Opinion Columns & Blogs

It’s urgent that we replace the GA building

One dollar. It sounds like a small amount, but that’s the big sticking point between the House and the Senate over replacing the aging and near-obsolete General Administration (GA) Building in Olympia.

As we decide what we want to do with the GA building, the Legislature is facing a choice between saving that one dollar, or saving $750 million and bringing 800 construction jobs to Olympia.

The GA building was built in 1954 — nearly a decade before the Beatles invaded the U.S. It currently serves as the home for the Washington State Patrol and a handful of other state agencies.

The building is 60 years into its 75-year life expectancy, and its age couldn’t be more apparent. A 2012 review of the building concluded it has “serious life safety, environmental and systems deficiencies” that need major renovation to bring it up to today’s standards.

The safety concerns are significant enough that the city of Olympia will not allow new tenants to occupy the building, which is 53 percent empty.

The GA building is old and unsafe. It’s quickly becoming obsolete and will soon be uninhabitable. We must move forward with a new solution.

We have a plan in place to build a new energy efficient 21st century building where the old Hands On Children’s Museum and the two-story parking garage are located.

This new building would bring about 800 jobs to the Olympia area — great news for our building trades, which are still suffering from double-digit unemployment.

A new building would also save taxpayers more than $750 million by owning the building outright as opposed to leasing space from the private sector.

About half of the state employees in Thurston County work in leased space, which costs taxpayers about $79 million a year.

The other half work out of state-owned facilities, which is much cheaper for taxpayers.

I deeply appreciate the partnership we have with our private office space owners. They provide the critical flexibility necessary to be a high functioning capital city. Our smaller state agencies really benefit by having both public and private sector options. However, for our larger organizations, like the State Patrol, publicly owned space is just simply a better long-term deal for the taxpayers.

To me, and I’m sure for most of you, $750 million is a lot of money. I can think of better uses for that money such as lowering class sizes in our schools, lowering college tuition costs, cleaning up our air and water, and expanding services for the mentally ill.

Last session, we did the math on what it would cost to replace the GA building and started the process to move the project forward. Since then, interest rates have risen slightly, which resulted in about a one dollar increase in the average cost per square foot of leasing versus owning in Thurston County.

The Senate is choosing this $750 million added expense to taxpayers over that one dollar difference.

This is a fiscally irresponsible approach. We can do better.

The State Patrol needs a new headquarters, and this location is an ideal choice for their new office.

Last Friday was the 13th anniversary of the Nisqually earthquake. If a similar quake were to strike our region again, the lives of the men and women who work in the GA building would be in serious jeopardy.

We cannot afford to wait to find them a new home. Their mission is to keep us all safe. It’s our responsibility to ensure their work environment is as safe as possible. We owe them that.

There’s a plan in place that will put our employees into a safer working environment, create 800 new jobs in Olympia, and save taxpayers $750 million over the life of the building. I urge the Senate to restore funding for the 1063 Block Project in its capital budget.

Rep. Chris Reykdal represents the 22nd Legislative District. He is serving his second term.