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General Assembly building set to open after delays

Virginia Legislative Building
Sarah Rankin
The Associated Press
Virginia's Capitol Square is seen Thursday from an upper floor of the newly constructed Virginia General Assembly building. The building houses legislative offices and committee rooms, and will open to the public later in October.

The gleaming new $292-million building, which incorporates an original 1912 facade, was completed behind schedule and over budget.

The Virginia General Assembly's airy new legislative building, home to lawmakers' offices and the committee rooms where much of the Legislature's work is done, is set to open to the public later this month after years of planning, construction and delays.

The nearly $300 million modernized facility — constructed on the same footprint of its cramped, asbestos-laden predecessor near the Thomas Jefferson-designed Capitol — will offer improved conditions for those who work there. It will also provide better access, comfort and convenience to members of the public who visit Richmond to engage with their representatives, state officials involved in the project said on a Thursday press tour.

"This is going to be more beneficial to people who are interested in the process or have concerns to bring before the Legislature. It's going to be a better-functioning building overall," said Susan Clarke Schaar, the longtime Senate clerk who helped oversee the project.

The 15-story building — 14 above grade and one below — has a 12,000-person capacity and a bank of speedy elevators. It will have larger committee rooms, comfortable public seating areas, a post office location, upgraded security features and lactation rooms for new parents. A much-expanded dining area that includes a coffee bar will be open to the public year-round despite the Legislature's part-time schedule, officials said.

The gleaming new building, which incorporates an original 1912 facade, came in behind schedule and over budget.

Officials initially authorized funding in 2016, and legislative offices were moved out of the previous structure in 2017 for construction to begin. The historic facade was stabilized in place during demolition, the Department of General Services has said.

The building was initially supposed to open in June 2022 but ran behind schedule due to pandemic-related supply chain difficulties and a building code issue related to a stairwell. A certificate of occupancy was obtained in August.

The price tag currently stands at $292 million for the building and an in-progress tunnel connecting it to the Capitol, though the project isn't totally complete, according to Dena Potter, a spokesperson for DGS. That's approaching the $300 million sum that was initially authorized in 2016 for a broader project that included not only the General Assembly Building but also a new parking garage and the renovation of the nearby Victorian Gothic Old City Hall, a National Historic Landmark that now houses state government offices.

The latest total cost of the three projects wasn't immediately available Thursday.

A General Assembly Building replacement was deemed necessary for a variety of reasons. The previous facility was actually comprised of what had been several separate buildings with an elevator shaft between them, which was like the “bride of Frankenstein in my humble opinion," said G. Paul Nardo, the House clerk. It had mold problems, was full of asbestos — making technological improvements like new wiring far more expensive — and simply didn't have enough space for members of the public, officials said on Thursday's tour.

A dedication ceremony for the new building will be held Oct. 11.

Schaar, who has served as the Senate clerk since 1990, said she was proud of a new building she thinks “reflects Virginia" and is glad to see the project done.

“I feel like saying hallelujah,” she said.