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Legislators hope building gets more money

Posted: March 10, 2012 - 11:08pm

Gov. Sean Parnell has included $20 million for the state’s new Library, Archives and Museum project in his budget for next year. That’s money the Juneau legislative delegation says is much appreciated, but it’s got some legislators asking why the amount is so small.

“Why aren’t we doing this in one fell swoop at a time we have the cash money?” asked Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee.

Some of the funding for the $128.5 million project is already in hand and being spent on land acquisition, design and site work, but even with the current budget request another $74.5 million will be needed.

The project has to compete with many other projects, said Mark Lewis, legislative liaison for the Department of Education & Early Development, which includes the Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums.

“We can only put forward what we feel is appropriate at this point in time,” he said.

“We have to look at the governor’s total package and the priorities he may have in front of him,” he said.

Lewis was speaking before the Senate Finance Committee, where Ellis is a member, and was pressed on the funding issue.

Engineers working to design the new building that will house three separate functions, now in separate buildings, said doing the project all at once and as quickly as possible will save the state millions on costs.

The existing facilities have suffered from flooding and water problems, placing their collections at risk.

“The dire condition of those facilities has been well known to the administration and the Legislature for some time now,” Ellis said.

“I don’t understand why you are not asking for the full amount to construct the project so we can get it done,” he said.

Last month at a presentation in Juneau, the builder warned construction costs are rising, and expected to go higher as the economy rebounds.

PCL Construction’s Scott Ivany said over the last year, drywall costs rose 35 percent and ductile iron pipe rose 16 percent, and costs are likely going higher.

“The time is now,” he said. “We feel the construction costs are as low as they’re ever going to be.”

Ellis pressed Lewis on why more wasn’t being budgeted for the SLAM project.

“Why are we doing this in small chunks, rather than the responsible thing — the cost effective thing — of getting all the money and getting the project done,” he asked.

“I’m not saying it wouldn’t be a good idea to get all the money upfront, but it also provides some relief to each annual budget if it is a phased funding approach,” Lewis responded.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, said he hopes the Legislature will add additional money beyond Parnell’s budget request.

“I’ve heard no opposition to SLAM from anyone, everybody is very enthusiastic about it,” he said.

Both Egan and Ellis are members of the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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