Kansas lawmakers go inside Docking for look at challenges (The Topeka Capital-Journal)

Kansas lawmakers touring the underbelly of the Docking State Office Building got a glimpse Monday into the room where unused IT equipment used to be hidden away.

A few pieces of cardboard are all that remain.

The senators and representatives were gathering information about the condition and limitations of the mostly vacant building before considering its future. Budget restrictions that were put in place to prevent destruction of the building under former Gov. Sam Brownback still block the Department of Administration from making plans to utilize empty space.

“We are looking forward to working with the Legislature,” said Samir Arif, spokesman for the Department of Administration.

Aside from an underground power plant, the building is home to Capitol Police headquarters and a small leftover unit of the Revenue Department, which left two years ago.

Some of the space is used for storage, such as an array of filing cabinets, desk chairs and other excess office equipment in the former Taxpayer Assistance Center.

Doors were open to the empty room in the basement that formerly held $10 million worth of computer equipment. In a 2017 tour of the building, Arif’s predecessor, John Milburn, wouldn’t allow legislators to see the equipment, which went into storage after the Brownback administration scrapped plans for a cloud computing system. Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration donated the equipment to Kansas State University earlier this year.

Also below ground, four massive boilers burn diesel or natural gas at 2,400 degrees. The unit provides warmth for the Statehouse and other buildings in the Capitol complex.

Jared Self, who has worked in the maintenance shop since 1990, said in terms of BTUs, the boilers produce 30,000 pounds per hour.

“That’s a substantial amount of steam,” Self said.

On the ground floor, the 70 Capitol Police employees are less cramped as the department expands its footprint from 2,200 to 6,200 square feet.

Instead of having several officers confined in a cozy alcove with a couple of monitors, they soon will have a conference room with a large bank of 12 screens to keep an eye on the 300 cameras recording throughout the Capitol area.

“This is what it should be like,” said Capt. Amber Harrington.

The police renovations are made possible by rummaging through the building for recycled materials, including walls, furniture, carpet and cabinets.

Utilities have been shut off to everything above the second floor, although air handlers remain in service to circulate air.

Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican and chairman of the Government Budget Committee, said the goal of the tour was for lawmakers to get an idea of the 1957 building’s limitations. A trip to the barren fourth floor highlighted shortcomings with heating and cooling.

“Coming away from this, you can see there are some serious challenges with the building itself as it stands today,” Claeys said.

He said lawmakers will consider altering the language of a proviso that prevents expenditures on Docking and allow Administration to develop plans for the building’s future.

Possibilities include renovating the entire structure, removing a number of stories, or leveling and replacing the building.

“We would want to narrow some of those things down as far as what those options look like,” Claeys said, “and then next year come back and make a final recommendation on what we should do moving forward with the building.”

Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said Docking remains a valuable component of the Capitol complex and should be retained, at least in part.

“I like it being a building a lot more than I would like it being a parking lot,” Francisco said.

 

This article was originally published on The Topeka Capital-Journal website, here.