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State Suggests Plan To Save Cordell Hull Building

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State Suggests Plan To Save Cordell Hull Building

By Phil Williams. CREATED Aug 21, 2014 - UPDATED: Aug 21, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Haslam administration now has second thoughts about destroying a historic building on the grounds of the state Capitol.

It formally recommended Thursday that the Cordell Hull be saved and renovated.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates first raised questions about the decision to demolish it more than year ago after lawmakers approved the money to destroy the building.

But while the State Building Commission did not formally approve the recommendation Thursday, they made it clear that it's one they are likely to follow.

"I think what we have come up with is an appropriate compromise on this," House Speaker Beth Harwell said. "We love the historical Cordell Hull building, but it's going to cost a lot of money to renovate that."

Outline the results of a second opinion from Centric Architecture, Tennessee General Services Commissioner Bob Oglesby was blunt in his assessment.

He said "all the plumbing system is at failure state."

"There are mold and air quality environmental hazards in the building right now that we expect to only get worse," he continued. "There is asbestos and lead paint in the building that requires special handling to be removed and abated."

For historic preservationists, who have pushed to save the 1950s-era state office building with its marbled hallways and other unique touches, the news seemed grim.

"I was a little worried," admitted Melissa Wyllie, president of Historic Nashville.

"As the conversation happened, there were some times when it seemed optimistic and sometimes we were a little worried because it is very expensive. The deferred maintenance on the building is very significant."

But the commissioner said, after getting that second opinion, the Department now believes it would be cheaper to continue moving state employees out into leased space, renovating the Cordell Hull and then using it to house state employees so other Capitol Hill buildings can also be renovated.

"We believe that the Cordell Hull office building provides us with an opportunity to save the state money by entering into a long-term lease for 10 years and during that time allow us to move people out of other buildings into that building after it's been renovated as part of that checkerboard process," Oglesby explained.

That plan also calls for demolition of the attached Central Services building, replacing it with what Speaker Harwell said is a much-needed parking garage.

"Hopefully this will encourage the public to come downtown more and get them involved in what's going on in the Capitol, but also preserve a historic building with some beautiful aspects to it," she added.

Under the scenarios considered by the Haslam administration, renovating the Cordell Hull and building the parking garage could cost up to $94.7 million.

Destroying the building and leasing space for those state employees for 20 years could cost $121.6 million.

Replacing it with a similar style building could cost $190.9 million.

As to how the Haslam administration came so close to demolishing a historic structure on the grounds of the state Capitol, the commissioner said the state's consultant, Jones Lang Lasalle, based that recommendation on the same type of analysis it would have given to a suburban office building.

"They made no exception for the Cordell Hull being on Capitol Hill," Oglesby told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

"But should they not have taken that into consideration?" we asked.

"That," he answered, "was not what they were asked to do by the state."

The Building Commission asked Oglesby's team to pull together all the paperwork that will be needed to formalize the decision.

Still, the Speaker said she has no doubts that the Cordell Hull will now be saved from demolition.

Oglesby said renovation of the Cordell Hull could take a couple of the years, then the state would begin the process of moving state employees in and renovating other buildings after that.

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Phil Williams

Phil Williams

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Phil Williams is chief investigative reporter for NewsChannel 5's nationally award-winning investigative team. His investigations have earned him journalism's highest honors.