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The Legislature is planning to fix up its new Anchorage office building

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: November 15, 2016
  • Published November 14, 2016

After a public outcry over an expensive renovation contributed to Alaska lawmakers abandoning their leased building downtown, they're now seeking bids to upgrade the replacement.

According to bid documents, lawmakers want to construct new "legislative suites" and bathrooms, upgrade heating and ventilation systems, and fill in a staircase in the middle of their newest building, bought from Wells Fargo just a couple months ago.

The request for proposals was issued Wednesday by Coldwell Banker, which lawmakers hired to manage the new property in Spenard, near the intersection of Benson Boulevard and Minnesota Drive.

The project's cost doesn't yet have an estimate, said Kodiak Republican Sen. Gary Stevens, who chairs the Legislative Council, the joint House-Senate committee charged with handling lawmakers' internal business and budgets.

But Stevens said in a brief phone interview Monday that he expects the costs to be "minimal."

"We're not going to spend much money," said Stevens, who was out of the country on what he said was a personal vacation.

The plans for the project call for the winning firm to renovate four floors in the new building, one at a time, in phases that run through early 2019. Proposals are due at the end of November, and a contract is set to be awarded Dec. 6, before Stevens gives up the chairmanship of the Legislative Council at the start of the next session in January. The council conducts the Legislature's business and functions as the lawmakers' executive branch.

Lawmakers last month held their first meeting in their new Spenard space.

They bought the building earlier this year from Wells Fargo for $11.85 million, after the 10-year, no-bid lease for their newly renovated downtown offices was ruled illegal by Anchorage Superior Court Judge Patrick McKay. Critics mockingly called the downtown building with its glass elevator shafts the "Taj MaHawker" after the lawmaker who negotiated the deal, Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage. Hawker retired this year.

At the time the Spenard building was purchased, Stevens said lawmakers could move into the Spenard space with minimal work.

The Legislature has already set aside money for renovation and construction projects that Stevens can spend without additional approval from lawmakers or even the Legislative Council, said Pam Varni, the director of the Legislature's nonpartisan support staff.

She pointed out that the state this year will be earning more in rent from Wells Fargo, which is still occupying some of the space in the building, than it will pay in operating expenses.

Juneau Democratic Rep. Sam Kito III, who will replace Stevens as chair of the Legislative Council in January, said he was "a bit concerned" that lawmakers were now contemplating what he thought was a "pretty significant renovation of this new building."

Kito, who currently sits on the Legislative Council, said he didn't learn until Monday that the request for proposals had been issued. He's planning to meet with Stevens to discuss it next week.

"I'm a little bit worried about where the money's going to come from because we are definitely in a fiscal situation that we need to be cognizant of," Kito said in a phone interview from Juneau, referring to the state's multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

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