Alaska Legislature moves ahead with Masonic building remodel

Tentative plans include a skybridge connected to the Capitol

Posted: Friday, June 29, 2007

The Alaska Legislature has decided to remodel the former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple in Juneau as office space and is considering a pedestrian overpass to link it with the Capitol across the street.

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On Tuesday in Anchorage, after a special session of the Legislature, the Legislative Council decided to spend more than $264,000 for an architect to design a remodel of the landmark Masonic lodge.

The council manages operations of the Legislature and is made up of leaders from the House and Senate leadership.

Jeff Turner, spokesman for Legislative Council Chairman John Cowdery, a Republican senator from Anchorage, said the body has not officially decided to go ahead with a skybridge but has asked the architect to include it in the plans.

"Technically they haven't approved it, but asked it be included in the design," Turner said.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, a member of the Legislative Council, said the skybridge would likely reach the second floor of the Capitol where Rep. John Coghill's office is located.

That would result in a shuffling of offices, moving Coghill to the current House clerk's office. The clerk would move to the Masonic Building at the other end of the overhead walkway.

The Freemasons sold their building to the city years ago when they wanted to relocate. The city recently deeded it to the Legislature for $1 to help the state with its space crunch in an effort to make Juneau more efficient for legislative business.

The Juneau architectural firm of Jensen Yorba Lott submitted the proposal selected by the council, Turner said. It will take months to complete the plans, he said.

The Legislature has abandoned plans to take over the basement offices used by Gov. Sarah Palin's office for its audiovisual studio.

The executive branch had earlier been asked by Cowdery if it would be willing to vacate the space to give the Legislature more room.

The Capitol is owned by the legislative branch of government, which provides offices for the executive branch on the third floor as well as the basement studio known as the "bomb shelter."

Cowdery asked the governor if she'd be willing to give up the bomb shelter space and move the studio to the Court Plaza building, known locally as the "Spam Can," to free up space for legislative staff.

Moving that specialized audiovisual studio office would be difficult, said Linda Perez, administrative director with the governor's office.

"We had been approached by Sen. Cowdery, but as we got into it, it was a fairly expensive relocation," she said.

Moving the studio would have involved expensive soundproofing and wiring improvements.

"It would have cost approximately $350,000 to relocate AV from the bomb shelter to the Court Plaza building," said Tanci Mintz, state leasing and facilities manager.

Cowdery has since decided that was not a good use of public money. The bomb shelter will remain at the disposal of the governor's office, Perez said.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at

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