“Eyesore’ to become new state office building

BATON ROUGE – A state panel that regulates construction of state buildings has given final approval of plans for a complete overhaul of the former federal government operations building in downtown Shreveport to become the new State Office Building for Northwest Louisiana.

The Office Facility Corporation, which consists of top administration and legislative officials, voted unanimously to strip the existing structure at 500 Fannin Street “to the bones” and build what essentially will be a new building. The Joe D. Waggoner Building housed federal offices and a courtroom for two decades before a new facility was built.

“They’ll clear out the guts of the building” and strip the exterior, leaving only steel and concrete, said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, who chairs the OFC. The existing parking garage is inadequate, so crews will tear it down and replace it.

Mark Moses, director of the state Office of Facility Planning and Control, said steel and concrete are currently the most expensive building materials, so the state is getting a new building at roughly half the cost of completely new construction. The revamp will cost about $70 million, whereas a new structure that size would cost $140 million.

The preparation work will be complete this year, Moses said, and “early next spring, we’ll begin construction.” Because using the existing structure cuts construction costs in half of what it would cost to start from scratch, the state will use existing funds to start the project rather than sell bonds.

Getting the situation to this point was neither quick nor easy, said Rep. Cedric Glover. The overwhelming majority of the NWLA legislative delegation aggressively opposed the adaptive repurposing of the former federal building for a number of years.

“Most opposition appeared to be based upon erroneous information shared regarding the suitability of the 50-year-old structure for continued use,” Glover said.

In response to the objections lodged in a letter by Sen. Barrow Peacock and co-signed by almost every member of the Northwest Louisiana Delegation, state building officials hired Shreveport-based engineers and architects to inspect the building.

The survey found that the structure was sound but the garage should be demolished and a much larger garage be built. Any problems with the current structure –including a leaky roof and exterior problems – would disappear when crews strip it to the steel frame and rebuild as an essentially new building.

“It is our belief that despite the current lack of care and maintenance, which resulted in leaky roofs and associated mold and damage to the interior, this building is in structurally good condition,” the consultants’ report says. “The damage seen appears to be repairable without costs significant to the overall project. The building structure, with minor modification, meets current design codes, including the seismic criteria.

“Once the building is reconstructed, it will be an excellent high quality office building with a long and useful life that will replace an aging deteriorating eyesore and bring life and vibrancy back to an area of downtown in which it is desperately needed,” the assessment concludes.

Glover, D-Shreveport, and Mills, R-Minden, led the effort that helped to dispel what Glover termed “false and baseless information” and formed the basis of a bipartisan and biracial legislative coalition that allowed the project to come to fruition.

“The adaptive repurposing of the former downtown federal building is a win for our region at so many levels,” Glover said. “The structure has been empty for eight more years than it was occupied, with no visible or viable prospects on the horizon to return it to commerce. “

At Glover’s request, the Division of Administration developed a chart comparing the advantages of rebuilding on the Fannin Street site and building and new structure. The chart shows the two proposals equal in operations and maintenance, technology, employee work environment, sustainability and energy, service to the public and design.

But the completely new structure fell short in affordability, time of construction, and location immediately adjacent to existing state-managed facilities. Whether the new structure would be located in Shreveport’s Central Business District and address downtown blight is questionable, the chart shows.

“Building a new state building at twice the cost while leaving a still empty, but perfectly reusable former federal building at 500 Fannin Street would be an assault on the best interests of the people of Louisiana,” Glover said. “I’m delighted that we have instead chosen to make a historically high state investment into downtown Shreveport. An investment that will literally alter the landscape and skyline of downtown Shreveport for decades yet to come.”

Regarding the architectural drawings, Glover stated, “The images represent Option 1 for the new NWLA State Office Building as rendered by the team led by Shreveport-based architect Christopher Coe. No final version of the edifice has been selected or approved by the state. As the upcoming legislative session approaches, I look forward to hosting town hall meetings to provide additional information and receive feedback from those interested.”