Lawmakers consider two new buildings as space tightens

2013-07-29T20:12:00Z 2013-08-07T08:32:13Z Lawmakers consider two new buildings as space tightensBy JOAN BARRON Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
July 29, 2013 8:12 pm  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — Legislative leaders are studying options for more state government office space in Cheyenne while also planning for much-needed renovations to the Wyoming Capitol.

Work on the Capitol is expected to begin after the 2015 legislative session, at the earliest.

Meanwhile, instead of planning for one large state office building, legislative leaders are talking about constructing a smaller executive office building on the state-owned site formerly occupied by St. Mary's School east of the Capitol.

The executive offices would be in addition to an 80,000 square-foot state office building on the block that formerly housed a Safeway grocery store and residences west of the Capitol.

Four of the five elected state officials currently have offices in the Capitol building; state Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill works in the Barrett Building near the Capitol. One problem lawmakers face is that the elected officials want to remain in the Capitol building after the renovation.

State Senate Majority Floor Leader Phil Nicholas said there simply won't be room. The elected officials' offices, because of the Capitol's age and type of structure, can't be expanded, Nicholas added.

The Legislature, meanwhile, needs more meeting rooms.

The lawmakers' thinking is that the smaller, executive office building could include the elected officials and their staffs, including Gov. Matt Mead's policy analysts who are now working out of the Herschler Building north of the Capitol.

"Unless we find a global solution, we'll have everyone fighting for the space," Nicholas said.

Nicholas said the Capitol renovation and new executive office building would take care of the current occupants of the Capitol building, and the new, larger state office building could be constructed in the distant future.

The Legislature's original plan was to first build a 200,000 square-foot state office building on the former Safeway site. The new building would have been a temporary home for the Legislature and other displaced Capitol building agency employees and officials during renovation of the Capitol. It also would have been a permanent home for state agencies housed all over Cheyenne in leased office space at the cost of about $6 million per year.

That plan ran aground in 2012 when Mead withheld the $4.4 million the Legislature included in the budget for design of the new office building.

Mead said at the time it was not right to be spending money on a new office building given the constrained economy.

The Legislative Management Council voted on July 12 to restart work on the office building plans. The council includes most of the top leaders in the House and Senate.

This time, though, the legislators requested the planning and money be included in a separate bill rather than as budget item the governor could ignore.

Although the governor can veto the bill, the Legislature has the option of attempting a two-thirds majority vote to override the chief executive's veto.

Nicholas said it is difficult in general for governors to approve the construction of new government buildings.

"Nobody wants to build big buildings on their watch," he said, adding that, to his knowledge, no one criticized Mead for halting the original plan.

Former Gov. Dave Freudenthal also was reluctant to move ahead with the new office building because of agency budget cuts then in progress.

Meanwhile, Mead spokesman Renny MacKay said the governor is interested in hearing the recommendations concerning the Capitol renovation and government office construction plans.

The Legislature has set aside $105 million for the Capitol renovation and other projects.

The state has acquired more property in the Capitol building complex since original planning began, which gives the lawmakers more options.

Yet another option is building an addition onto the north side of the Herschler Building, Senate President Tony Ross said. The footings for a north wing were put in place when the building was first constructed years ago, Ross said earlier.

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