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A new State House? Leaders begin discussions on possible new building

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

For decades, Alabama legislative leaders have wished for a new State House. Now, those wishes are coming closer to reality as a top panel of lawmakers has formally agreed to begin discussions about the possible construction of a new building.

The resolution by the Alabama Legislative Council, the 20-member legislative body that owns the State House, directs senior legislative staff “to begin discussions with the Retirement Systems of Alabama, which has extensive experience and expertise in the provisions of building facilities for government agencies, regarding potential costs and options for new or relocated legislative facilities for review and consideration by the council.”

This is a first step in a potentially long path to a new building. The current eight-story building in downtown Montgomery has an extensive list of needed repairs.

Last year, an engineer’s report detailed nearly $52 million in needed repairs in the next decade, including to the HVAC and electrical systems,  to keep the 60-year-old building functional. That pricetag didn’t include any renovations or improvements the public would see. 

“The question we want to get to is, when do we stop putting lipstick on this pig?” council member Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, told Alabama Daily News. 

Secretary of the Senate Pat Harris, who handles many of the needed repairs to keep the building operations, on Thursday said he was looking at an estimate for $2.5 million to replace elevators and thousands of dollars in repairs to one of the building’s air conditioners.

“We’re in horrible condition,” Harris said. “… There is no doubt that the state of Alabama needs a new State House to operate.” 

Albritton, the Senate’s General Fund budget committee chairman, said there may be other options besides a new building. He’d like to know if there is existing space that may fit the Legislature’s needs.

“That may be a more viable option,” Albritton said.

Besides the issue of aging systems, Public accessibility is a problem in the building that was once Alabama Department of Transportation’s headquarters.

During busy legislative sessions, the building is often crowded with citizens and advocacy groups. There’s no designated space for them and they tend to crowd in hallways and elevator lobbies. 

A few years ago, a 200-person capacity committee room was created. It’s the largest meeting space in the building. But during legislative sessions, when multiple committees are meeting at once, some are in rooms that only seat 30-some people. It’s not uncommon to see citizens turned away from meetings because of a lack of space.

The resolution does not put any timelines on the discussions about new space. It does say that no purely cosmetic improvements can be made to the building without council approval. 

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