Lawmakers push for smaller renovation of Docking State Office Building focused on event space in Topeka

In more than a decade of debate over what to do with the Docking State Office Building, there’s more to say about the fate of the facility than the rooms in the 14-story giant.

It was on full display Monday, as the legislative committee recommended a three-story facility consisting mostly of event space, ruling out a slightly taller version of the building with more offices.

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

Earlier this year, legislators finally approved $120 million in a bond sale to drum up the Docking reshuffle, with the 60-year-old building having been largely revamped in recent years. The basement of the old structure contained heating and cooling plants used to power the capitol complex, but most of the state agencies previously housed in the building moved elsewhere.

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

More: ‘I’m embarrassed about that’: Behind the scenes of what’s left of the Topeka Docking State Office Building

Plans from outside contractors proposed by the Department of Administration would involve either remodeling the entire building or separate plans to reduce its size to three floors, with three new floors later added on top of the structure.

But the Joint Committee for the Construction of State Buildings, a panel of legislators dealing with the construction of state facilities, recommended the three-story option, though the exact format would be left to the State Finance Council, the highest panel of state officials who has the final say. say about the problem.

Event space key for lawmakers in new Docking facility

Event space key for lawmakers in new Docking facility

Much like the chaos of the Docking debate, voting is not smooth. The first MPs clashed over whether committee members could vote virtually. Then, there was confusion as to whether five or six votes were needed to approve the recommendation, with an absent senator taken from his farm to join the meeting virtually and cast a sixth key vote.

As the dust settled, Senator J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, said the move was an attempt to ensure lawmakers have flexibility as they finalize the final proposal, which could include renovating the existing first three floors or building an entirely new facility.

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

Members of both sides, as well as the Administration Department, all agreed to prioritize event space, with officials quickly pointing out the lack of meeting and banquet facilities in the capitol complex at this time.

Previous coverage:Lawmakers are weighing decisions on the future of the Docking State Office Building. Here’s what you need to know.

The new proposals would also pave the way for the Kansas State Museum or other entities to put on display in the building, something that could prove attractive to tourists or school groups.

“What we know is we need meeting rooms, we need space, we need a place for school kids to come for some kind of presentation,” said Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita. “My husband and I have visited more than 25 state capitals and most of them have some sort of museum near state capitals.  I love the idea of ​​rotating exhibits, so it’s a hub for people.”

But current plans are likely to minimize office space, something Claeys said would fit well with the push to work remotely, especially as public servants have been working from home for much of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Growing 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 encouraging his colleagues to consider a full renovation of the current building, 12 floors and all.

The Shawnee County Historical Society and other proponents have pushed to retain parts of the building on historical grounds as well. And the other members just thought a six-story building made more sense.

“I fail to see how (the three-story plan) helps the day-to-day operations of the government. … I’m not sure what downtown Topeka is doing to have another event space,” said Rep. Jarred Ousley, D-Merriam. “I understand we could use it, but we’ve functioned as a government all along without it.”

Curtis Sneden, president of the Topeka Chamber, said his group was pleased with the move to limit new office space in the city center. Any event space, he added, would likely be tailored to the needs of the state and would not violate other private facilities with a similar mission.

From May: State government will allocate funds for renovation of Docking building, new KDHE lab

“We have no particular concern, if it did, it would represent a worrying type of competition with our other venues,” Sneden said.

The committee also moved to recommend a new laboratory for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment be built at the Kansas Neurological Institute, a move that drew little resistance as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also considered reasons for a new veterans home in eastern Kansas.

There is no timeframe for when the State Treasury Board will act, although lawmakers have expressed interest in using federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for parts of the project. The money should be spent by 2026, although officials say they are in no danger of having a new building scheduled beyond that date.

As Docking continues to loom, mostly empty, on the Topeka skyline, officials agree that some action needs to be taken urgently.

“The worst thing we can do is do nothing,” Claeys told colleagues during the meeting. “Another decade of this destructive sight sitting on the Topeka skyline is not something I want to accept and I hope you don’t either.”

Andrew Bahl is a senior state reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at or by telephone at 443-979-6100.