The Alabama State House – housing the legislative branch of government along with several other state agencies – first opened its doors in 1963. Those who’ve walked the halls over the years will be the first to tell you in what ways the building shows its age.
“Between baling wire and duct tape, we’ve been able to keep it going simply because it’s a branch of government and a function of government. And it has to operate no matter what,” Secretary of the Senate Patrick Harris told Yellowhammer News. He’s been in and around the Legislature since 1971. “We’ve had floods on the first two floors, we’ve had floods where the cars have floated off in the parking lot, we’ve had air conditioning units that – basically just like the elevators – they don’t even make parts for anymore.”
According to a Request for Architectural Services Proposal from the Retirement Systems of Alabama, the state is seeking options to build a State House on a 2.5-acre site in Montgomery.
The current eight-floor State House wasn’t always meant to be home to the Legislature, however. The building’s administrative look and feel is consistent with its original purpose as headquarters of the State Highway Department, now called the Alabama Department of Transportation.
The Alabama Senate and House of Representatives first took up residence there in 1985 during a time of renovation at the State Capitol across the street – and the building has been playing catch up ever since.
“A house is not a home until the wheels come off,” Harris said.
Recent assessments by the Alabama Department of Finance estimate that the cost to renovate the building up to code in terms of accessibility, security, technology and space would total more than $70 million.
The request is an open call for, “qualified architectural firms to provide site investigation, analysis, planning, professional design, architectural and engineering services and other related services for new legislative offices and associated facilities.”
For Harris and colleagues, access to government is a motivational factor in thinking about a new State House. From older members of the Legislature to elementary school groups, having a safe environment to see how state government works is essential.
“The building’s not functional for those people to have an opportunity to either participate in their what they want to do or to watch what we’re doing,” Harris said.
Grayson Everett is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @Grayson270 for coverage of the 2023 legislative session.