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Virginia General Assembly Building

RICHMOND — The state would rip down the Capitol Square high-rise that houses offices for legislators and build a new one under a $280 million to $300 million plan that the General Assembly’s budget leaders unveiled Friday.

The proposal includes renovations to the adjacent Old City Hall Building and would trigger a reshuffling of other state offices until the new building is completed in 2019, according to the plan.

The rebuilding plan was prompted by a 2012 review indicating that the 11-story General Assembly Building had problems with asbestos, faulty air flow, rotting windows, a leaking roof and a crumbling facade.

“We have been holding together the General Assembly Building with duct tape and bale wire, ” House Appropriations Chairman S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) told reporters at a press conference Friday morning.

“The health issues in this building are significant, ” said Sen. John C. Watkins (R-Powhatan). “It’s almost like a petri dish in here.”

Citizens, he said, deserve to testify in a state government “that’s safe, that’s comfortable and that they don’t get the type of exposure that they deal with right now.”

Starting from scratch was the most cost-effective, efficient approach found after years of research, lawmakers said.

“The best thing that can happen to this building is 100 sticks of dynamite, ” said Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax).

The first three floors of the new building will be for public meetings, Jones said, with escalators to improve the flow of foot traffic. Historical experts are being brought in to see if the facade of the oldest part of the current GAB can be preserved, said Richard F. Sliwoski, who leads the Department of General Services.

Previous attempts to renovate the GAB have met with resistance from fiscal conservatives in the House , but Sen. Walter A, Stosch (R-Henrico), who co-chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said there was a “coordinated, collaborative effort” in the legislature this time around.

The buildin proposal is only a small part of the two distinct state budget proposals that House and Senate committees will separately approve Sunday. And it is expected to represent one of the rare areas of agreement between the two chambers as they lay out rival schemes for spending $96 billion over the coming two-year budget cycle.

Legislators who’d like to provide health insurance to an additional 400, 000 Virginians think it might help their argument if they drop the name of the federal-state program behind it all: Medicaid. They now speak of “closing the coverage gap.”

And those who think Washington and Richmond can’t afford expansion have decided to play up the plan’s ties to an unpopular president and his trouble-plagued health-care law. So they’re opposing “Obamacare expansion.”

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