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Legislative building committee debates merits of Leg Hall expansion plan

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Roman Battaglia
/
Delaware Public Media

Delaware’s legislative building committee expressed divided opinions Thursday as it discussed plans to expand Leg Hall for the first time in decades.

Leg Hall was last expanded in 1994, when the state added new wings to the building’s east side to accommodate new office and caucus spaces.

This year, the Legislative Building committee – which includes lawmakers and Leg Hall staff representatives– are considering the addition of a new wing that would double the building’s size, along with a 4-level parking garage connected to the building by a tunnel. The proposed expansion is in response to concerns that Leg Hall does not provide adequate space for lawmakers, staff or visiting citizens.

The plan, designed by the architecture firm Studio JAED, would cost just under $122 million, though the price tag could grow as the prices of materials like glass and lumber rise. The project also features some details– including placement of an 18-foot-tall generator in the parking structure – that could present engineering challenges.

During Thursday’s meeting, State Sen. Bryan Townsend (D-Newark) asked the committee to consider whether all of the updates are essential relative to other possible spending priorities.

“Probably the best example for me is that I don’t feel comfortable modernizing Leg Hall, so to speak, until there is a modern and equitable high school in the city of Wilmington," he said.

State Rep. Timothy Dukes (R-Laurel) argues the update is important for those who work and visit the building.

“Legislative Hall is the showcase of the state, and we’ve found our rooms are way undersized," he said in response to Townsend. "And this whole thing expands when we add a parking garage that has been desperately needed when we have constituents who come from all across the state.”

Studio JAED will present a final report on the project’s cost, feasibility and scope to the committee at the start of September.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.