In the other budget show at the Capitol today, the House Democrats laid out a $3.6 billion capital-construction plan that puts more into environmental programs than the Senate’s Republican-dominated coalition has proposed. It also funds several closely-watched South Sound projects.
The biggest surprise of all is a major $82 million office replacement project in Olympia. The House plan earmarks $18 million from state bonds and $64 million in future tenant rents to pay for replacement of the General Administration Building. The Washington State Patrol, Judicial Conduct Commission and other agencies still use the GA structure that was built in 1956.
House Capital Budget chair Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said the GA replacement proposal solves a problem that has bedeviled previous proposals to demolish it. That is because building a new structure nearby provides a new home to agencies displaced by a demolition – namely the State Patrol. The new building go in the adjacent block that now has a parking garage and a structure known as the “1063 Building.” The latter structure faces Capitol Way and until recently was home to a children’s museum.
“It’ll save money for taxpayers and it would be the cheapest building in the state inventory (to operate and maintain) when you make the moves,” Dunshee said after a hearing on his budget bill today.
Several other projects important to South Sound are included in the House budget plan, including money for the Thurston County Food Bank and Washington Center for the Performing Arts – both of which were funded in the Senate plan. Also funded by the House is a project in west Olympia for the Boys and Girls Club of Thurston County and $386,000 to help buy land for a city park on Olympia’s isthmus between Budd Inlet and Capitol Lake.
But the House plan does not specifically call for a Heritage Center project, which lost funding during the Great Recession, on the existing GA Building site. The Senate budget did not have money for knocking down GA or to start the Heritage project either – although the demolition idea got a unanimous vote of support last week by a Capitol Campus advisory group.
“I’m pleased with a number of those projects. I could be pleased with the whole capital budget if we could get some language around the eventual design and construction of the Heritage project,’’ Republican Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County said after the House announced its capital budget plans. Alexander and Secretary of State Kim Wyman are hoping the State Library could also have a permanent home in the Heritage project.
Demolition of the GA building has been under scrutiny for years, and former governor Chris Gregoire once called it a legal liability and money pit. One reason for her scorn is the aging structure was deemed vulnerable in a 2006 report to earthquakes, and costs to keep up systems in the building keep going up.
Despite uncertainty about the Heritage project, Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia called Dunshee’s proposal “extremely positive. I think it’s a good step in the right direction. We can’t afford to do everything that we want to do. But it takes a tired old building and gets it out of service.”
Hunt said the plan leaves open a place to the west of the new GA building that could be developed “for something.” He declined to say it should be for the Heritage project, although he says he liked former secretary of state Sam Reed’s original idea to set it into the slope overlooking Capitol Lake. Whatever does happen, Hunt said the GA site has slope stability questions that need to be worked out over time.
But Alexander said he won’t be supporting the plan until he sees more. “Until I see at least some linkage to that happening, I’ll be doing everything I can to get language revisions into the capital budget to make sure that happens,” Alexander said.
Dunshee said he is staying neutral on the Heritage Center proposal. He said he is willing to add language to meet Alexander’s concern and agrees the existing GA site is logical for another state office building, but he said the budget cannot bind future legislatures.
Among the other South Sound projects that do get money in the House plan:
–$1 million for the Thurston County Food Bank, which is buying a warehouse in Tumwater, equipping it with refrigerators and putting a new roof on its client-services site in downtown Olympia. The Senate also had $1 million.
–$816,000 to help repair the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia, part of a nearly $4.6 million project. The Senate had the same allocation.
–$800,000 for a Thurston County Boys and Girls Club facility project to be located on land belonging to Garfield Elementary. Club CEO Joe Ingoglia said the clubs have raised $1.7 million toward a $6 million goal for the $4.5 million structure and some operating costs. “We have a small program based out of Jefferson Middle School now. The idea is we’d be able to serve a lot more kids in a higher quality program if we are able to build the new club,’’ Inglogia said.
–$1 million for the nonprofit Behavioral Health Resources, which is seeking to secure a building near its Martin Way complex. Alexander, who used to work for BHR, said the organization would move its administrative offices into the complex that would be shared with a private entity. UPDATE: The Senate put in $163,000.
–$7.3 million for continuing work on a Deschutes Watershed Center, upstream from Tumwater Falls. This includes replacing the fish-holding facility at Tumwater Falls Park and site work at Tumwater’s Pioneer Park for what can eventually be a new hatchery. The Senate had $219,000 for the watershed center.
— $110,000 for access development at the Woodard Bay recreation and conservation area that belongs to the Department of Natural Resources northeast of Olympia. The Senate
did not fund itbudgeted $163,000.
Left out of the House and Senate plans was $1 million to help Capitol Land Trust purchase 427 acres slated for development along the Deschutes River watershed.
Both the House and Senate budget plans went to hearings today. It is not clear yet when the Senate budget committee may hold votes on it but Dunshee plans a committee vote on Friday.
The Legislature adjourns April 28 – if it can finish its work in 105 days.