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As COVID-19 forces many to work from home, Utah re-works office space plans

Taylorsville Office Building
Posted at 3:00 PM, Aug 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-10 19:53:58-04

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah — Construction workers continue a $100 million remodeling project on an old American Express call center, turning it into a new state office complex.

But those plans are also being shifted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Over the last few months with what’s been going on, more eyes have been opened to how we can telework more effectively and more efficiently," said Jim Russell, the director of Utah's Division of Facilities, Construction and Management.

The state of Utah was starting to experiment with teleworking when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It forced the state to pivot more employees to working remotely at all levels. But state officials are now finding it can be successfully implemented. As a result, DFCM is redesigning its buildings with an eye toward even more consolidation.

For example, Russell said, the new Taylorsville state office building will shrink agencies' footprints because many employees will keep working remotely even when the pandemic is over.

"We could see 30% of all of state employees working either remotely or mobily but not occupying a desk," he said.

That's allowed them to bring in other state agencies to fill the void. In turn, the state can either retire aging buildings or cancel leases and save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade, Russell said.

"Some departments can do it a lot. There’s some that are 80-90% teleworking," he said. "Some, like the Department of Corrections, Department of Public Safety, DABC, they can’t do it."

The shift is under way. Utah's Department of Health was able to move some offices out of the University of Utah to a building the state leases on the east side of the Salt Lake Valley. Ultimately, that will shrink again as they remodel the Martha Hughes Cannon Building near Redwood Road and North Temple, and bring those offices in.

The consolidation effort will be most noticed along the Wasatch Front, where the Taylorsville office building will join a state lab and another government office building on the same street to create a massive complex. But it is something that is being considered at other state-owned properties across Utah.

"We want to push one in Richfield right now that will do the same thing. Consolidated agencies, reduce leases and bring government services where they’re conveniently located and people can go to one place and get multiple services," Russell told FOX 13.

It is a part of a statewide master plan that DFCM has had in place, but the pandemic has altered some aspects. For open or shared desk space, there's more cleaning and sanitization. The Utah State Legislature appropriated money to tear down the existing state office building behind the Capitol. Lawmakers wanted to create more parking, a museum and additional meeting space.

But as a result of COVID-19 and the budget cuts in place -- it's now been shelved. When state employees finally do move out of that building at the end of January 2021, the building will just be torn down.

"The intent would be to demo the building, landscape it, and sometime in the future if they decide to build a new building, we will work on that," Russell said.