Kansas lawmakers recommend renovating the smaller Docking State Office Building

During the decades-plus debate about what to do with the Docking State Office Building, there has been more opinion about the facility’s fate than there is room in the 14-story behemoth.

It was in full view Monday, as the legislative committee recommended the three-level facility primarily consist of event space, overruling slightly taller versions of the building and more offices.

The proposal was favored by the Administration Department, Democratic lawmakers and many in the Topeka government and business community.

Earlier this year, lawmakers finally approved a $ 120 million bond sale to renovate the docking, with the 60-year-old building largely mothballed in recent years. The basement of the aging structure contains a heating and cooling plant that worked to control the capital complex, but most of the state agencies that were previously in the building were moved to other locations.

The question then becomes what the new office building should look like.

Plus: ‘I’m ashamed of it’: Behind the scenes what’s left of the Topeka Docking State Office Building

Plans from outside contractors proposed by the Administration Department will involve the renovation of the building or a separate plan to reduce its size to three floors, with three new floors then added on top of the structure.

But the Joint Committee on State Building Construction, a panel of legislators who handle the construction of state facilities, recommended a three -level option, although the format would certainly be submitted to the State Finance Council, the top panel of state officials who have the final. told about it.

Event space key for lawmakers in new Docking facility

Event space key for lawmakers in new Docking facility

Such a chaotic Docking debate, the voice is not smooth. Members of parliament began to dispute whether committee members could vote virtually. Then, there was confusion about whether five or six votes were needed to approve the recommendation, with absent senators gathered from the farm to join the meeting almost and provide a key sixth vote.

When the dust settled, said Senate J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, the move was an effort to ensure lawmakers had flexibility as they settle on a final proposal, which could include renovating the first existing three floors or building an entirely new facility.

Officials could also consider building a new heating and cooling center, an action that was considered by Governor Sam Brownback, but stopped by the state Legislature in 2016.

Members of both parties, as well as the Department of Administration, have all agreed on prioritizing event space, with officials quickly pointing to the lack of meeting and banquet facilities at the current capitol complex.

Previous coverage: Lawyers consider decisions about the future of the Docking State Office Building. This is what you need to know.

The new proposal would also pave the way for the Kansas State Museum or other institutions to have displays in the building, something that proves attractive to tourists or school groups.

“We knew we needed a meeting room, we needed a place space, we needed a place for school kids for some presentations,” said Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita. “My husband and I have visited more than 25 state capitals and most of them have several museums near the state capitals. I like the idea to play exhibitions, so this becomes a center for people.”

But the current plan seems to be minimizing office space, something that Claeys said would match the encouragement for long-distance employment, especially when state workers have worked from the ground up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Developing our office space is an unnecessary addition to the country’s current portfolio,” he said. “The future isn’t more office space, it’s less.”

Democrats skeptical of new plan, as others push for leaving structure in place

Democrats skeptical of new plan, as others push for leaving structure in place

All Democrats on the committee, however, voted against the proposal, arguing it was too broad. Senator Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, even said the building should be added to the National Register of Historic Places in a push for her colleagues to consider a full renovation of the current building, 12 floors and all.

The Shawnee County Historical Society and other advocates have pushed to protect parts of the building on historic grounds as well. And the other members only argue that the six -level building makes more sense.

“I fail to see how (the three-story plan) helps government operations in a day-to-day way. … I’m not sure what was done for the city of Topeka to have another event space,” said Rep. Jarred. Ousley, D-Merriam. “I understand we can use that, but we have functioned as a government as long as it is without it.”

Curtis Sneden, president of the Topeka Chamber, said the group is happy with limiting new office space in the city. Any event space, he added, will be adjusted to the needs of the country and will not violate other private facilities with the same mission.

From May: The state government will commit funds for the renovation of the Docking building, the new KDHE lab

“We didn’t get special attention, if it came, it would represent the kind of competition that is scary with our other place,” Sneden said.

The committee also moved to recommend a new laboratory for the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment be built at the Kansas Neurological Institute, a move that only caused a simple pushback because the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is also considering land to land new veterans in. east of Kansas.

There is no time frame when the State Treasury Council can implement it, although members of parliament have expressed interest in using federal funds the American Rescue Plan Act for part of the project. The money should be deposited by 2026, although officials say they are not dangerous in the timeline for new buildings later than that date.

As docking continues to loom, mostly empty, on the Topeka skyline, officials agree some sort of action should be taken soon.

“The worst thing that we can do is not do anything,” Claeys told his colleagues during the meeting. “Another decade of eyesore is sitting on the Topeka skyline just not something I’m willing to accept and hope you also don’t.”

Andrew Bahl is a statehouse senior reporter for Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be contacted at abahl@gannett.com or by phone at 443-979-6100.