TOPEKA — The administration of Gov. Laura Kelly recommended Friday the state invest $152 million in renovation of Docking State Office Building next to the Capitol to accommodate staff working at a cluster of state agencies as well as a new laboratory for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
DeAngela Burns-Wallace, secretary of the Kansas Department of Administration, said overhaul of the building largely emptied of workers and previously targeted for demolition would create space on lower floors for KDHE and conferencing facilities. The project would provide office space for more than 900 state employees currently scattered throughout Topeka. The project, which would need approval of the Kansas Legislature, includes issuance of 20- or 30-year bonds to finance a three-year construction schedule.
Plans to demolish Docking were put on hold by the Legislature in 2016 despite Gov. Sam Brownback’s intention to level the structure and build a new $20 million power plant for the Capitol complex north of the statehouse. Power infrastructure serving the Capitol and nearby state buildings is the basement of Docking, which is also occupied by the Capitol Police and includes warehouse and maintenance spaces.
In subsequent years, lawmakers have struggled to decide what to do with the towering building west of the statehouse.
“We are excited to have this conversation,” Burns-Wallace told the joint House and Senate building committee. “Many of you have been part of this conversation much longer than myself. The bones of the building are good. The infrastructure of the building is good. We can use this space.”
The Department of Administration’s consultants last year estimated the cost of renovating Docking without the KDHE laboratory at $114 million. A stand-alone KDHE lab to replace a south Topeka facility widely viewed as inadequate could cost $58 million.
Sen. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican on the building committee, said time had come to resolve questions about Docking’s future. He’s not convinced, however, the KDHE lab ought to be incorporated into a Docking renovation.
“I understand the advantage to combining the two because we do save some money,” Claeys said. “My preference … would be to have a stand-alone lab and address that issue and then have as many agency headquarters as possible next door to the Capitol in close proximity. That is the advantage to having a building right next door.”