Green light for new energy-efficient state building

State-paid contractors will begin demolition on a full city block near the state Capitol as soon as August. Clearing the site makes way for a future office building that is expected to house the State Patrol headquarters and other agencies. The building is designed to the highest standards of energy efficiency.

The capital construction budget approved last week by the Legislature included authorization of the long-awaited $69 million needed for the rest of the project. Completing the structure in 2017 lets the State Patrol and other agencies finally move out of the aging, earthquake-vulnerable General Administration Building that sits on the north edge of the Capitol Campus.

The new five-story building, known as the 1063 project, covers an entire block, which sits next door to the GA structure. The site borders the Capitol Campus along 11th Avenue and is bounded by Capitol Way, Union Avenue and Columbia Street. Parking structures and a dilapidated building that formerly housed a children’s museum, sandwich shop and offices occupy the site today.

A political meltdown early Wednesday in the Republican-controlled Senate left a bond bill, which finances a large share of projects in the $3.9 billion capital budget, in limbo. The measure authorizes general obligation bonds and requires a 60 percent super-majority vote. That needs to be fixed, but fortunately funds for this building are not in doubt.

Politics roiling under the capital-bond delay are centered on a fight over suspending Initiative 1351’s mandate to reduce school class sizes. Before voting for that, minority Democrats wanted to first win passage of a bill reducing the tests given to high school students for graduation, which majority Republicans have resisted.

The WSP office building project is already moving ahead because it relies on revenue bonds backed by future agency rents, which are already approved in the capital budget, according to the state Department of Enterprise Services, which hired a team last year to design and build the project.

In order to have the structure completed by 2017, DES wants the team of Sellen Construction and ZGF Architects to get moving soon, DES spokesman Jim Erskine said.

“Demolition is very likely to begin in August or September,” Erskine said.

Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, said the budget has wording that requires further analysis of space-utilization in the structure and a second look at which agencies are the most appropriate tenants.

Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, championed the project’s green design, which used an architectural and construction team to develop a building that must meet certain performance goals. These include a low maintenance and operations cost that is lower than for other state buildings. The project had bipartisan support in the House.

Critics say the rent will be way too expensive at $34 per square foot and that most local office rent is much lower. They also question the elimination of parking stalls.

Key Senate Republicans had opposed the project for these reasons, but lawmakers allocated $13 million for planning and design work two years ago and more than $10 million is already spent or committed.

Dunshee says the original $26 per foot rent cost is still in the cards. We hope he and the project prove critics wrong.