SOB needs facelift

State Office Building among many in disrepair

Posted: Thursday, August 03, 2000

Workers are getting stuck in elevators and the roof leaks.

But problems at the State Office Building are probably no worse than at the average aging state building, officials said, and they're working on fixing them. The downtown Juneau building houses about 1,000 state workers.

A section of the eighth-floor atrium near the state Historical Library has been barricaded for several months so people aren't hit by pieces of gypsum wallboard deteriorating above. The roof is leaking and moisture has softened the wallboard, said George McCurry, buildings maintenance manager for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities in Southeast.

He said his department is waiting for the Department of Administration to release the money to get the roof fixed. The cost is estimated at $80,000.

He's not sure whether it could still be done this year.

``We're getting pretty late in the year'' for roof repairs, he said.

Alison Elgee, deputy commissioner of the Department of Administration, said the repairs are to be paid for through a new funding mechanism. That program just went into effect July 1, so the money is just now being pushed through the process. But Elgee said funds have been approved.

State workers have also expressed frustration over the elevators in the building, which are frequently out of order.

Mike Maher, administrative services director in the Department of Revenue, said he and another passenger were trapped in an elevator for 45 minutes earlier this year.

``It seems to be pretty much like a weekly event that somebody gets stuck in there,'' Maher said.

Larry Persily, a deputy commissioner in the Department of Revenue, was trapped for about 10 minutes last week. He also found himself hobbling down five flights of stairs with a broken leg in a cast last year when both elevators to the parking garage quit working.

McCurry said a motor is on order to repair one of the elevators and an additional elevator is to be installed at the Willoughby Street entrance.

That project has been complicated by several issues, including electrical system changes, but should be ready to go to bid at the end of the month. More money may be needed than was originally allocated, McCurry said.

McCurry said the elevators are safe and pass inspections, although people occasionally are stuck in them. There are telephones people can use to call for help, he said. He guessed someone gets stuck about once every week or two.

The elevators are heavily used, not only by the approximately 1,000 people who work in the building but also by people who park there or at other nearby state lots and walk through the building as a shortcut to other downtown buildings.

The building is 26 years old, he said, and problems can be expected.

``There are enhancements that could be done, but there's no money for it now,'' McCurry said. ``Capital improvements for that building have not kept pace with the aging of the building.''

Other work also needed includes replacing deteriorating concrete on the eighth floor deck and repairs to heating and ventilation systems.

Also, McCurry would like to be able to remove asbestos in at least part of the building. It's becoming expensive to do even minor maintenance because specially trained workers must be used when dealing with areas containing the potentially cancer-causing substance.

Lack of maintenance money for government buildings is a statewide problem, McCurry said, and the State Office Building probably has no more problems than the average older state building.

``There are buildings up north with far more serious problems than this one,'' he said. ``The building's functional, just a few problems with it.''

Previously, money for repairs had been provided through a direct appropriation to DOT, and not much was put in the pot in recent years.

A new program -- being done on a pilot basis -- will allow the state Administration Department to charge rent to agencies in state buildings.

The advantage of that method is that programs primarily funded by the federal government or other sources can also contribute, so all the dollars for maintenance don't have to come from the state's general fund, which legislators have been cutting for the past five years.

``This was a mechanism that allowed us to expand the pool of money to address the building needs,'' Elgee said.

She said the new funding method will help, but it can't take care of all the work that hasn't been done in the past. Maintenance budgets have been inadequate since the mid-1980s when oil prices dropped, she said.

A 1997 a task force estimated deferred maintenance needs added up to $1.5 billion around the state, including schools, roads and airports. About $170 million in needs were identified at state buildings, not including the university system. The Legislature has approved several hundred million dollars since then to whittle down the list, but most has gone to projects such as schools and the university.

Kurt Parkan, deputy commissioner at DOT, said the current estimate for deferred maintenance costs on state buildings is $45 million.

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