Members of a state commission gave a thumbs up Thursday to plans for a new government office building directly west of the Capitol on Don Gaspar Avenue, pushing aside concerns that the project may be unnecessarily large and expensive in an age of increased telework.
State officials have discussed constructing a new executive office building for more than a decade but plans stalled amid wrangling with the City of Santa Fe over the historic status of four casitas that would be torn down to make way for the project.
Anna Silva, director of the state’s Facilities Management Division, told top state officials at the Capitol on Thursday that inspectors from both the city and state governments have recently said the casitas should be demolished.
Silva told the Capitol Buildings Planning Commission her office will seek approval from city officials to tear down the casitas and the Concha Ortiz y Pino Building to make way for the new project.
The division is also asking legislators for $100 million this year to move ahead with the plans.
“They’re going to have a hard time convincing me we don’t have the money to do this this year,” outgoing state House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, told the commission.
The building is expected to include more than 190,000 square feet, cost about $185 million and open as early as 2026, Silva tells reporters after the meeting.
The Legislative Finance Committee estimated the cost at more than $200 million in a November report, though, and questioned the need for the project—at least as presently envisioned.
While the project is meant to house staff from several agencies, such as the offices of the state auditor and treasurer, under one roof, the report noted staff in those agencies have been heavily relying on telework and may not need as much office space as planned.
The committee’s report also questioned the need for a three-level parking garage with more than 700 spaces under the proposed new building, noting that most of the spots around the Public Employees Retirement Association Building at Paseo de Peralta and Old Santa Fe Trail are empty during normal business hours.
The report recommended the Facilities Management Division revise plans and cost estimates for the proposed building, given recent use of telework.
But Silva told the commission that the report was produced before Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration pushed employees working from home to get back in the office.
“The report was a snapshot in time while workers were still at home,” Silva told the commission.
And the commission, which includes legislators, cabinet secretaries and other officials, including the state Supreme Court’s chief justice, had few questions about changing the plans.
Still, other state governments have encouraged employees to telework to cut down on building costs.
A recent survey by the National Association of State Chief Administrators found officials in most states are rethinking how much office space they need due to the widespread use of telework during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report suggested agencies may need fewer individual office spaces and more collaborative work spaces.
Silva argued the project could save the state $10 million a year, however, by allowing agencies to move workers into offices the government owns, rather than leasing from private landlords.
“That’s the goal,” she tells reporters. “We would move agencies from leased space.”