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Bronner: First concepts on a new State House were ‘outlandish,’ negotiations continue

Alabama legislative leaders and the Retirement Systems of Alabama continue negotiating the terms of a potential lease-to-own proposal on a new State House and how big that building should be.

At a Teachers’ Retirement System Board meeting Wednesday, RSA chief David Bronner said discussions with the Legislative Council and State House staff were advancing. He also said the first few conceptual suggestions for the proposed new building “had huge numbers.”

Those numbers included office space and Senate and House chambers.

“… they had numbers on it that I wouldn’t agree to, they were just outlandish,” Bronner said.

RSA wants an 8% return on its investment on the building, Bronner said. In return, the Legislature gets its building expertise.

“Whether we do it or not, it doesn’t make that much difference to me,” Bronner said. “I do know the state needs it desperately.”

Last fall, the Alabama Legislative Council, the 20-member legislative body that owns the State House, approved a resolution directing staff to begin discussions on a new State House. In the spring, lawmakers were given control of the city block directly behind the existing State House. It’s currently a parking lot. 

“RSA continues to work with the Legislature on the possibility of building a new State House,” the system said Wednesday afternoon in a statement to Alabama Daily News. “We have had good discussions about potential terms of a deal and the Legislature is working with the architect on space planning, but we have not reached a final agreement nor do we have a design for a new State House.”

Secretary of the Senate Pat Harris said council leadership should have some terms of a lease agreement to consider soon.

The Legislative Council’s plan is to rent but eventually own the new building, Othni Lathram, secretary of the council, told Alabama Daily News.

Lathram said the process isn’t to the floor plans and architectural drawings phase yet.

“(We’re) working through what I would call a conceptual space analysis for the new building,” Lathram said. “We need 35 Senate offices that should be roughly this size, we need 105 House offices that should be roughly this size. We need X number of committee rooms, we want the House chamber a little bit bigger. So we’re having that kind of conversation in order to try to arrive at what the square footage of a new building should look like.

“This is all kind of conceptual, sort of ‘I want four bedrooms and three baths,’” he said. “It’s been a pretty expensive process.” 

The current State House is about 320,000 square feet.

“When we first got done with our wish list, we were way bigger than that,” Lathram said. 

There’s been a process of deciding what’s really needed — maybe the Senate doesn’t need seven committee rooms when only two committees can meet at one time, Lathram said. 

Until the council knows how much space is needed, it won’t know an estimated cost.

“And you have to know what the ballpark of costs will be before you know whether you’re likely or not to go forward to actually spend architectural fees for the floor plans and the like.”

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