New use sought for Arizona Capitol space after library moves

PHOENIX (AP) - State officials and architects are pondering the future of newly vacated space in the Arizona Capitol complex.

Ideas for the state library's former home on the third floor of an annex sitting between the 118-year-old copper-domed Capitol and the nine-story Executive Tower include adding a reception venue for dignitaries and a neutral meeting ground for legislative leaders and executive branch officials, the Arizona Capitol Times reports .

Such facilities are common among states with grand marble edifices, but Arizona's setup of separate and crowded House and Senate buildings leaves little extra space for joint activities. When legislative leaders want to meet with the governor, they usually got to the governor's office.

A senior legislative staff official said representatives from the National Conference of State Legislatures and other organizations frequently comment on the Arizona Capitol's austerity.

"When people from NCSL come here, they say 'It's nice but it's nothing like' and then they name any other state," said Michael Braun, Legislative Council executive director.

There's little chance of expanding the current legislative buildings, so the library's departure to a new building a few blocks away is "an opportunity to reclaim space on a block where space is at a premium," Braun said.

The Capitol and two annexes between it and the Executive Tower are, under state law, the Legislature's turf.

"When people say the House, the Senate or the Legislative Council want to take over the space, it's already their space," Braun said.

However, the Secretary of State's Office has jurisdiction over most of the contents, including the Capitol Museum in the original building.

The library was moved to its current location in the new Polly Rosenbaum building in 2017 by then-Secretary of State Michele Reagan so that it would be in a location that complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act, said C. Murphy Hebert, a spokeswoman for the office.

The Capitol annexes are "sound and sturdy" but don't meet current standards for accessibility, said Don Ryden, an architect now working with Braun.

Doors are too narrow and bathrooms too small to accommodate people with wheelchairs. A mezzanine overlooking the old reading room is reachable only by a narrow set of stairs. And the upper stories lack easy ways to exit in case of fire.

"It's not so much a structural thing as it is a safety thing," Ryden said.

Ryden and fellow architect Akram Rosheidat previously worked with former Phoenix Mayor John Driggs, a historic preservation aficionado. Driggs, who died in 2014, led a committee in the mid-2000s that wanted to remodel the old Capitol and connect it to the House and Senate buildings with elevated, enclosed walkways.

Those efforts resulted in a refurbished elevator in the Capitol Museum, but the other plans languished during the Great Recession.

Ryden and Roshiedat have been refreshing the old plans with a new vision for the library.

"It's all kind of fuzzy right now, but it fits exactly into the vision Mayor Driggs had," Ryden said. "It's still as viable today as it was then, and they figured we would be the right guys to hit the ground running."