Legislators authorize $500,000 for Anchorage LIO furniture

Anchorage-LIO

(Photo courtesy Alaska Legislature Website)

The state will spend up to $500,000 to furnish the new Anchorage legislative information office.

The Legislative Council, which handles office policy for state lawmakers, awarded the contract to Think Office, LLC, at a Wednesday meeting. The furniture will come from the modern design company Knoll, and the look of the new building will be up-market Ikea. To give an idea of what they were looking for, the Legislative Council bidding notice listed rolling chairs that retail for $1,500 and $300 coat racks made of colorful metal rods.

The Think Office bid conforms to a decorating plan created by Pfeffer Development, which is renovating the Anchorage LIO and was awarded a $100,000 contract specifically for furniture consulting. The objective was to standardize design using modular components in an effort to reduce the need for new furniture when freshman legislators come into office and as political organization changes.

When the Legislative Council first took up the question of furniture procurement in early June, the initial price tag was $866,000. That triggered sticker shock, and a furniture subcommittee led by Chugiak Republican Bill Stoltze was created to reexamine the cost. The subcommittee concluded that the Anchorage LIO should be outfitted with surplus furniture from state agencies, with a cap of $100,000 for new furniture.

But that recommendation was rejected. Legislative aide Juli Lucky explained to the council that number was unrealistic.

“I will admit that the office furniture was a lot more expensive than I had anticipated,” said Lucky. “But I do feel that we did come up with a good compromise position once we did look at the comparable offices that we have outfitted in other places. We did winnow down that cost as much as we felt we could.”

About half of the $500,000 award will be spent furnishing legislators’ individual offices, at a cost of $8,000 per lawmaker.

Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican who chairs the Legislative Council, said that the expense of furnishing the Anchorage LIO compared favorably to other projects.

“A couple of years ago when the Eagle River LIO was refurnished, those offices ran $20,000 a copy,” said Hawker. “So, I think we’re getting quite a value.”

The other half of the money will go to furnishing the building’s public areas, like hearing rooms.

“They can be used for all of the summer sort of meetings like we’re doing right here, and they can be used to accommodate special legislative sessions with a chamber for the House and the Senate, as well as a chamber that would accommodate 60 legislators as needed,” said Hawker.

While cost was a sticking point for some, Sen. Dennis Egan, a Juneau Democrat who caucuses with the Republican majority, took issue with the argument that the LIO needed to be fully furnished so that special sessions could be held in Anchorage.

“I really am upset that you’re talking about special sessions being held in the Anchorage LIO,” said Egan. “Special sessions should be held in the Capitol.”

Hawker stressed that he did not mean to trigger a debate over the location of the Capitol.

“This is not a disguised Capitol move,” said Hawker.

Egan ultimately voted for the contract.

The contract was awarded on a 10-2 vote, with Stoltze and Anchorage Democrat Max Gruenberg opposing the contract.

The Anchorage LIO project has previously faced criticism for its cost. The lease to the office is expected to run $80 million over the next 20 years, and Hawker’s Democratic challenger Sam Combs described the furniture contract as an example of project “mismanagement.”