By Don Davis
Minnesota officials started planning a state Capitol renovation project in 1984, and chances are improving that serious work could begin in 2013.
But work would begin only if politicians can agree on a plan and spending level.
“This has been a decades-long effort with very little to show for it,” state Administration Commissioner Spencer Cronk told representatives Thursday.
Problems state officials say need to be fixed are widespread around the 108-year-old building, starting with aging air conditioning and heating systems that often fail. The Capitol was an early user of electricity and the power system is outdated, they say.
Inside, some work has been done to repair water damage. That and replacing windows with more weather-tight versions continue.
Work done on the outside of the Capitol the past five years has fixed the leaking dome, the second largest free-standing marble dome in the world, and repaired locations where stones were falling from the outside.
“You are what I call a tipping point,” renovation manager David Hart said.
If renovation does not happen now, he added, Minnesota will be paying for continual expensive repair.
“The mechanical systems are really worn out,” Hart said.
Cronk said Gov. Mark Dayton will propose the $109 million project, to be funded by the state selling bonds.
The outlook improved this year when a key lawmaker who has questioned the project jumped on board.
“I have been kind of a prickly mosquito for a number of years,” Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said.
On Thursday, she told the Capital Investment Committee she leads that she now supports the plan.
“If inflation returns, these costs change dramatically and quickly,” Hausman said.
Capitol renovation supporter Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said he is hopeful the funding could pass this year. However, he said, fellow Republicans may be more likely to support it if the Capitol project is not included with other public works construction projects.
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, encouraged fellow senators to do a sales job on the Capitol’s needs when they return home.
“All of us need to have a little more enthusiasm about why we need to restore the Capitol,” he said.
Hausman said the Legislature should approve Dayton’s request of $109 million this year, followed by $94 million next year. State officials already are well along in spending $44 million they received last year.
The goal is to finish work at the end of 2016. If lawmakers approve the money, the basement could be demolished later this year along with comprehensive work on the exterior stone.
The Minnesota Historical Society, Senate, Capitol reporters and others have offices in the basement. They would be displaced for more than a year, and some basement workers may end up elsewhere permanently.
The basement would take the longest to renovate because it contains air-handling and other mechanical equipment. The Capitol’s more public areas would be worked on after the basement work is well under way.
The governor, attorney general and majority-party senators and their staffs would be relocated for a time, and the House and Senate chambers would not be usable during some of the construction, but legislative leaders want workers to keep the chambers available during their early-in-the-year sessions.