House, Senate pass bonding bill for Capitol repairs

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Ongoing renovation to the State Capitol should be able to continue after the Legislature passed a slimmed down capital investment bill Monday.

Checking in at almost $176.8 million, including $156.1 million in general-obligation bonding, HF1070, as amended, contains $109 million to keep Capitol renovations going.

The bill also has $22 million for construction of a parking ramp in the Capitol Complex, $20 million for flood mitigation projects across the state, nearly $18.9 million as a state match for an expansion at the Minneapolis Veterans Home; and $8 million so the Public Facilities Authority can leverage $40 million in federal money for the clean water and drinking water revolving funds.

“This bill takes care of the urgent needs of the state while providing some jobs, taking care of the infrastructure, taking care of some of the needs that we have in the state of Minnesota,” said Rep. John Ward (DFL-Baxter), who sponsors the bill with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook). The bill was passed 121-10 by the House and 57-6 by the Senate. It now awaits action by the governor.

This was the third attempt in the session’s final days to get a bonding bill passed. An $800 million package that included the ongoing Capitol renovation failed to gain House approval by five votes on Friday, a vote that Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul), chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, called “tragic.” The Senate passed a bill with just the Capitol and parking ramp funding 66-0 Sunday; however, it was attached to a judiciary bill.

“Bond counsel is very specific about the kind of vehicle (bill) for this, and we did check with our researchers who suggested that instead we have another vehicle that we know will meet the test of bond counsel,” Hausman said early Monday. “ HF1070 is a safer vehicle to work with.”

A master renovation plan was approved in January 2012 by the Capitol Preservation Commission. It provided a conceptual approach to restoration of the Capitol, recommended a $241 million budget to complete the work and called for a December 2016 completion date.

Lawmakers approved $37.4 million last session to begin work on restoration of the 108-year-old building and would likely need to fund another $94 million next year to finish the project.

Under the current plan, the $109 million 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,” David Hart, vice president of MOCA Systems, a program, project and construction management firm, told the House Capital Investment Committee Jan. 31. “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.”

He said the building is at a “tipping point.”

“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.”