Legislature looks at larger building in Anchorage

New offices could make it easier for lawmakers to work outside of Juneau

Posted: Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Alaska Legislature is looking at a new legislative building in Anchorage, potentially making it easier for legislative committees or the Legislature itself to work outside Juneau.

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The plan for the building was first revealed publicly Monday, when the Legislative Council, which manages operations of the Legislature, showed conceptual drawings of what such as building would look like.

"I'm not overly concerned, but I'm definitely aware of it," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.

Legislative Affairs Agency Director Pam Varni presented drawings to the Legislative Council this week showing a combination of legislative and court buildings on a block now owned by the state in Anchorage.

The block currently houses court operations. It would be remodeled to house court administrative offices and storage space at a cost of $25.5 million.

In addition, several floors of legislative offices and a 7,000-square-foot conference center would be fixed up at a cost of $18 million. The units would be combined to share mechanical systems and save money, an architect told the council.

The building would be half the size of the Legislature's current building in Juneau, Kerttula said.

"I think it behooves us to keep a pretty good eye on it," she said.

State Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, said he didn't know whether Juneau should be fearful of "capital creep," the process by which more and more state government functions move from its official capital to its dominant city.

"The answer might be yes, or it might be no," he said.

Doogan is a member of a Legislative Council subcommittee that will review plans for the new structure.

Doogan said he knew little yet about the project and found out he was a member of the subcommittee only by speaking with a reporter.

Doogan and all other members of the subcommittee are from Anchorage, as is the Legislative Council chairman, Republican Sen. John Cowdery, who will also chair the subcommittee.

Another member, Democratic Sen. Hollis French, has said the Legislature may have to rely more on interim committee meetings and work outside Juneau to meet its newly mandated 90-day schedule.

The legislative offices in Anchorage are currently in an old, run-down building on which the lease runs out in two years, Varni said. There is a possibility of a one-year extension, she said, giving enough time to complete the project.

Kerttula said she sympathized with the Anchorage-area legislators' need for better offices.

"We support everybody having good office space, but Juneau is the capital," she said.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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