JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska legislative leaders are pursuing the idea of converting a building near the Capitol into 33 apartments that could be used for lawmakers and staff during sessions.

The building was donated to the Legislature last year by the Juneau Community Foundation and currently is being used as office space and for COVID-19 testing for lawmakers and staff, Anchorage TV station KTUU reported. Tenants have been told their leases will not be renewed.

Estimates prepared for the Legislative Council, a panel of House and Senate leaders, suggested it could cost $5.5 million for things like design, permitting and construction. The plans proposed a mix of one-bedroom and studio or efficiency units with shared laundry facilities on each of the three floors.

The idea stems from complaints that finding places to stay, particularly during summer special sessions in Juneau, can be challenging.

Jessica Geary, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency, said Wednesday’s 9-5 council vote was to approve a project estimate of up to $5.5 million in existing capital funds, a figure that includes $250,000 to complete the design and compile bid documents.

Contracts greater than $50,000 would have to come back to the council for approval. Once a request for proposals is issued and a recommendation is made on a winning bid, that also would come back to the council, she said.


Rental payments are expected to cover the building’s maintenance costs, though those are not fully known yet. Legislators are expected to have first call on the apartments, which could also be offered to staff.

Some legislators suggested that the apartments could be made available when not in use on a site that advertises rooms for short-term rentals, as a way to help cover maintenance costs. Others suggested that wasn’t the main reason behind the concept.

“The main thing is having something available for us when we’re called back in special sessions,” said House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat.

While the idea came from a legislative subcommittee, some council members said the process felt rushed. Rep. Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham independent, questioned the level of demand for “dorm-like housing” for legislators.

Senate President Peter Micciche, a Soldotna Republican, questioned the cost estimates prepared by a Juneau architectural firm. He noted the unpredictability of construction costs given inflation and supply-chain issues.

“It’s not a detailed budget; it’s not a detailed cost estimate, but it’s a project budget that we think is a reasonable target,” Juneau architect Wayne Jensen said in response.