Unveiling of the California State Capitol Annex Project Planning Study

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Today, Chairman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova), and Vice Chairman Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) convened an informational hearing of the Joint Committee on Rules regarding the California State Capitol Annex Project. Representatives John Maulin, Danielle Weaver, and Mark Gier from CSHQA, Inc. − an architectural firm retained by the Legislature following a competitive process − presented the “California State Capitol Annex Project Planning Study,” a historic and comprehensive analysis of the current deficiencies and future design goals for a revamped Capitol Annex.

The Capitol Annex was built in 1952, decades before the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act and modern security standards. It houses the Governor, 115 of California’s 120 lawmakers, key legislative support offices, and it is among the state’s most-visited public buildings.  In 2017, its 2 million-plus visitors included tens of thousands of school children.  Safety aspects in the Capitol Annex that fail to meet modern standards include seismic stabilization, fire suppression, emergency exit routes, up-to-date signage, and alert technology.  Furthermore, the building does not comply with the latest requirements for the physically, visually and hearing impaired – further compounding life safety issues in the building.

“California’s Capitol is suffering from age and cramped quarters, and does not conform to current health and safety codes. As we rebuild the Annex, we must be mindful of the future generations from around the world who visit and see the Capitol as a symbol of California’s strengths,” said Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres).  “We should be able to present them with the best of our entire state, both in our history and what is to come. As a civil engineer, I am excited at this tremendous opportunity before us.”

As outlined in the planning study, the 66-year-old Annex has a myriad of serious deficiencies that undermine its accessibility, safety, hospitality, and government efficiency. These deficiencies are all compounded because it was built with materials intended to last only 50 years.  Mechanical systems were largely built from materials commonly used in the 1950’s.  In addition, the failing HVAC system, plumbing system, damaged and old insulation, and under-sized corridors and electrical infrastructure all were originally built to only support a part-time legislature.

Design goals included in the study highlight key 21st century needs such as civic engagement, ADA access, life and safety improvements, electrical and mechanical systems upgrades, use of natural light and the need for more and larger hearing rooms as well as informal conference and other collaborative spaces.

In brief, the planning study proposes:

  • Relocate parking outside the Annex’s perimeter foundation to a site underground which retains expansive Capitol Park lawns atop and maintains sight lines to the historic Capitol;
  • Addition of a highly educational Visitor Center with interactive installations and an easy-to-find entrance that will help deconflict entry for big tour groups from those used by persons in the Capitol on business; and
  • A newly constructed Annex that aligns the first floor with the first floor of the West Wing − thereby eliminating a major ADA barrier in the State Capitol. This would also open the possibility of using the resulting high-ceilinged basement level for other uses, perhaps including a campus of larger hearing rooms with state-of-the art technology and an ability to empty quickly into Capitol Park on the eastern side of the building in an emergency.

The new Annex should preserve the Capitol’s character as a “People’s House” and significantly enhance educational and hospitality facilities for all visitors, including student groups and guests coming to connect with their lawmakers.  Adaption of interactive technology typical of modern museum and educational venues should be incorporated to provide an accessible, efficient and informative experience.  A dedicated visitor center will greatly improve educational and hospitality opportunities.

California’s historic Capitol building and Capitol Park are both rich with symbols for guests which convey the meaning and spirit of democracy. As a result, the West Wing succeeds as a symbol first, and as a building second. The 1952 Annex is striking in that it completely fails to carry many of these symbols into the experience of visiting it and exploring its hallways.  A new Annex building should correct this failure by incorporating the many rich symbols that early Californians used to convey the meaning of our government and its work.

“California's new Capitol Annex should convey to visitors California's positive and hope-filled outlook, founded upon the deliberative Democracy which unfolds there, by welcoming all Californians, engaging all Californians and safeguarding the future of all Californians,” said Assemblyman Cooley. “It should demonstrate healthful, accessible, and sustainable designs, while preserving the beauty and vistas of California's legacy Capitol Park and inviting all its guests to explore and take pride in the most energy efficient Capitol in the nation.”

The cost estimate for the California Capitol Annex Project is based on past and current costs for courthouse projects in California.  Courthouses are the most comparable projects to ours given the elements of security, use of technology, adjacency, foot traffic, and dignified finishes. 

An Annex website was launched in early 2017 and is continuously updated with work-to-date to ensure a transparent process.  Information published on the site includes fact-finding tours of other state capitols, authorizing statutes, and Joint Rules Committee hearings.  The website, accessible via the Assembly Homepage, is https://annex.assembly.ca.gov/

This is a project that will shape how Californians engage with their government for the next 100 years.