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New State House drawings show interior space

Alabama lawmakers got their first peek Wednesday at what parts of their new legislative home could look like.

Initial interior drawings of a new State House were sent to members of the legislature from Secretary of the Senate Pat Harris and Othni Lathram, clerk of the Alabama Legislative Council, the body of lawmakers overseeing the potential move to the new building.

“Based on the approval of the initial design, we expect site work to proceed immediately and foundation work to begin shortly after the first of the year,” the letter to lawmakers said. 

The potential cost of the building is still unknown and several council leaders on Wednesday told Alabama Daily News they could still back out of the project.

In late September, the council signed an agreement with the Retirement Systems of Alabama, which has built several of the largest office buildings in Montgomery and elsewhere, to move forward with building plans. The Legislature could lease the building with an option to buy it. The retirement system wants 8% return on its investment.

Speaker Pro Tem Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, said RSA must first finish its design work and then it can give the council a construction estimate.

“At this point, if they come back with something that exceeds what we estimate the cost to be, we just stop and we pay RSA what they’ve spent plus 8% and it’s all over with,” Pringle said.

But if the number is within “what we have in mind,” the council will sign a 25-year lease, Pringle said.

Without a final plan and cost estimate from RSA, State House leaders are leery to talk about a price, but Pringle said he thinks $450 million “is a very rough estimate” on the project. That includes the new State House, a parking deck and tearing down the current State House and creating green space where it stands. 

“It will really depend on what (RSA) comes back with on the building,” Pringle said. “If we can’t do the whole project, we don’t really want to do it.

“We can’t build a new building and have the old State House still standing, we can’t build a new building and not have sufficient parking for staff.”

Harris told Alabama Daily News that architects are still fitting together all the needed pieces of the proposed building’s interior, including offices for 140 lawmakers. The details of those pieces will impact the total cost.

“We are actively working with them on fitting those pieces in,” Harris said.

Like Pringle, Council Chairman Sen. Sam Givhan said lawmakers can still pull the plug on the project. But he recently toured Virginia’s new, nearly $300 million legislative office building and is excited to see some of its aspects incorporated into a new building in Alabama.

He said he was especially impressed by the committee rooms and other spaces that accommodate visitors.

“I think the public will find it to be very user friendly,” Givhan said about a new Alabama State House.

He said he wants better access for the public, especially school groups that tour the building.

“Another thing we don’t talk about enough is accessibility for those with disabilities,” Givhan said. In addition to being a barrier for the public, Givhan said several Senate members in recent years have used wheelchairs and struggled to navigate the current building, including its restrooms.

One thing Givhan said the new building won’t have: an underground tunnel to the Capitol.

Wednesday’s update was the latest step in the process toward a new home for the Legislature that began last fall when the council approved a resolution directing staff to begin discussions about a new site. In the spring, lawmakers were given control of the city block, currently a parking lot for state employees, directly behind the existing State House as the potential site for a new building.

The Legislature has met at the current eight-story former Alabama Department of Transportation headquarters for nearly 40 years. The building’s mold, heating, air and electrical issues, and access problems for the public, have been well documented.

Harris said Wednesday that if everything goes smoothly, the Legislature could occupy a new building in time for its organizational session in early 2027.

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