Knock it down and build a better one.
That’s the recommendation of a long-awaited study on the Legislature’s options for remaking its 66-year-old annex, the warren of offices attached to the 19th century Capitol.
The report by design firm CSHQA of Sacramento encourages lawmakers to consider a $543 million replacement, building a larger structure that would improve safety, expand workspaces and offer visitors an interactive experience to learn about California government.
It attempts to resolve a debate that has centered on whether the Legislature should renovate or replace the six-story annex because of the building’s well-documented narrow hallways, limited exits, barriers that restrict access to people with physical disabilities, leaks and its lack of safety features like sprinklers.
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“How do you make a people’s house welcoming to all Californians and overcoming some of these design issues?” asked Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova.
He led reporters on a tour of the annex last week to preview the CSHQA report. He’s releasing the full document today at a press conferences with Republican Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres and then presenting it to colleagues at a Joint Committee on Rules hearing.
Cooley argues that the annex’s columns and low-ceilings make a renovation of the existing building an unappealing option. The first floor of the annex, for instance, is uneven with the historic Capitol, restricting access to the disabled.
“The structure becomes a straightjacket,” he said.
Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016 signaled that he wanted to address problems with the annex when he included it in a $1.3 billion proposal to remake Sacramento office buildings. The item also included money for a new natural resources building and another state office building on O Street. The 20-story resources building is moving forward, with the Department of General Services announcing in December that it had selected a contractor to design it an oversee construction.
Lawmakers two years ago supported the concept of remaking the annex – at least to address safety concerns – but expressed misgivings about the projected cost. Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, at the time said funding the project might create an “appearance problem” for lawmakers, as if they were spending taxpayer money to benefit themselves rather than steering resources to other needs.
Cooley is advocating for a new annex as the state is gathering a budget surplus that by law has to be spent on capital projects. Brown’s budget proposal puts the state on a course to fill up its so-called “rainy day” fund by July 1, 2019 and any additional money it collects would have to spent on infrastructure like roads, buildings and prisons.
Cooley’s also arguing that the money would be well-spent if it helps Californians better understand their government.
Almost 2 million people visit the Capitol each year, and Cooley would like for them to participate in modern, interactive exhibits about California government. Today, rooms in the Capitol feature written descriptions of historical figures and hallways in the annex show static exhibits highlighting each county.
“I would love to see the kids go there and get an experience that instills in them the idea that they have an important role in our democracy,” said Amanda Meeker, executive director of the California Museum. “I love the county displays, but I don’t think they’re going to make a lasting impression.”
The CSHQA report does not include specific designs for a new Capitol office building. It estimates that replacing the annex would cost $507 million, that moving its underground parking structure would cost $6.4 million and that building a modern visitor center would cost about $30 million. Cooley said the estimate was based on costs of replacing courthouses, which have similar requirements balancing safety and public access.
The firm recommends a 514,000 square foot Capitol office building, which is almost 190,000 square feet larger than the current structure. Cooley said the extra space would give Capitol employees a place to gather without clogging hallways and make the business of government more efficient.
The joint rules committee is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. in the Capitol’s room 4202.
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