DOVER — Legislative Hall has played host to Delaware’s General Assembly since 1933, and for the first time in 28 years, the state’s capitol building may see a significant expansion.
After enacting a Legislative Building Committee through legislation in the 151st General Assembly, an assortment of appointed lawmakers, Legislative Hall staff, Delaware citizens and more met recently to determine the needs of those working in the state capitol, making recommendations and proposals for a potential expansion.
Clauses within House Joint Resolution 3 state there is an evident need for office space and other facilities in the state capitol, as it cannot currently provide adequate space in an efficient and economic manner.
The last time a significant expansion was made to Legislative Hall was in 1994, where two additional wings were added to the east side of the building, which allowed new office spaces and caucus rooms.
The Division of Facilities Management has hired Studio JAED, an architecture and engineering planning company, to conduct a space study on Legislative Hall. The company has done previous engineering and architectural work in the state capitol and has since provided detailed renderings and updates regarding the potential expansion.
The approximately $113 million plan the committee has considered includes an additional wing to the current structure, doubling the capitol in size and creating an outdoor courtyard area in the center of the campus. Although the plan is still undergoing feasibility studies by Studio JAED, it includes a four-level parking garage with more than 350 spaces and a connecting underground tunnel that provides access to Legislative Hall.
Additionally, the plan would expand the House and Senate chambers and provide room for additional bathrooms, storage rooms, office spaces, a cafeteria and more.
Philip Conte, president and CEO of Studio JAED, has presented planning updates to members of the Legislative Building Committee, most recently at the July 27 meeting, where Mr. Conte referred to the plan as a “significant public works project.” Mr. Conte said considerations have been made to avoid reducing any currently functioning space among other “guiding principles” that will be prioritized while studying and planning the expansion.
“We need to limit any disruption to occupants and operations, we need to maintain a safe and secure campus, maintain egress and accessibility for all functions and spaces, and obviously construct in accordance with all applicable codes and agency requirements,” Mr. Conte said. “At times, they may seem challenging, but just a hurdle that we will need to overcome. Communication is going to be key for years on this project.”
It has been broken down into multiple phases, with each phase having its own set of objectives. The first, the site-enabling phase, would begin preparation for the construction of the parking garage and conjoining tunnel. The phase is split into two parts, with the first resulting in the displacement of approximately 200 parking spaces and the relocation of Capitol Police equipment and handicapped parking. The second part makes closures to Martin Luther King Boulevard South, with the entirety of the first phase estimated to last two to four months.
Phase two of the proposed project would be the actual construction of the four-level garage and tunnel. At the July 27 meeting, Legislative Building Committee member and House Minority Whip Tim Dukes, R-Laurel, stated that he is in favor of the tunnel, though he questioned if a bridge had been considered instead. Mr. Conte assured that would be considered, although it had not yet been. That construction phase is expected to last 14 to 18 months.
The final phase of the plan is the construction of Legislative Hall’s new wing, which is expected to last 20 to 24 months.
A preliminary schedule of the Legislative Hall expansion outlines the expected length of each phase of the project. The feasibility study, which is the first step of the project, is to be submitted by the end of this month, with debate and discussion of the study through January 2023.
Pre-construction and bidding are scheduled for March 2024, with site enabling beginning in June of that year. Construction is scheduled to begin in August 2024, with a target completion date for the end of 2027.
Mr. Conte encouraged committee members to keep an open mind, stating current price estimates were the result of methodical consideration of the building’s needs. Despite the extensive planning that goes into an expansion of this kind, Mr. Conte said he is already looking toward the next phase of planning.
“The next step is that we’re finalizing the dates of the soil borings. We will continue to develop our cost estimate. We do want to have some followup with some agencies regarding the pedestrian tunnel, and we are developing the report and any other presentations for the completion of the feasibility study,” Mr. Conte said.
The next Legislative Building Committee meeting will take place on Aug. 18 at 11 a.m. in the Joint Finance Committee room in Legislative Hall.