MONTGOMERY — On Tuesday, members of the Legislative Council unanimously approved contracting with the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) to design and build a new State House in Montgomery.
Othni Lathram, secretary of the Legislative Council, said at the meeting that state officials had already “started the conversation” with architects on how much square footage would be needed in the new building.
“We’ll begin immediately on the design phase of the State House. Looking forward to start construction on what I consider to be a pretty aggressive pace and schedule. We would be on the hook for at the end of that construction period covering either buying the building from RSA for all of their out-of-pocket costs plus an 8% administration fee or we’d have the option to amortize that over a 25-year lease period. That lease would be structured so that at the end of the 25 years, we owned the State House, and if at any point short of the 25 years we wanted to buy it out we could buy RSA out at any time for their remaining outstanding balance of the debt they undertook for the construction,” Lathram said.
The State House opened in 1963 as the Alabama Highway Department Building. It housed the Alabama Department of Transportation, then known as the Alabama State Highway Department, until 1985 when the Alabama Legislature moved in.
Legislative Council Chairman State Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) told reporters on Tuesday, “This building has tremendous problems. It is not functional.”
The estimated deferred maintenance on the current State House building is around $100 million, according to Givhan.
“I think it's important to make a good presentation for the state of Alabama and to make the committee rooms accessible. There’s so many of these committee rooms that the public can’t get in when they really have a concern about what’s going on, and they can’t get in the room. It’s not right to have a State House where basically the lobbyists that know where they’re going and get here early get all the seats,” Givhan said.
Although there’s been no vocal opposition over plans for the new State House, other major ongoing construction projects, such as prisons and highways, have been significantly over budget.
No price tag has been released on the new State House yet.
“I don’t want to give a price because once I give a price because everyone is like, okay, well, they missed it. Honestly, a lot of times when you do get a quote it seems like it’s always going to end up being higher,” Givhan said. “The prisons have been just ridiculously higher. I can’t comprehend to that. I’m not on that committee. I don’t think a commercial building…it doesn’t have the unique security features of a prison. Particularly that one with the health care issues and the educational components, I don’t think we’re going to run into those type of cost overruns because there will be a political price to pay on that one. I see a lot of eyes and hawks watching that one.”
Givhan said the new State House would likely be finished in the next quadrennium starting in 2027.
“There is a hope that this will be in before this quadrennium is over. I would anticipate that we’re talking about the next body that’s elected to represent the people is probably who is going to be serving in the new building,” Givhan said.
Leadership in both the House and Senate said on Tuesday after the Legislative Council meeting that they’re supportive of the plan for the new State House.
State Rep. Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville) told 1819 News on Tuesday, “We’re not discussing any numbers yet because we don’t know what those are.”
“We’ve kind of got to begin to get the architects and design phase going. Today was about continuing to move forward. Could be at some point we say we can’t do it, but we’ve got to do our due diligence and got to move forward and see what that looks like,” Reynolds said.
House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) said in a statement, “The significant challenges with the current Alabama State House, ranging from black mold to chronic flooding to outdated electrical systems and countless others, have been well documented by the media and experienced by everyone who utilizes the building.”
“Just like the cost of repairing an old, outdated automobile eventually exceeds its value at some point, the Legislative Council has determined that the significant funding necessary to update the dilapidated State House would be better spent by investing in a new one,” Ledbetter said. “Because of sky-high interest rates, entering into a lease-to-own agreement and allowing the Retirement Systems of Alabama to manage the construction component of this project offers the most common-sense fiscal option for taxpayers. A new State House will provide much-needed public access and adequate space for Alabama’s press—allowing more opportunities for Alabamians to attend legislative meetings, have input in important debates, and let their voices be heard on the issues that matter to them most.”
State Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said in a statement, “At a time when Washington has lost its way, Alabamians are counting on their state leaders to protect our core values and our way of life.
“A new statehouse isn't just a building; it's the foundation of a stronger Alabama, for the people of Alabama,” Reed said. “If state legislatures are the laboratories for democracy, then Alabamians deserve a statehouse that will allow as many citizens into the lab as possible. The Alabama statehouse should be a place where citizens from every corner of our great state can actively engage in the democratic process, not a building that restricts their participation and limits access to their government."
Legislation was passed into law in the 2023 regular session to place more land next to the current Alabama State House under legislative control for the possible construction of a new State House. The new law gives the Legislative Council "authority to contract with an appropriate party, including, but not limited to, the Retirement Systems of Alabama, to construct and maintain a building that, upon completion, would be designated as the Alabama State House."
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