a new desk that didn’t work quite right. Another wondered how to reserve space in a locker room equipped with showers for people who commute by bicycle.

A few people had trouble with their new phones and computers, including Personnel spokeswoman Jenn Reynolds.

“There are little glitches here and there but nothing major,’’ Reynolds said, noting the isolated connectivity problem she had and extra trips that professional movers made to retrieve crates of belongings for some staffers.

“I think it’s really nice. It’s clean,” said Carol Skinner, a computer and information consultant for Information Services, who was still adjusting to the 8-foot-by-8-foot work cubicle that she and others were assigned to. “I don’t like the lack of space, but I understand we all have to be crammed (in). I’m looking forward to the journey.”

By late afternoon Todd said she was surprised by how uneventful the day had been. “For all the hubbub we had the last few weeks it’s pretty quiet right now,” she said. “I’m surprised. I thought we would have a lot more.”

Monday’s move-in was the first of about nine waves of employee relocations that are part of a major shuffling of Thurston County real-estate space leased or owned by the state. The new office building ultimately will house 1,000 employees from four agencies that are merging there Oct. 1 to become a new Department of Enterprise Services.

That will combine many of the functions of Personnel, General Administration, Printing and Information Services into one central agency that provides what Gov. Chris Gregoire is calling “shared services.’’ Those services include real estate leasing, purchasing and supplies, data services, payroll and human resources.

The structure took 22 months to construct and is designed to last 75 to 100 years, like the state Capitol. Seismic engineering that included columns driven deep into the soft soils of the area should help the structure weather earthquakes.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 bshannon@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/politicsblog