Counterpoint: Here's a Plan B for Senate offices

  • Article by: JIM KNOBLACH
  • Updated: March 26, 2014 - 6:34 PM

Here’s a way to make do and avoid spending $90M for new offices, parking.

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The proposed new office building to would house state senators’ offices and hearing rooms.

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Recently a “Short Takes” commentary said those opposing the proposed Legislative Office Building need “a Plan B” for addressing space needs created by the Capitol restoration. (“What’s the Plan B?” March 25). Here is one.

First some quick, easy math: 67 minus 33 minus 23 equals 11.

There are 67 senators. The State Office Building, next to the Capitol, has 33 existing offices for senators of the minority party. The remodeled State Capitol will have 23 majority party Senate offices. We are short 11 offices. Where can they go?

All 134 state representatives have offices on floors two through five of the State Office Building. One half of the sixth floor of the State Office Building is occupied by the Legislative Reference Library. If you want a good place to sleep, this is it. In this Internet age, almost no legislators spend any time there. To the extent that it is needed, it could be moved to the Transportation Building next door. There are few, if any, employees there who need to be located on the Capitol Mall.

If 33 or 34 House members can fit on a floor, surely 11 senators can fit on half of a floor. Additional space could be found in the State Office Building by moving the secretary of state’s office or some of the other small agencies to nearby buildings.

The Senate also says it needs three more hearing rooms. In the basement of the State Office Building is a cafeteria that has been closed for years. Its footprint is the size of the other large hearing rooms in the State Office Building. It should be converted into a large hearing room.

Floors three through five of the State Office Building have two smaller hearing rooms per floor. There are no regularly scheduled hearings in these rooms, although they are occasionally used for meetings with other groups. On at least one floor the smaller rooms could be consolidated into a large hearing room.

Since the Senate has gotten by for years without these rooms, one also has to wonder whether they are all needed. There are probably only a few weeks a year when a third large hearing room might be needed. Should we spend millions on a room used only a couple of times a year? No. We should use technology to broadcast the proceedings to existing hearing rooms or to other large spaces within the Capitol complex.

Finally, we are told we need a new building because the House and Senate will otherwise have no place to meet for a year. Seriously? Whatever it costs to temporarily retrofit other space would be vastly less than the $90 million cost of this building and its parking structure. Let’s remember, too, that we have a part-time Legislature. The historic legislative chambers do not need and should not have extensive remodeling. The new heating, air conditioning and electronics they reportedly need surely can be installed when the Legislature is not in session. If our contractor can’t get the legislative chamber work done in the seven months the Legislature is not in session, the state should get a new contractor.

Let’s save $90 million and kill the new Legislative Office Building.

 

Jim Knoblach, a former Republican state representative from St. Cloud, owns a real estate investment company.

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