Last fall, the state of Alaska and the City and Borough of Juneau seemed to be well on the way to making a much-needed new state office building a reality.
Two million dollars was spent on design work. There was a long process that narrowed potential sites down to two — one downtown or one in Mendenhall Valley. Then, all of the sudden, the process screeched to a halt last October with a simple announcement by the Department of Administration.
That planned structure would have housed Department of Fish & Game workers now located in a building on Douglas in need of major work, Department of Public Safety employees in a building acknowledged — last October — by Department of Administration Commissioner Becky Hultberg to be at the end of its useful life, and Department of Labor & Workforce Development staffers currently in the Plywood Palace.
The announcement that hit the pause button on a new state office building explained the Douglas ADF&G building and the Labor building on Eighth and Egan would be renovated, the latter work being negotiated as part of an extended lease on the Plywood Palace.
Well, as we recently learned, so much for that. The state announced plans to find new housing for Labor Department workers instead of renewing its lease on a building acknowledged by its owners to need $2.5 million of renovations, and was reported to be in such poor condition as to cause health problems for people employed there. Why the state decided trying to shore up dilapidated buildings and run the risk of turning them into money pits, instead of moving forward with a much-needed and already-planned-for new building escapes us.
But, at least part of the Department of Administration’s decision could be rationalized. The DOA speculated Department of Public Safety employees could be moved to the current State Office Building once the State Library left its current home there and moved to the in-the-works State Library, Archives and Museum, or SLAM, building. Except funding for that structure seems to be coming in drips and drops. SLAM is expected to cost Alaska $128.5 million — in today’s dollars — yet no one knows where $74.5 million of those costs will come from. And that $74.5 million figure only holds up if a proposed $20 million appropriation asked for by Gov. Sean Parnell comes through this legislative session.
It’s a funding dilemma that prompted Anchorage Democratic Sen. Johnny Ellis to ask, “Why aren’t we doing this in one fell swoop at a time we have the cash money?”
That, senator, is a great question, and one we’d like to see answered — hopefully before your fellow legislators conclude business this April (or May, or whenever). While you and your colleagues are at it, we’d also like to find out when the state will commit to funding and building a sorely-needed office building here in the capital city. We understand the state’s hesitancy to simply approve each and every project it is presented simply because the money is there, but new offices in Juneau are a need, not a want, and it’s better to satisfy this need now, when the resources are available to do so.
• Editor's note: A byline has been added to this editorial to clarify it is an Empire editorial.