Several state building projects should be of particular interest to residents of Alaska’s capital city, two here in Juneau and the other is up north in Anchorage. We are all connected from Barrow to Ketchikan, Nome to Tok, residing across a vast territory but all being Alaskans.
The Alaska Departments of Labor & Workforce Development and Public Safety unquestionably need new office space to replace the dilapidated venues where their Juneau operations are currently housed. The so-called Plywood Palace near the Douglas Bridge housing Labor, and Public Safety’s siding shack on Whittier are too old and thrashed to justify remodeling. It makes sense to build a new facility for these agencies with capacity to house other state employees.
Juneau’s legislators advanced a plan to build a new State Office Building on the plot in front of Coast Guard Station Juneau Headquarters several years ago. While this bill passed the House unanimously, it died in the Senate, for reasons that probably never be clear. This led more recently to renewed efforts to come up with a solid Juneau project that would be supported and funded by the Alaska Legislature. A careful comparison of possible sites in Juneau was meant to yield a designated a spot either adjacent to the existing State Office Building or, in a bold departure from convention, out the road near the Mendenhall River.
Unfortunately, plans to move forward on a new building in Juneau have again stalled. This is alarming to all capital city residents because we know we need to have the proper infrastructure to accommodate all branches of state government. Sadly, the reality appears to be that nothing solid in the way of a new State Office Building will come into being in the 2012 legislative session.
Another Juneau project is ripe for full funding in the coming legislative session, one that is fully planned and ready for the shovels to hit the dirt. The State Library, Archives & Museum (SLAM) project has been in the works for many years, and is poised to be built. The parcel of land between Foodland Center on one side and the Prospector and existing State Museum on the other has been sitting ready for years, and the last swath of trees adjacent to Egan Drive were cleared last month. This building will be energy-efficient, user-friendly and built to last.
Money for the SLAM project has been appropriated and spent to get the project to its current point, and if we can only see the final $95 million increment appropriated in the coming year’s capital budget, this project can finished by 2014. Exhibition and storage space at the current museum is full to bursting, and the present State Archives and State Library locations are woefully inadequate and prone to leaks. All three programs will be co-located in a new world-class facility of which all Alaskans can be proud. This project has been supported by successive gubernatorial administrations and received bipartisan legislative backing.
While it is distressing that the new State Office Building is on hold, this does mean that there ought to be no threatening competition for capital dollars to be allocated to large Juneau building projects in the capital budget process. Now is the perfect time to make the final investment of a significant sum which is frankly not enormous in the context of recent capital budgets.
The prime real estate on the eighth floor of the existing State Office Building that will be freed up by the relocation of the State Library will serve to provide more options as the state decides how best to provide the requisite office space in the capital city. While a large new facility will certainly need to be built soon, there are great opportunities presented by the completion of the SLAM project, all part of a bigger picture in which Juneau must play an active role.
An Anchorage project that is also a step in the right direction is acquisition of new space for the Anchorage Legislative Information Office (LIO) and legislators’ offices. I worked for many years as a legislative aide at the current 4th Avenue location in Anchorage, and it was even then not the best space. Parking was and remains inadequate for constituents and others wishing to attend hearings, and the offices themselves were oddly shaped even after remodeling efforts. Part of the way we serve Alaskans as the capital city is through the LIOs, which allow Alaskans to participate in the legislative process from afar easily and conveniently. This high level of service obviates the need to discuss the prohibitively expensive and ruinous concept of moving the capital away from Southeast, something Juneau residents should embrace.
The Legislative Council has placed a bid on a larger building near the park strip in downtown Anchorage that may become the new Anchorage legislative office building. While this building is much larger and more accessible, it is certainly not the only option. Purchase price and remodeling costs must be carefully considered alongside location. The important thing is that whatever new space in Anchorage is chosen by the Legislature is quality office space that makes legislators from across Alaska and all Alaskans who use the facility comfortable and satisfied. This project is not and need not in any way be a second Capitol Building or legislative hall.
Alaskans are extremely fortunate to have the resources to build things we need at a time when so many across the country must go without. With the SLAM project and new state offices in Juneau, and new legislative offices in Anchorage, all Alaskans will be better served by state government.
• Brown is an attorney who lives in Juneau.