A decision by a state legislative committee to move state workers out of a “sick” building brings to a conclusion a three-decade policy of keeping the workers in the structure, generating 30 years of health care bills.

The Kinkead Building, at King and Valley streets in Carson City, was built in 1975, and problems surfaced quickly. Public employees who worked in the building experienced illness and headaches, which some top officials wrote off to hypochondria or malingering. But soon, physical manifestations of the building’s problems started appearing, making it more difficult to trivialize the workers’ concerns.

Blotches of mold appeared on ceiling tiles. The ventilation was bad, the windows were not waterproof, the foundation was faulty, beams eroded. Sometimes the entire place was emptied and workers sent home because of conditions in the structure. The floors in the Kinkead were so uneven that one worker brought a toy car to work to demonstrate the problem to visitors—when he put the car on his desk, it rolled off. Chairs had to be placed against file drawers, or they would open by themselves.

And a seismic survey said the building wouldn’t stand in a moderate-to-strong earthquake.

Bob Gagnier, who was then director of the state workers union during most of the building’s history, said that on one rainy day, there were so many complaints that he got on the phone to Gov. Richard Bryan. The two men toured the building, smelling the musty air, seeing water rolling down walls and through ceilings. Bryan sent the building’s workforce home.

The state poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the structure over the years in repairs and renovations, in attempts to make the structure “well.”

Gov. Kenny Guinn asked this year’s legislature to provide $22 million to build a replacement for the Kinkead, but lawmakers shifted the recommended funds to university construction in Reno. The interim finance committee (a body that allocates money when the full legislature is out of session) decided last week not to wait and voted for funds to move Kinkead workers to leased space in private buildings. The next legislature will be asked to demolish the building.

The building is named for John Kinkead, former governor of Nevada and Alaska and Nevada territorial treasurer.

The Kinkead’s problems began even before it was built. The legislature originally funded construction of a 10-story building, but Vietnam-era inflation ravaged the value of the appropriation.

“They couldn’t build the 10 stories,” Gagnier said. “They couldn’t even build eight or seven. All we got was six. And we could only imagine where all they cut corners. Some people swore that the windows were put in backwards. I don’t know. All I know is it’s been a piece of crap since the day they moved into it.”

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...