HARRISBURG - The windowless 18-story tower across from the state Capitol is where millions of records containing pieces of Pennsylvania history have always been sent to be kept safe for posterity.

The 1681 charter from King Charles II granting William Penn the colony of Pennsylvania is stored there. So are records from Al Capone's stay at Eastern State Penitentiary.

But the Pennsylvania State Archives building is dangerously close to losing its distinction as the final destination for Pennsylvania's most important papers: It is running out of space.

"We are almost at 99 percent capacity right now," said David A. Haury, Pennsylvania's state archivist, who said more than 200 million pages of paper were stored in the tower. "We don't want to be in a position where we can no longer take in documents."

The archive, which receives several thousand new boxes of records every year, can accommodate records for another year, maybe two.

After that, the building either needs to be radically renovated and expanded, or abandoned for a newer and more functional facility, officials say.

"We're running out of options," Haury said.

Those who work for the archive, from archivists to staffers who assist the public in their searches, are overwhelmingly pushing for a new location.

They say the tower is not ideal for storing documents. Its vertical build means each of its floors is small. And the ceilings are crisscrossed with pipes that frequently leak.

Also, though the tower was built in the 1960s to hold records, it has little insulation in the walls to keep humidity out - and humidity is the enemy of a paper's longevity.

A few years back, the legislature dedicated $30 million in the capital budget for a new archival facility, but Gov. Rendell has not released the money because of the state's tight finances.

"There are other priorities for capital money right now, like projects that provide a stronger economic-development benefit or involve life and safety issues, like building new state prisons," Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma said.

Meanwhile, those who work in the building daily deal with the leaks and creaks of an aging building.

Though $300,000 is being spent to renovate some of the indoor public spaces, a section of the facade off the main entryway is collapsing.

Inside the lobby, there is a large hole in the ceiling caused by a leaky pipe. A metal pan was wedged in there two years ago to contain the water - before that, there were buckets on the floor - but that gave rise to an unforeseen problem: mosquitoes.

The building's two elevators are passenger lifts not conducive to moving large quantities of paper, and they groan and shake as they ascend.

"The building is poorly designed for the purpose it is supposed to serve," Haury said.

Almost every level of the tower is stacked from floor to ceiling with boxes containing everything from state documents to mortgages and estate papers, said Jonathan Stayer, head of the archive's reference section.

The state archive also stores photographic prints and negatives, maps, postcards, audio recordings, and motion-picture films.

And it collects certain corporate records, including those from the Pennsylvania Railroad.

"There are items in here that even we don't know are stored here and discover because someone comes in with an unusual request," Stayer said.

Stayer likes to show off the archive's array of documents, ranging from the priceless to the obscure.

They include original deeds signed by Penn, the state's 1780 act to abolish slavery, a conscientious-objector document from the Civil War, even an expense form for a state employee in 1940 asking for reimbursement for cigarettes, movies, and "refreshments."

Haury said the archive tries to bring in more than just government papers, "but we've been very limited in our ability to do that in the last 10 years or so because of this impending space crisis."

Though archive officials have digitized certain paper records to make them available on the Internet, archivists say going digital is not a long-term solution to the storage problems. Software changes every few years, and information on CDs and DVDs can become corrupted or wiped out over time.

All of which leave the state archive with few alternatives but to move, Haury said.

"All of the state's treasures are here," Haury said. "Shouldn't the building look like a treasure house?"

Contact staff writer Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or acouloumbis@phillynews.com.