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RSA takes first step towards new Statehouse building

A request for bids to build a new Statehouse was sent out by RSA on Monday.

The Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery.
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A new Alabama Statehouse is one (tentative) step closer to reality. 

The Retirement Systems of Alabama on Monday released a request for proposal (RFP), soliciting bids for the new facility and laying out basic expectations. The deadline for bids is May 19. 

“This is a slow-burning fuse, as you know, but I’d say this is the initial phase of getting some concrete information on what costs might look like and actually putting some pieces together,” said Pat Harris, who, as secretary of the senate, has worked extensively on the new Statehouse project. 

Harris said the project would be handled by RSA, which would then lease the building back to the Legislature for use. That works well for two reasons, he said: First, it allows RSA and CEO David Bronner to handle the construction and management of the project, and second, it puts the lease money into the retirement system’s coffers for state employees. 

“(Bronner) has so much experience with this sort of project – he’s constructed buildings all over the world and has the contacts and knowledge that very few people have,” Harris said. “And it just makes sense. This lease will be around for a long time and be money going into the account for state employees.”

As far as specifics go, there are few at this point. Harris said the new building’s exterior would be complimentary to the capitol’s design and that the building itself would not be larger than the capitol. The proposed location will be the parking lot directly behind the current Statehouse, which Harris said was a nearly identical size, if not slightly larger, to the current Statehouse footprint. The RFP calls for parking underneath the new building and an expansion of the current parking deck. 

As far as costs, Harris said that will be determined by the bids received. 

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“This step is helpful for us in that it will give us an idea of costs and what we might need to tweak here or there in order to adjust those costs,” Harris said. “We’re going to be working with RSA, though. It’s their project, but we’ll work with them.”

Harris and lawmakers who are supportive of the new Statehouse project know that there will be criticisms – lots and lots of criticisms. But they’re prepared to take them, because this is not a project they view as personally beneficial to lawmakers or employees. In fact, Harris said it was one that ultimately serves the people of this state. 

“Right now, as bad as everyone says it is in here (during session), the people have a really hard time coming to see how bad it is,” Harris said. “This building isn’t designed to do what it’s doing, and it shows. The people can’t come into this body, as they should be able to, and watch their business being done. That’s a problem. That’s something I want to fix.” 

Additionally, Harris said the current building has extremely costly repairs that are needed to make the building safe. A recent study completed by the Department of Finance found that it would take $53 million just to bring the building up to current code. That didn’t factor in failing elevators which are no longer manufactured and would require tens of millions of dollars to replace. Or the out-of-date air conditioning units, for which replacement parts are no longer made. 

“I had a fire in my office a while back. There was another fire downstairs. It was because of the old electrical in this building,” Harris said. “This building is a safety issue in a number of different ways.”

One of the most obvious ways involves visitors. Currently, when the fourth-graders from around the state come for their yearly visits, they must walk up eight flights of stairs. Harris said there were two falls on the stairs last week – parents struggling to make it up. 

When there are protests of legislation, there is no room to accommodate the protestors, typically forcing them outside, well away from the lawmakers. 

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“This building was an old highway department building – that’s what it was designed for,” Harris said. “It’s time to fix that and build a true monument of government that can function properly and serve the people for decades to come.”

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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