In the Washington State Archives building, records are tightly packed on shelves, in file boxes and in leather-bound books so large they look like they belong in a mythical library.
Some records stored in this building are older than the state, but the records are at risk of damage because of poor infrastructure that has led to leaks and flooding.
Funding for a new archives building is at the top of Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s legislative agenda this session. The issue has been raised for years, Wyman said, and the risk needs to be addressed immediately. The building has had four water leakage or flooding incidents in the past nine years.
The current State Archives building is 57 years old has been at capacity since 2006. It has 238,000-cubic-feet of space taken up by storage. Many of the storage rooms lack modern fire suppression and flood management systems.
The building’s “disaster recovery equipment” consists largely of mops, buckets and water vacuums.
“We have a lot of security and controls to protect the records, but the thing that is working against us is nature and the design of this building,” Wyman said. “We’re talking about the state’s history.”
The most recent incident was in April 2014, when a pipe broke on a Monday morning while the office was still empty. Employees came in to find the facility’s research room under 2 inches of water. The water leaked through the floor and into the records rooms the floor below. In preparation of future incidents, staff placed markers on the floor where water had leaked.
The dots mark spots, “where we had waterfalls, so in the future we know where to put the buckets to start the process,” Wyman said while giving a tour of the facility.
So far, no records have been lost in leakage, fire or flood incidents.
A new building would cost about $108 million to design and finance, and Wyman’s office is asking the Legislature to grant a certificate of participation to pay off the building in increments. According to the State Treasurer’s Office, the agreement is similar to a lease-to-own, so the cost of the building will be paid off over time.
“If the Legislature said ‘go’ we’d hopefully be breaking ground by the end of this year,” Wyman said. “We’re ready to go. We’re just waiting for the green light.”
A certificate of participation requires approval in the capital budget. The House Capital Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Sequim), declined to comment on whether the secretary of state’s request is on the committee’s radar for this biennial budget.