Citing pressure from the public, legislative leaders on Monday delayed a major portion of the Capitol restoration project.
“It’s very bad to go ahead and bid additional renovation projects at the state Capitol at the same time you’re talking about having to reduce education spending and reduce Medicaid,” said House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls.
“Symbolically, it’s just an impossible situation you can’t really justify,” he said.
The Capitol Restoration Commission,- which includes state House and Senate leaders, delayed approving bonds for the final phase of the project: renovation of the north wing and completion of a new visitor center.
The Restoration Commission already has approved $211 million for the building project, which is scheduled to be completed by 2012.
But that $211 million price tag did not include finishing the visitor center and renovation of the north wing. Last year, it was estimated the final cost could reach $285.6 million.
Since then, state revenues have fallen dramatically amid the national recession, and lawmakers will face severe budget problems when the Legislature convenes next month.
But some argued Monday that this was the wrong time to slow down the project.
Jim Miller, executive vice president of JE Dunn Construction Co., the project’s contractor, said double-digit inflation for commodities such as copper and steel has disappeared.
“We have a window to take advantage” of lower prices, he said.
House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg, agreed.
“Now we have construction costs that are low, we have people unemployed and 3 percent interest rates. Now is the time to build highways and renovate the Statehouse because it costs the taxpayers less, has a better impact on the economy and puts people to work,” he said.
The commission’s decision suspends architectural and engineering design work on the north wing, which was to be put out for bids in August. Neufeld said this would give lawmakers more time to assess the state’s financial picture.
The project has been ongoing since 2001. When originally envisioned in 2000, the cost projections were in the $90 million to $120 million range.
According to officials, the escalating price has been caused by a variety of factors, including add-ons, such as a $15 million parking garage and a new ground floor of office space. Also, inflation, until recently, had been much higher than was expected in 2000, and workers have found numerous problems in the building that weren’t apparent at first.