Empire editorial: New capitol needs to reflect people around the state

Posted: Sunday, November 07, 2004

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For more information about the capitol, go to www.alaska capitol.org. To submit ideas about the capitol, e-mail info@alaska capitol.org.

This week Mayor Bruce Botelho took the planning for a new capitol exactly where it belongs: across the state.

He and members of the Capitol Planning Commission traveled to Anchorage, Fairbanks and Kenai to announce a statewide competition for designing a capitol.

Alaskans can get involved in the project at three different levels. They can apply to become a member of the jury that will select the designer and the design for the new building. Seven of the nine jury members will be Alaskans, with the other two being nationally recognized professionals from outside the state. Alaskans also can submit their ideas on how the capitol should look, how it should work, what materials should be used to build it and what cultural or artistic elements should be included in the design. These ideas will be given to the architects who become finalists and they will in turn be judged in part on how well they incorporate Alaskans' ideas into their design. Finally, Alaskans will be asked to help decide which architectural team should design the future capitol. People will be able to check out the designs on a Web site, as well as view them at public exhibits in several cities in mid-February.

It's especially important that Alaskans be involved in this planning so that the capitol truly reflects the needs of this state. While Juneau wants very much to remain the seat of state government, the building of this capitol isn't just for Juneau. It's for the entire state.

Alaska's Capitol is the only one in the country that was not designed to be one. Instead, it was a federal territorial office building. The existing building was not created with public hearings in mind, and too often the rooms are too small to hold all of the people who want to testify on legislation. A new capitol will be designed so that those who wish to testify can comfortably wait their turn to be heard, as well as watch the entire proceedings.

A new building also will make if far easier for Alaskans to participate in state government without leaving their hometowns. Retrofitting the existing building for full electronic access can't be done at a reasonable cost. But the new building can - and will - be wired for maximum electronic possibilities so that far more teleconferencing can take place and video access to the capitol can be even more extensive than it is now.

A new capitol also will be designed with some kind of civic space - be it a rotunda, an atrium or a hall - that will allow the public to join in on major state events, such as the inauguration of the governor or Alaska Day festivities. Such a space will allow citizens who wish to protest or petition state leaders to come in off the capitol steps and escape snow or rain while voicing their opinions.

The Capitol Planning Commission had done well to launch a capitol project that fully involves Alaskans around the state. If all goes as the mayor hopes, the state could have a new capitol by its 50th birthday in 2009. Citizens of this state have a chance to make the capitol reflect their needs and their values. It's time for Alaskans to tell planners how the new state capitol can really work for them.

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