Kansas preservation group raises objections to Docking building reconfiguration

Officials have struggled for a decade to decide 1957 state office building’s fate

By: - May 19, 2022 3:18 pm
A legal challenges filed in Shawnee County urges the state to reconsider plans to reduce the Docking State Office Building to three floors and renovate the structure for office and meeting spaces with a budget of $120 million. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)

A legal challenges filed in Shawnee County urges the state to reconsider plans to reduce the Docking State Office Building to three floors and renovate the structure for office and meeting spaces with a budget of $120 million. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)

TOPEKA — The historic preservation group Plains Modern wants to secure a court order requiring reconsideration of the partial demolition of Docking State Office Building and construction of three floors of office and meeting space costing no more than $120 million.

The petition filed in Shawnee County District Court followed more than a decade of controversy that included calls for renovation of the entire 1957 building adjacent to the Capitol, imploding the whole building as well as a series of intermediary steps involving six or three floors. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback had signed a deal to erase from the map the building named for a Democratic governor, but that was blocked by the Legislature.

Paul Post, who represents the Plains Modern group, said the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places was of sufficient architectural significance that it should be preserved.

“The proposed project would irreparably damage a Kansas icon despite well-documented feasible alternatives to the demolition,” Post’s group said. “We encourage the consideration of alternatives that would serve the state’s needs and preserve the building’s historic integrity.”

“Rather than wasting public dollars by destroying serviceable space in the capitol complex, we ask state leaders to review the alternatives that would maximize its economic and historic  potential,” the group said.

Gov. Laura Kelly and legislative leaders of both parties agreed to a three-floor option that would preserve heating and cooling infrastructure in Docking’s basement serving other structures in the Capitol complex.

The plan under development by the Kansas Department of Administration anticipated demolition would start in 2023 and construction to end in 2025. The Legislature agreed the budget would be supported with $60 million in federal economic stimulus dollars and $60 million in bonds issued by the state.

Rep. John Alcala, D-Topeka, said the compromise between renovation and demolition emerged after considerable consultation with downtown business interests and state and local officials. There was an economic concern that a refurbished high-rise Docking office building for state agency employees would leave a glut of privately owned office space in the city, he said.

Placement of the Docking building on the National Register will require the state to obtain permission from historic preservation officials but didn’t mean reconfiguring of the building couldn’t take place, said DeAngela Burns-Wallace, secretary of the state Department of Administration.

“It’d be nice to get something moving forward,” said Rep. Troy Waymaster, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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