JUNEAU -- An influential senator plans to include money in a state spending bill for a structural analysis of Alaska's Capitol building.
Sen. Bert Stedman said a report several years ago pointed to structural problems with the aging building. But he said he wasn't aware of it until after his staff complained of papers on their desks getting wet -- though the nearby windows were closed -- and an aide walked in with a chunk of concrete that had fallen off the building. Stedman, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, wants money included in the state capital budget for an updated structural analysis and estimates for what the work will cost. It will likely take millions of dollars to address the problems, Stedman said.
This could renew the perennially simmering debate about moving the Capitol from Juneau, a city accessible only by air or water, to an easier-to-get-to location. Stedman, R-Sitka, said that debate will always be around, but he said as long as Southeast Alaska lawmakers are well-positioned in the Legislature, he doesn't see it going anywhere fast.
The Capitol was built in 1930, and its wear is obvious in the cracked brick on the sides, the crumbling sandstone on the base and water stains. Building manager Don Johnston said that for the most part, since 1985, when he began working at the Capitol, there's been routine maintenance, sealing and cleaning work. But he said the Capitol is now "past the point of needing Band-Aids."
A 2006 overview report, prepared for the Legislative Affairs Agency by Paul Lukes of Seattle-based Building Envelope Consulting Services, said the building "is showing signs of significant degradation and warrants extensive corrective work. Failure to proceed with such work in the relatively near future will lead to progressively accelerating degradation and rapidly increasing corrective costs."
It said the building showed signs that, when viewed together, were consistent with "one or more seismic events." It said the bottom band of sandstone was "essentially destroyed," noting that sandstone is ill-suited to climates like Juneau's.
The report was not exhaustive, limited to a partial visual exam of the outside and certain interior sections. It did not include cost estimates, but said the state should expect costs in the millions -- and perhaps tens of millions -- of dollars.
Lukes was asked by Legislative Affairs to do a more detailed follow-up in 2010, focused on the front portico, an area of concern in the 2006 report.
"Due primarily to a combination of some ill-advised initial design, approaches and material selections, as well as the effects of 80 years of Juneau's climate, many of the building's exterior elements have begun to display signs of leakage, degradation and stress," the 2010 report said.