Administration nixes new state office building

A new state office building will NOT be built in Juneau any time soon.

The Parnell Administration has changed course. Instead of building a new 140-thousand square foot office building, Administration Commissioner Becky Hultberg says the Douglas Island Office Building will be renovated.

The administration was expected to announce the location of the proposed facility that would house about 500 employees from the departments of Labor, Public Safety, and some Fish and Game and Corrections employees.

But Hultberg says an analysis made possible by a $2-million legislative appropriation has led to a different conclusion.

“It enabled us to have a better understanding of the condition of the existing buildings we have,” Hultberg says. “Prior to this there were some assumptions made, some very limited work done, but really the appropriation enabled us to do the detailed work that has led us to this conclusion.”

Hultberg says an engineer’s study shows the old Douglas building is structurally sound and can be renovated for $15 to 20-million.

It does not resolve the question of the old Public Safety building, which has been considered a temporary home for the department since the 1970s. The lease for the so-called Plywood Palace, which houses the Department of Labor, expires next year. The poorly constructed building has long been a pain to the administration. Hultberg says the administration is negotiating with the building’s owner.

She says the administration will have to move public safety employees, but it’s not clear where.

Once the new Libraries, Archives and Museum complex is built – several years from now — space will be available in the State Office Building, Hultberg says.

A new capital city office complex was first proposed in 2009 at the old subport, owned by the Mental Health Trust Authority. Legislation allowing the Authority to develop office space and lease it to the state did not survive that session, but planning and design funds were granted last year.

Juneau State Representatives Cathy Munoz and Beth Kerttula carried the legislation on the first proposal.

Both say they’re disappointed, but say it’s good that a state facility will remain in downtown Douglas.

Munoz says it’s important the administration is still planning to invest in Juneau.

“Going back two or three years when we were working on the Mental Health Trust project that was a great opportunity. It’s unfortunate it didn’t get through the process then, but obviously there are new considerations today that we weren’t looking at two or three years ago,” Munoz says.

Kerttula says Juneau legislators are committed to working with the administration on a new office building.

This story will be updated with more details.