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Eye On Olympia

From tequila to territorial maps to your letter to a lawmaker…

Two years after a burst water pipe saturated state business records, some dating to territorial times, Secretary of State Sam Reed is calling for a $112 million new library and archives center to be built into an Olympia hillside.

For decades, Washington has been storing millions of paper and microfilmed documents in a several-stories-deep underground building that doubled as a bomb shelter a few hundred yards from the state Capitol. But Reed said the complex isn’t up to modern archival standards for temperature, humidity or insect control.

Besides that, he said, it’s full.

“The main problem is that after half a century, we’ve way outgrown the capacity of that building,” he said. State records, books and artifacts are scattered among four locations now, he said, which makes security, preservation and public access difficult.

The state stores a vast array of documents and items, from old real estate maps, the state constitution and court records to a sombrero and bottle of tequila – still full – given as a gift to former Secretary of State Ralph Munro.

Reed’s proposed Washington State Heritage Center would be paid for – over 17 years – by a new $5 fee on incorporation filings and a $2 surcharge on documents filed with county auditors.

Reed pushed hard several years ago to build the state “digital archives,” which opened in 2004 on the Eastern Washington University campus at Cheney. That two-story building holds the paper records of the Eastern Washington Regional Archives and computer systems designed to preserve state and local government data. Many of the records are being put online.

(To comb through basic data from marriage records, naturalization papers, military documents, “frontier justice”, etc., click here. To peruse century-old newspapers, click here.)

The new building would have 158,000 square feet of space. (A Costco store, by comparison, averages 140,000.) Crews would cut away part of a hillside above Olympia’s Capitol Lake and build a five-story terraced building to follow the hillside’s natural slope. It would be faced with rock quarried from the same site that provided the facades for the Capitol and Supreme Court buildings, Reed said.

The 56-degree constant soil temperature of that hillside, Reed said, is a nearly perfect temperature for storing paper records.

For decades, the state library was housed in a building beside the Capitol. But in 2001, earthquake damage drove lawmakers from the statehouse for several years of repairs. The books were moved to a leased $1-million-a-year office building in Tumwater, and the state Senate convened inside the former library, which has now become an office building and cafeteria.

Reed said he hopes to break ground late next year, with the building finished in about three years. Like the digital archives at Cheney, it would be wired to preserve the ever-increasing flow of electronic records produced by state and local governments.


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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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