Following two years of restoration, a chandelier was recently raised to its place high above the Capitol Rotunda.
While the large orb may look shiny and new, the 108-year-old building where it resides continues to show its age.
Visitors can see plenty of chipped paint and places where concrete has fallen, but behind the scenes the State Capitol’s electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems also need much work, if not replacement.
The House Capital Investment Committee Thursday received an update on the restoration plans for the building that cost $4.5 million to construct.
Administration Commissioner Spencer Cronk said preservation plans have been discussed for 28 years, with little done. “This is our chance to make this investment in the next 100 years of Minnesota.”
No action was taken by the committee, but it was warned that without the Legislature approving $109 million for the project this year and $94.5 million next year, there could be severe consequences.
(Click here to view a photo gallery of recent Capitol restoration efforts.)
At a tipping point
“You’re kind of at the tipping point with the building,” said David Hart, vice president of MOCA Systems, a program, project and construction management firm. “The mechanical systems are really worn out; the electrical systems are no longer really organized. … I think what happens if we don’t move forward with the restoration is that things are going to get to the point where you are constantly going to be in a state of continually having to fund something to keep the building moving, whether that is stone, whether that is windows, whether it’s the artwork or murals on the wall, the mechanical system, the electrical. You’re in a position where if you look at many of the buildings in Europe that weren’t taken care of properly they’re never going to work their way out of those buildings. You don’t want that to happen to this building.”
A master renovation plan was approved in January 2012 by the Capitol Preservation Commission. It provided a conceptual approach to restoration, recommended a $241 million budget to complete the work and called for a December 2016 completion date.
“The Capitol really needs to be safe for all Minnesota citizens and its legislative members,” Cronk said. “A hundred years ago accessibility for the disabled was not considered and we need to modernize the building for that.”
Last session, $44 million of the $496 million bonding law was designated for Capitol upgrades, including design work, repairs to some exterior stone and creation of a tunnel extending from the Capitol and under University Avenue so deliveries can be made there, instead of trucks pulling up to the Capitol, which is deemed a security threat.
The allocation came after a proposal to commit $221 million in bonding proceeds to the project failed on the House floor by one vote.
‘We’ve got to get it done’
“I’ve been kind of the prickly mosquito for a number of years and have fought all sorts of components of this … but now we’ve been at this so long that I am now a proponent to say in the next two years we‘ve got to get this done,” said Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul), the committee chairwoman. “There is the potential that if inflation returns these costs change dramatically and quickly. That we are this far along, I would be a strong proponent of saying this is our challenge now: $109 (million) this year and $94.5 (million) next year and then we’re done.”
Under the current plan, the $109 million — most likely from bond proceeds — would be allocated for things like abatement and demolition in the basement and attic, exterior stone replacement and to begin work on the mechanical and electrical systems. “That money would allow us to do the work that really sets up the restoration work in the body of the building,” said Hart. “The remaining amount of money that would come in the following year is equally as critical so that we can keep that process going. Any stop or hiccup is only going to cause additional costs and additional problems in time and in work.”
Hart said some people or offices may need to temporarily move during the restoration. Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake) asked if it would be beneficial if the Legislature were to take a session off.
Although having people out of the building would be ideal, Hart said it would be possible to work around things, especially if 2014 is a short session.
Track the history of last year’s bonding allocation for Capitol renovation: