The iconic high rise docking state office building next to the Kansas capitol, which now sits largely unoccupied, could be demolished. That's the quest of Governor Laura Kelly who put in motion a plan to scrap the legislature's preference for lopping off some floors of the structure and renovating that space that work to take the building to the ground could begin as early as January 2023. On the other hand, a preservation group called plains modern has gone to court to halt full scale demolition, and they're here with the Kansas reflector to discuss why that should be the chosen path for this building. Here to dig into the details is historic preservationist Colleen Lin. Hello. Hi. We have we have architect Michael Gibson. Hello. Yes, thank you. We have historian Paul post. Hello. Glad to be here. Yeah. Good to see you. And attorney Philip Gragson.
Good morning. honor to be here.
Yeah. Good for you. Thanks. Thank you. Thank you to you all. So let's begin with Colleen. And and all of you can pitch in but let's just talk about the fundamental question the cause what is the cause here? We're talking about an old state office building. It's been used for half a century. It's sitting over there right next to the Capitol. Some people might think it's beautiful. Some people might not but what is the cause we're talking about here.
Tim, it's not just an old building. It is a historically designated building. The docking building on the National Register of Historic Places, is scheduled for demolition starting on January one, and that's often surprising to anyone who knows anything about preservation law or statute. It's usually not that simple. plains modern decided to intervene after Governor Laura Kelly issued a final order that allowed the building to be demolished in spite of the fact that the State Historic Preservation Officer ruled in February that doing so would cause it to be removed from the National Register. That final order contends that there are no prudent and feasible alternatives to destroying the national landmark. However, we know that there are documented prudent and feasible alternatives that were provided by Clark newsman in a state contracted report back in 2020. And that's why we're here now is to assert that there are options beyond tearing down the docking building.
Okay, Paul, you're the historian here, could you just paint us a picture a little bit about the building and talk a little bit about its significance as a structure?
Well, the building is significant, because after World War Two, there was a desire by the state to bring all of the employees who state employees who were at various diverse venues into one state office building that would be adjacent to the Capitol building. That process actually started in the late 40s. And continued through the early 50s, when the current design was decided upon by the then state building committee. And it went forward with a $9 million bond allocation to build this structure, which is a mid century modern edifice. And I'll defer to my friend here, Michael, to talk a little bit more about what that means. But essentially, when the groundbreaking took place, and later at the dedication, then Governor Arne described the building as the worthy twin of the Capitol building the Capitol Building embody the 19th century and the State Office Building as it was then now now, the docking building embodied and was was essentially the embodiment of the 20th century. And as I said, Governor Arne described it as a worthy twin to that 19th century Capitol building.
They Michael, your architectural style guide, you know, help us out with maybe the significance of this particular building?
Well, when I moved to Topeka, I noticed the building right away. It is a very different looking building. And I, it surprised me to learn that that building was completed just a few years after the UN Secretariat, which is a tall glazed modern building, that's considered one of the first of its kind in the in the world really. And I think that's, that's significant, because the docking was really a trailblazing building, for the whole, really the whole country. There's a lot of really unique technology and methods that were used in that building, to make it extra flexible, to make it easy to adapt. It's a very, very resilient structure. It's concrete encased steel at that time, the 50s. That was the approach used to fireproof with tall structure, and it even has double pane insulated glass windows. And it really an innovative use of the technology at the time and a trailblazing building.
So Phillip, you're the the legal counsel here. I just If I just quickly want to know, what is your, your you're trying to approach this from a legal perspective to preserve the building, or at least part of it. How big of a uphill battle is that?
I consider it a fairly big uphill battle. Presently the suit has been pending since approximately April of this year. The issue has been briefed, and we had oral arguments last week, the court has taken it under advisement. And we expect a decision. Any time however, we bifurcated the issues. And the only issues that the judge is considering at this point is standing of Plains modern and jurisdiction and the jurisdiction issue relates to since this is technically an administrative appeal, we had 30 days from the date of the what's called the final order. However, procedurally, the problem was there is no mechanism under the historic preservation statutes to provide notice to anyone other than the State Historical Preservation Officer, which presented a problem in our case, and they're claiming we were we were late to file even though we never got noticed. So you had
a time clock going, but there was no public disclosure necessarily, of of the order issued by Governor Laura Kelly, to proceed with demolition. That's correct. So you couldn't necessarily respond in a timely manner? Because maybe they didn't want anybody to know about it? Well,
that's correct. Again, whether it's a flaw in the statute, there is no mechanism, such as putting it in the Qantas register these state paper or the state of Kansas, letting people know what the decision was
capsulize there, you're saying there was potentially a flaw in the Kansas statute, but potentially, yes, okay. Gosh, all right. So it's a bit of a mystery how we got to this point years ago, Governor Sam Brownback, a Republican wanted to demolish the docking building, he had a big plan. There's a power plant that serves the Capitol Complex in the basement of the docking building, he was going to build a $20 million new power plant. The legislature didn't buy into that they cancelled the contract pulled the plug, I think it was around 2016 or so. The years all blend together. So then there were there was a lot of debate, a lot of legislative study, much talk, talk, talk talk. And then there was an idea to give the building uh, you know, maybe some people wanted to renovate the whole thing. And then it was your we're gonna get a haircut down to three floors, take off the top nine, maybe, and then go down to three and renovate that. And now we're at the point where we're abandoning all of that. And we're, we're pancaking the whole thing. Killeen? Can you tell us why? Governor Kelly is taking this move?
I don't know directly why. But this is what I do know that. We as taxpayers own a 12 storey concrete encased steel building that is sound structurally sound and has been verified as structurally sound. And we are pulling that down to build back a smaller building. Essentially, we'll have less public office space when we get done. does is that in the service to taxpayers? No, we're going to have less value is that in service to any environmental sustainability? No, because everything that could be good about the new building could be included in rehabilitated docking as well. So it just stands to reason that the only people who are being benefited are those who own private commercial real estate and Topeka, who no longer have to compete with a 12 storey building.
But I should point out, there's a bit of an irony here. When Governor Kelly was in the Kansas Senate, she voted along with all of her Senate colleagues to stop brown backs plan to demolish the building. And she's in fact, the person who signed the order make in 2022, to proceed with this. So anybody have any comment about irony?
Well, she was mine. This is Paul that she was my senator for many years and I went to different occasions to her office in the Capitol Building to talk to her about demolition plans. And she was adamantly opposed to brown backs intent to demolish the building. She along with Representative John Alcoa, I met with both of them twice and they were opposed vehemently to what Brownback was wanting to do.
Part of the process. The legislature, of course, has the power to decide what happens to that building, but they kind of kicked it to a the State Finance Council it's its legislative leadership and the top brass of government to make a final call. So does anybody have any comment about the politics of all this? Or maybe it's really not really a political question. It's really about money financing and people thinking this is an eyesore.
Well, that's exactly what Senator clays said a year ago with the building committee meeting. I And the Capitol when they had their meeting in October of 2021. He said, I want to I've been looking at this eyesore for 10 years and I want it to be gone. He was the sparkplug behind all of this. And he came up with the idea to tear it down to grade, when the day before again, I spoke to John Alcoa, who was also on the committee. And he said, well, the agreement is we've reached a compromise, it's going down to six floors. That's what he thought the day before. So no one was expecting this from Senator clays who move to change the approach and take it completely down to grade and start all over with a new building.
Thank you, Paul. Michael, do you have anything to add?
I did. Go ahead. I think the financial story behind this is that this project is funded. And the irony is that renovating the entire docking structure is almost the same cost as tearing it down and building this small building. And the report that Colleen referenced before from the architecture firm, Clark Eastman, that report was very comprehensive. It had Consulting Engineers, consulting specialists to take a really detailed look at the building to a level of depth that really hadn't done been done before. And that study concluded the feasibility of of restoring the building completely. I want to read a quote from the sort of Brownback area that you were referring to Tim, this was from a legislator who said that he had never seen that kind of deterioration at a building that is relatively new. Well, the docking building is not new. It's an old building, old buildings age, it's a natural process. And the Talking is not deteriorated. It's actually in fabulous shape. I've been to the building many times, I've been walked around by members of the department of administration to show the building systems and, and the materials, and the building is in spectacular condition, considering the very low level of maintenance and service that was done in the office spaces. And luckily, the building is preserved very, very well. It's not leaking, it's not going to fall down. When we've been engaging the public on this issue, we've actually heard a lot of that misinformation that there is something people think there's something fundamentally wrong with the building, and there really isn't, it's a building that is in great shape.
I should note that Kansas reflected requested comment from the department administration, but the agency declined to comment, dude, you all's legal fight, I did want to ask you something that I had heard in the state house. And that is, when the people looked at what to do with if they took it down to three floors. And they looked at what the interior structure of that three floor building would be, they had these pillars that would hold up nine other floors. And those apparently get in the way of a proper meaningful renovation of the remaining poor to the structures that make any sense to you, Michael,
I laugh about that a little bit. Because as an architect, you know, I'm familiar with projects that have really pushed, adaptive reuse to an extreme. There's hotels, where you can spend the night in an old concrete grain silo. So the structure of a building is really it's a problem that architects and engineers can solve. And I think that narrative is also false. Because we have the report, we have the documentation. In fact, I think we've we've noticed in the plains modern group, the similarities between the new proposed short building and the renovation of the docking, they're really, really very similar. In fact, a lot of the sustainability and technology features of that new building could be a part of the existing building renovation.
Michael, can you also tell me what planes monitor somebody tell me what planes modern is? It's a style of architecture. Could somebody just explain your all's name group name?
It's It's because our group is committed to Preservation and Advocacy for modern design. In Kansas and across the Midwest. We took on the moniker plains modern the idea that this particular style has a home in Kansas and surrounding regions to
okay, what what is it typify plains modern? Can anybody tell me?
I think we're still learning that. And in the preservation world, I think we've ignored a lot of our structures that are are maybe just 60 or seven years old. And those those structures deserve to be retained as part of our, our society and part of our our building culture. If we lose those buildings, they will not be replaced. Building construction and building technology has changed greatly. We can't replace a building like the docking, if it's lost, and we haven't even talked about the the aesthetic and the historical value. You have the building, you know, 1000s of state employees worked in that building for decades. And so there's there's a lot of a lot of sort of time and kind of memory tied up in that, in that structure.
And there's a pledge when they, when they tear it out to save some of the some of the more beautiful aspects of it. I think there's marble on the walls in the first floor cetera. And I just don't know how that's going to be put back into a building in a meaningful way.
What Tam, I think the the public kind of media presentation of that has called that preservation. And that's really not preservation, just taking the parts of an old building and putting them on display. Anyone that's familiar with what preservation is, knows that that's, that's the opposite of preservation, because to preserve a building means that it can continue to be used, it can continue to be inhabited and experienced.
I have a one page timeline of all of this, the saga of this the soap opera, and we're gonna go through that. But Philip, I wanted to just real quickly, can you tell us in terms of the legal fight over this, if the judge were to allow you the suit to continue, you say you have standing as a group to to bring some cause in court? And that jurisdiction is appropriate? What how do you see that playing out if you're prevailing?
If we prevail at this particular stage, then we're faced with the prospect of deciding whether or not we should seek some type of injunctive relief to preclude the project moving forward as directed by the governor, we'll cross that bridge, if and or when we get there.
The notion would be to stop that wrecking ball in his tracks,
yes, and that now it could be stopped. If the judge were to simply dismiss the final order and say, Hey, tee it up again, and do it differently. But before I move on with that I you mentioned irony earlier, and I wanted to emphasize as I did in our oral argument, all the things we're talking about is behind the backdrop of a state public policy that reads like this, and this is ksa 7527 15. And it says it is therefore declared to be the public policy and in the public interest of the state to engage in a comprehensive program of historic preservation, and to foster and promote the conservation in use of historic property for the education, inspiration, pleasure and enrichment of the citizens of Kansas. That statute also references that this process is of the highest priority. And, again, I'll ask you and your listeners, as I asked the court, does, what happened here reflect that preservation is the highest priority the state of Kansas? I don't think so. And so we're certainly encouraging the governor to rethink this and hopefully take some action, separate and apart from what the court is doing now.
Okay, now. Excellent. I appreciate that. Now, we're going to talk a little bit about the sausage making of all things in government. And so we're gonna go back to 2011. That's when Governor Brownback proposed that the building be raised without legislative approval, and he started relocating people to other private office buildings and signing 2025 year leases. I can't remember for exorbitant escalator clauses that are really given, you know, the fact that everybody wants to work at home now seemed like a ridiculous contract that the state would be cost him dearly, to get out of. So way to go there. Then at 2016, the Kansas Preservation Alliance proposed this be placed on the National Register. Can somebody talk about that? That because it was I think it was placed on
and taken off? No, not exactly explain where we're at there. So the the way that these buildings are listed is that there is a state body it's the Kansas historic Board of Review that considers what structures in Kansas should be added first to the state list and then sent on to the national for their consideration. At the meeting where that nomination was considered. An official of the Brabeck administration asked that the nomination be tabled, so that further consideration could be made for tearing down the building. That over public objections, the Board of Review voted to table and that is the last time docking appeared on the agenda or the minutes of that board until it was actually listed in 2020. Only because a private citizen petitioned the National Park Service directly asking why has this been tabled? What is the status of this? Of this nomination?
So was through private initiative added to the national Register of Historic Places. Yes. Is it still there as it is,
is on the National Register of Historic Places as of January 28. This year?
Okay. Okay. It hasn't been removed. Okay. All right. The legislature, you know, a couple years ago had a big joint committee where they focus on things in terms of state building projects, and they hired a consultant, a big design firm came in, and there were recommendations that maybe they could rebuild, rehabilitate it all or remove some of the top floors. Eventually, eventually, by 2021, I believe there was a vote of that committee, almost a split vote to take it down to three storeys. And although other options were considered, that's where we're at in 2021. Right, correct. Okay. Then, there was some private initiative to get the building listed. That's controversial. Okay, let now we come up to early 2022. And there's there's very complicated, quagmire that deals with the Kansas State Historic Preservation Officer and the governor sending letters and that person not being at work. Okay. Can somebody explain, dig into that and summarize that, is that possible? Phillip, you
want to take that? Sure. Yeah.
Well, we were operating under ksa 75 Dash 2724, which allows anyone, agree person to challenge the administrative determination. The statutes require the governor to send the final determination to the State Historic Preservation Officer. In this particular case, that was Miss Jenny chin. And she, unfortunately had an accident on the Saturday after the actual letter made it from the governor's office to what we call the shippers office. And by regulation, Ms. Chen was to review that final determination within five days and make any additional determinations recommendations that she saw fit. Well, unfortunately, Miss Chen had an accident and passed away some three weeks later and never reviewed it. In fact, the letter wasn't substantively even looked at until April 19, even though it arrived at the shippers office on April 1. So we have this this glitch, substantively, this process didn't happen the way it was supposed to happen. And, again, due
to her illness, the timeline was hiccups to the point where the there's a dispute perhaps about when it was actually arrive. Was it April 1, was it April 19. When did the clock start for your 30? Day appeal time?
Right? Well, again, here's the rub. It arrived on the first and we was there, we stipulated to that it was in a box. Okay? Three days later, somebody who processes that mail, put it in Miss Chan's box, of course, she was out of the office and never came back again. It sat there till the 19th until the deputy Shippo looked at it and sent a memo as required by the regulation to the governor saying, Hey, we got it on April 19, even though the governor's office position is Oh, no. We sent it the 31st of March and you got it. April 1 Did
that historic preservation officer the deputy? Did that individual concur with the governor's quest to demolish the building? Or did they throw they just it was a formality? Have we received your correspondence? Or did they object in any way
they did not object in any way. As an administrative appeal, we don't typically get to do what's called discovery in a regular civil lawsuit. So we don't know exactly what the deputy did. Now, we did receive an affidavit and I appreciated that from the deputy Shippo indicating, you know, these are the steps internally that happened. There's no indication that there was a substantive evaluation of what the governor's final order was, to my knowledge there could have been but I haven't seen it. And again, none of that is consistent with the stated public policy of the state of Kansas preservation, right. They should err on the side of including people to challenge not excluding.
Okay. You know, I think one of the motivating factors here is people are sick and tired of debating this issue, and they just threw up their hands and said, for God's sake, somebody tears The building down and let's move on. You know, it seems like it seems a little sad, Michael to think after a decade or debate that that's what's going to happen.
I can't agree more. It seems it seems crazy to me as an architect and thinking, thinking back to the time when this building was conceived and designed and built, you know, people put their they put their life into this this project, the scale of the building and the importance of the building, nearby the Capitol, it really, really is an important building, and it deserves not to just get flicked off of the map. With a, you know, with a single finger flick, I think what a lot of people also don't know is the building is it's sitting there idling, it's really not using a lot of energy to do that. It's actually heated and maintained with waste heat from the utility plant downstairs. So we've even talked about the potential for the building to be renovated and occupied floor by floor. But the I think you're right, I think the the discussion and the dialogue is really closing down. And and what we hope is that this the facts and the the sort of rationality can come to the surface at the end of the process.
I think one thing that happened that we haven't talked about was the role of certain city leaders, if you will, and the decision to have it torn down. And by leaders, I mean, those folks who own real estate, downtown and elsewhere who are benefiting from having office space, by state employees, paying them rent each and every month for a long period of time. The then city manager wrote a letter to the state building committee saying that the city of Topeka supports demolishing the docking, they didn't use the word demolishing, but removing the docking, building or renovating it or whatever word they used to fuel escape the actual plan as to what was happening. That city manager had no authority whatsoever from the city council to make that statement. The city manager in Topeka is an administrative person policy is made by the city council. I took that up with my own council member Karen Hiller right when it happened. And I've also talked to others. And essentially what they said was, well, we were busy with other things. And we didn't have time to carefully take a position on this. Well, that's fine if they're busy, but then to have it come out saying the city of Topeka supports this is wrong because the city of Topeka in the form of the city council took no position whatsoever. But that's been used and carried forward by people who want the building to come down to say that well, the city supports this. So what what's the problem?
Yeah, the city of just second, calling the city manager could be interpreted as advisory. But clearly there was pressure from the land barons and Topeka to get rid of this docking building, because that clears clears the way for them to lease out space to government employees. You wanted to say something,
I just wanted to return to that point that you made to him about docking fatigue, and certainly you can, you can feel that at some points here in Topeka. But outside of Topeka, and our conversations with friends and neighbors and plains modern as a statewide group. Most of our members don't live in Topeka. People don't know about the docking building, they have no idea that 12 floors that they own are being pulled down so that the state can have a smaller building. So I would I would challenge this idea that we've talked about this enough, people outside of Topeka don't know about it, I would also remind us to look at the history, consideration of building the docking started in 1945. Groundbreaking didn't happen until 1954. It took them a while to come up with this plan, which ultimately was very successful, the state was able to build a docking for about $15 a square foot, whereas most public office buildings at the time were being built for 20 to 25. It was a cutting edge design, as Michael has talked about, it served the state very well in this central location right next to the Capitol. I would say a little bit more time to make a better decision in light of the national listing of this building will be well worth it for the long term for the taxpayers in Kansas and
maybe that's a legacy the docking building the long game. So in April, Governor Kelly actually issued the order related to docking, and in May you guys incorporated plains modern and filed your petition to challenge the decision process. Then, in October, the Department of stration start presenting plans about a new building and really kind of set aside the fiscal and environmental issues about demolition of it and suggest said that for all we know the wrecking crews could be there on January 1, you know, the new day. And you guys were in court in December 6. So Killeen? What Where do you think the next step USCIS is in court? It has to be in court. Are you talking about own awareness? You know, are you trying to improve expand the awareness of the docking plight?
Well, for docking specifically, legal remedy really is the only thing that could force state leaders to rescind this final order, and for the legislature to rethink this project in light of the historical listing. But it is possible for Governor Kelly to rescind this order without any kind of legal finding, and we would appeal for her to do the exactly that because
she issued it she could withdraw it. Exactly. I guess Exactly.
Or she could they could stipulate to the dismissal of pending suit and agree
ticket take three months to take another crack at it. And if unsatisfied, that they any kind of reasonable alternative is in the ether, then they could she could issue another order?
Yes. And Tim, I threw that out at the hearing that, you know, at any point since May, when we filed this, they simply could have re noticed this, right. Yeah. And made sure the Shippo who was then acting did their
job. Yeah, maybe be a little bit more transparent, right. Transparency
is a significant issue. And, you know, if you try to pick the most memorable buildings in the state of Kansas, I think Dawkins is one of them. And for the docking to get this kind of procedural treatment, I find disturbing.
Okay. I wanted to close this out by asking a question of you all about sort of the the US and throw it away society, I parents have a farm in Missouri and I find myself rummaging around trying to find a piece of metal to fix a gate or something, you know, instead of buying a new one. But, and that's okay. But this is more complicated. You're talking about a very large building in downtown and prime real estate. But it is an expensive proposition when you start just throwing away 12 storey buildings with a budget replacement budget of about $120 million. That's real money. So what do you guys think about that? Generally, my goal is to start with you, you know, just about architecture and buildings and just saying, Ah, you know, it's 20 years old, we can just tear that down short term.
And I think you're, you're exactly right, I think the sustainable thing to do is to evaluate what you have first, and see how you can reuse it because there's, there's embodied energy, there's, there's embodied carbon dioxide, in that original structure, and it all goes to the landfill, and you're actually you're using more energy to tear down that building, in addition to the energy it already embodies. So the project in terms of sustainability, it really doesn't look good from that perspective. And the I think, also where the state office workers are currently employed, these are not super high quality, modern buildings. These are, you know, grocery grocery stores, you know, renovated Dillon. So I think that's the potential to upgrade an existing building to modern standards. And that's something that Clark easements original report on the full renovation of the building highlighted that this could actually be one of the most efficient office buildings in the whole state. You know, despite its age, it really has that potential.
Good. Paul, do you think about historical precedent here? Do we think that they just can conduct this building then? What's next?
Well, I think so. And just to echo what Philip said, about the state policy, which has been on the books since 1977, about historic preservation being the highest priority, not a priority, but the highest priority is designed exactly, to to go against this idea of being a throwaway society, we want to honor our historic roots. And so I think just that alone is enough to say this building should be saved.
And Phillip, the the legal issues here. There's this is I don't recall, controversy quite like this, but you could be setting precedent. That's true.
And first of all, Paul? Yes, you're right. And I echo what you just said, what you just said. Certainly, look, my hope is it even if we don't ultimately get our goal here is that the legislature will look at the statutory structure and fix it, because it at best, it is convoluted, and it's not working. Right. So my hope is at least that much will happen.
And Colleen, you get the last word. Tim, you're right. We're a throwaway society. But in talking to people around Kansas about this issue, I'm struck by how frequently when they find out about the particulars of the case, their immediate reaction is, what a waste. This is wasteful. I this is contrary to Kansas values of being of making good use of the resources that we have. They don't understand why we're tearing down 12 serviceable stories to build back three. So I think that there is hope to turn people's thinking about this project around if they knew the facts of the case.
All right, I think we're gonna have to leave it there. I want to thank Phillip Paul, Michael and Colleen, thanks for coming in tag teaming this issue. It is an important one little bit convoluted, but a lot of these things are I want to thank everybody for listening to the Kansas reflector. Thank you.