Since 1990, the State Archives have lived in a temporary home on Westminster Street where sump pumps and vigilant staff make sure thousands of documents stored in the basement aren’t damaged by water.

The Rhode Island State Archives in Providence is home to 17th-century texts, a bona fide John Hancock on an original copy of the Bill of Rights and a smell that seeps up from the basement to greet visitors.

“It’s a city sewer issue,” Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea says of the odor, which you quickly get used to and she describes as one of the lesser drawbacks of the archives’ current home in leased Westminster Street office space.

“That, honestly, is to me not as concerning as the fact that we have these amazing historic documents in a facility that is a nice office building, but is not made for properly storing and showcasing historic treasures.”

Since 1990, the State Archives have lived in a temporary home on Westminster Street where sump pumps and vigilant staff make sure thousands of documents stored in the basement aren’t damaged by water. (Staff in the secretary of state’s office said the odor is “sewer off-gassing” and affects other downtown buildings.) The most irreplaceable texts — Roger Williams' original land deed, a Declaration of Independence, the post-Gaspee renunciation of King George III — are in a smaller, locked, climate-controlled room away from public display.

To protect the state’s historic documents from the next great flood and get more people to see them, Gorbea has been campaigning to build a new State Archives building on Capitol Hill for the past year and will be closely reading Gov. Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal later this week to see if it includes the first installment of funding.

Raimondo spokesman Josh Block: "The Secretary of State’s capital budget request is under consideration. Regardless of the final decision on this request, the Administration is committed to working with the Secretary of State’s Office to identify a permanent home for the archives."

Gorbea's preferred location for a new building, recommended in an architects’ study last year, is a lawn in front of the Department of Administration’s Powers Building across the street from the State House.

The study from DBVW Architects in Providence estimated a four-story building meeting modern archive guidelines would cost $52.5 million. Gorbea requested $5 million of that in next year’s state budget to design the building and the rest spread out over the following four years.

Twenty-nine years ago a fire chased the Archives from a repository under the Veterans Memorial Auditorium to 337 Westminster St., which the state leases from Paolino Properties for $160,960 per year. (The rent had been $248,000, but was renegotiated down in 2016.)

The lease runs through August 2019 with an option for another year, but Gorbea’s vision for the archives is bigger than 337 Westminster.

She sees the archives — if properly displayed — as a destination for students, tourists and history buffs who now visit the State House to marvel at the marble dome and read the Royal Charter, which has its own small museum.

The consultants at DBVW looked at more than a dozen sites across Providence, including public and private property, existing buildings, and vacant lots. The candidates included:

— Several state-owned surface parking lots north of the State House.

— The former Route 195 land.

— The Francis Street lot purchased in 2013 from a group including former Senate Majority Leader John Hawkins.

— A building at the intersection of Westminster and Cranston streets occupied by a Citizens Bank branch.

— Parking lots near the Crossroads shelter in South Providence.

— The state-owned Chapin Health Lab building on Orms Street.

But the proximity to the State House, highway visibility and abundant parking with the Powers Building lawn site pushed it to the top of Gorbea’s list. The DBVW study noted that it was the only state-owned site that would not displace other users or parking spaces. (It would add new parking.)

“The number-one priority was use. This is an expensive proposition. How can we make sure it really gets used,” Gorbea said. “The biggest piece of why that particular location rose to the top was the fact you have all this other traffic at the State House."

Last year some 2,700 people visited the Archives on Westminster Street and 33,900 visited the State Library at the State House, according to Gorbea's office.

One site not considered was the Cranston Street Armory, where voters rejected a $12.3 million bond in 2004 that would have renovated it for use as an archive. The state is now looking for reuse proposals for the Armory and extensive redesign plans.

"The challenge there is the mechanicals that have to be built in a building like that for protecting these documents," Gorbea said about the Armory. "New construction is always going to be more cost-effective than rehabbing historic properties... You want enclosed spaces that are climate-controlled."

Cranston controversy

UPDATE: Gun-rights lobbyist Frank Saccoccio won reappointment last week as a municipal court judge in Cranston on a 5-4 party-line vote, after a Cranston councilman was blocked from raising his own concerns about Saccoccio's dual roles as a judge and prominent State House lobbyist for the 2nd Amendment Coalition.

But Councilman Steve Stycos, one of the Democrats who voted nay, gave this account on the Tuesday after the vote:

"What happened last night was the judges were nominated one at a time. There was no discussion on any of them. They were just nominated and they were being approved unanimously, and when it got to Saccoccio I raised my hand. I was recognized by Council President [Michael] Farina.

"I started to object to his nomination. Mike Farina said: 'You can't debate a nomination.'  I said something like: 'What do you mean you can't debate a nomination?' And then he had the roll call start.

"I was either first or second and I said: 'No' [to the nomination] because Mr. Saccoccio is a lobbyist and we need a judiciary that is impartial. He's lobbied the City Council and ... he's lobbied the legislature. I did not mention what he had lobbied [on],'' said Stycos, alluding to Saccoccio's attempts to dissuade the Cranston council from endorsing efforts at the State House to ban the concealed-carry of firearms on school grounds.

"Then I think Councilman Farina jumped in and said: 'He's a lobbyist for the 2nd Amendment Coalition and he has freedom of speech like every American.' Something like that. And then the roll call continued. And it was 5-4. The five Republicans voting yes, and the four Democrats voting no." A video tape posted on Facebook by an audience member confirms his account.

(New Councilman John Donegan echoed Stycos' concern in an email to Political Scene: "For me, personally, it’s a matter of ethics. I don’t believe that a lobbyist should also be serving as a judge. I have differences with the Judge on certain issues, particularly his opposition to a bill to limit guns on school grounds, but that isn’t what compelled my 'no' vote. In [principle], a judge should not also be a lobbyist.")

Stycos said he opted not to raise a second issue: Saccoccio's firing last fall as the assistant solicitor in the town of Johnston after he dismissed charges against the daughter of state Sen. Frank Lombardo. Saccoccio told Political Scene he did so after viewing a recovered video-recording — from a deleted telephone app — that convinced him the senator's daughter was the "real victim'' of the alleged domestic-violence involving a Johnston police officer.

Asked why he cut off debate, Farina told Political Scene a motion-to-appoint is not debatable. He said there would have been an opportunity if Stycos or any other councilman had made "a motion to challenge the chair,'' or asked in advance that the appointment be held until the next council meeting for "discussion on it."

"The inauguration, when families, friends, loved ones are sitting in the room is really not the appropriate place if you have an objection,'' Farina said. "So if Councilman Stycos really had an objection to this judge being appointed, before inauguration... he should have told a member of leadership that he had some reservations ... Nothing.... So when you want to make comments at inauguration, you are basically trying to grandstand and just besmirch someone and that is something that I will not allow and our rules do not allow."

Fundraising begins

The Smith Hill fundraising cycle begins anew on Thursday, Feb. 24 when the House Speaker — Cranston Democrat Nicholas Mattiello — holds the first in the annual series.

Senate President Dominick Ruggiero's first fundraiser of the year is a week later (Jan. 31). Then comes House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi's Feb. 7 event and Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey's Feb. 13 fundraiser. The top four are all having their events at the Crowne Plaza. House Deputy Majority Whip Chris Blazejewski chose a different venue for his Feb. 26 fundraiser: The District on South Street in Providence.

(Correction: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the type of motion acted on by the Cranston City Council.)