Topeka — When workers finish with a Statehouse corner or wing, the results can be impressive. False ceilings disappear and ornate stenciling reappears after decades. Marble floors, once hidden under carpet, are rediscovered. Wood shines.
Rising Costs: When legislators approved an 11-year, top-to-bottom renovation of the Kansas Statehouse, one report put the cost at between $90 million and $120 million. Current projected costs are $172 million and are likely to keep increasing.Staying Put: Other states with such projects emptied their capitols to have a shorter construction timeline and avoid inflation. They include Utah, Virginia and Washington. Kansas chose to keep its building open and work around construction.Architect Fee: Kansas is paying the architectural firm on its Statehouse project a fee equal to 11 percent of construction costs. Some legislators think that's too high, but officials in other states say it's reasonable.
But after seven years of planning and construction, the top-to-bottom renovation is impressive for another reason - its rising costs. One early report pegged the likely costs at between $90 million and $120 million, but legislators have authorized more than $172 million in spending.
Even that won't cover all costs, and Kansas could become one of only a few states to spend $200 million or more fixing its capitol. Work is supposed to be done in October 2011.
Some lawmakers think the project is out of control. "Maybe we need to call a temporary halt and re-examine our methodology and see if we can be a little more frugal," said Sen. Chris Steineger, D-Kansas City.
Last month, Steineger was among senators trying to suspend the project, though the effort narrowly failed. The project still has support from key legislative leaders, despite its rising costs, and lawmakers have authorized an additional $55 million in bonds to keep it going.
Sunflower State splurging
Officials in other states that have renovated their capitols aren't surprised by the Sunflower State splurging.
"Restoration of a capitol building is the most political of all ventures. When times are good and there is extra money in the budget and people are feeling generous, restoring a state capitol building is a wonderful idea," said Kerry Chartkoff, the Michigan Capitol historian. "Any number of horrible pitfalls can cause a quick cooling of enthusiasm for the project."
Like other states, Kansas legislators moved forward on the project because they were trying to conduct 21st Century business in a late-19th and early 20th-Century building. Kansas' Statehouse was built in stages over 36 years, starting with the east wing in 1867.
When legislators approved the current project in 2000, it had been more than 80 years since the last large-scale restoration. Mechanical systems were outdated, and lawmakers wanted bigger committee rooms and better offices.
They also got a taste of the building's lost grandeur when workers repainting the House chamber in the 1990s discovered that ceiling murals had been covered with a layer of white paint.
"The cost of the total project has always looked pretty high to me," said House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls. "On the other hand, we do have some obligation to future generations to keep the building in good condition."
Arla Jones, a high school librarian from Lawrence, expressed some of the same ambivalence during a recent trip to the Statehouse with two students. She left behind a school office with a leaky roof and wondered aloud how millions of dollars might have helped Kansas' schools in past years.
One student, 18-year-old Patrick Tomei, said: "We'll have to come back in 2011 to see if the money's well spent."
So far, Utah appears to have the most expensive capitol project, not only a restoration but an effort to protect its building against earthquakes. The project is expected to cost $212 million when it's finished in eight months, though that figure doesn't include a $15 million underground parking garage or the $45 million spent on two nearby office buildings.
In Minnesota, there's talk of a $260 million renovation, though nothing has been approved. Texas spent $187 million on its Capitol in the late 1980s and early 1990s, more than doubling its space by adding 360,000 square feet in an underground complex.
Kansas' figure - $172.5 million - covers only three of four phases. The last phase includes a renovation of the north wing and construction of a basement-level visitors' center. Also, Barry Greis, the Statehouse architect, anticipates major repairs on the building's exterior limestone.
The original cost estimate of between $90 million and $120 million was in a report issued in 2000, before the first designs were finished.
It also was before legislative leaders added the $15 million parking garage and an additional 118,000 square feet for underground offices and the visitors center. With those changes, the project will increase the Statehouse's total space by 57 percent, to more than 495,000 square feet.
The original estimate also came before a boom in construction in China drove up the prices of steel, drywall and other materials, several architects in other states said, and before Gulf Coast hurricanes created demand for some of those materials.
"In some cases, projects here in the U.S. - and all over the world - have doubled in estimated construction costs," said Barbara Campagna, architecture director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
In Kansas, Steineger would like to see Kansas' project audited, viewing it as too "open-ended," adding, "I think we need to keep talking about it."