Archive for Monday, March 3, 2008

A fixer-upper

Capitol repairs uncover classic features, cheap work

Kansas Rep. Melvin Neufeld, pointing, talks about the House of Representatives chamber during a tour in the west wing of the Kansas State Capitol building in Topeka.

Kansas Rep. Melvin Neufeld, pointing, talks about the House of Representatives chamber during a tour in the west wing of the Kansas State Capitol building in Topeka.

March 3, 2008


— Built in stages over more than 30 years, and repaired thereafter, the Kansas Capitol is a monument to both the best and worst in craftsmanship.

Legislative leaders, architects and construction managers beam with pride when they talk of some of the art and precision handiwork that they have uncovered as part of the current renovation and restoration project.

Looking at old-time photos of tough-looking immigrants who started construction shortly after the Civil War, architect Vance Kelley says the early planners wanted to "create a symbol of democracy to show people that government is here and it's a strong government."

But it's also a low-bid government.

While the detailed stenciling, murals, huge limestone blocks and copper dome blow away visitors and professionals alike, workers have also found a building riddled with repair shortcuts.

For instance, during renovation of the west wing, workers found the old plaster was mixed with horse hair and just wasn't holding up.

"We had to replace lots of plaster," says Statehouse architect Barry Greis.

Exterior pieces of masonry - some in the 50-pound range - have become dislodged after being tapped with a small hammer. And while the massive stones in the basement command respect, there are hidden corners in the building where it looks like long-ago workers ran out of the good stuff and just jammed in whatever rock they could find.

Construction of the Capitol started in 1869 and was mostly finished by 1903.

After decades of remodeling, rearranging and below-standard repair jobs, state officials knew in the 1990s they had a major fixer-upper on their hands and started the process of trying to preserve the structure while transforming it into a modern office building.

But like a home-repair project sinking into a money pit, the subject of cost overruns for the Capitol project has become a sore point for some.

And there are all different ways of adding up the figures.

Bottom line: The project is now expected to cost $285.6 million and be finished in late 2011.

Original cost estimates from 1999-2000 were in the range of $90 million to $120 million.

But then officials decided to add 118,000 square feet of new office space, mostly by digging out the basement. That added $47 million to the project.

A new $15 million parking garage for visitors and lawmakers was added to the state budget.

Construction costs and materials have increased greater than the inflation rate, and the latest large item change is the need to repair the exterior masonry.

Kelley, a principal with Lawrence-based Treanor Architects, says the masonry is in worse shape than originally thought. Workers have catalogued every rock's condition and found that it's going to cost nearly $40 million to fix.

But despite the costs, and criticism from some quarters, legislative leaders haven't blinked.

"This is a project we are very proud of," says Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.

House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, recently spoke warmly of the quality of the art work in the Capitol, and the need for more.

He says about $22,000 was raised from current and former House members who purchased their old desks and chairs. That money will be used to pay for artwork that will depict the role of minorities and women in Kansas history and adorn the walls of hallways leading to the House chamber, he says.

Once finished, Neufeld, Morris and others say the Capitol will make Kansans proud.

And that completion date is set for November 2011.

"We feel confident we are on schedule to do that," Statehouse Architect Greis says.


tolawdjk 10 years, 3 months ago

I'm curious what Neufeld's world view of artwork depicting women and minorities would entail?

Birthin' and "goin' the hell back to their own countries"?

Janet Lowther 10 years, 3 months ago

The capitol isn't a "major fixer-upper" it is a Monumental fixer-upper: That is what you get when a monumental building falls into disrepair.

When a building is built as a monument, then it's repairs will be disproportional compared to those of an ordinary building.

moo 10 years, 3 months ago

Right, tolawdjk, women couldn't do anything worthwhile, like be governor...oh...wait.

justthefacts 10 years, 3 months ago

So, at the same time most state residents' income is stretched thinner and thinner, state agency budgets are held to levels from 10 years ago, and state provided services to the poor are being cut to the bone, the legislators will have meanwhile approved spending at least $200 to $400 million to fix up the place they work? Nice... That's almost half a billion See and

Here's the original plan for the work

Of course they didn't approve that sum all at once, or over night. Nope. They simply give the renovators a a blank check - to do whatever it takes.... no competitive bid laws apply to this work! And so it will be done that way. Gradually spending more and more and more... No other agency would get away with spending like that! Just as the lawmakers have exempted themselves from most open government laws (most bills are really "worked" behind closed doors or in the halls of the building), so too do the legislators look the other way when it comes to spending a lot of money on their needs or themselves. Too bad the state tax payers aren't paying close attention to the cost and excessiveness of this renovation project. The state capital will be gorgeous when it's all done. To be sure. But did they really need things like hand-cut crystal lamps everywhere? Wouldn't you like your home or office to be so outfitted, especially if paid for by someone else (tax dollars)?

Where are our priorities people?! I'm all for historic preservation. But there is a big difference between preservation and improvements that cost so much!

sofaking_what 10 years, 3 months ago

Justthefacts??? you might try getting them straight before you start posting.

FYI as someone who has intimate knowledge of this project, I can tell you that most if not all services ARE competatively bid. The only exception being some of the highly skilled trades like gilding, stone masons and restorative paint specialists. As far as the legislators taking care of themselves, most of them won't even be around when this project is completed.

While I admit that the price tag is steep, its right in line with what a project of this magnitude and level of deterioration demands. The only criticism that can be leveled with any merit is the fact that trying to complete this restoration while the building remains open and active has added years and tens of millions of dollars to the project...if you want to complain, then complain about that.

Furthermore, if this project is not completed asap, then the costs will only escalate as this restoration will need to be done eventurally. In regards to the excessiveness like the hand cut crystal globes...many of the items you point out as excessive are being used based on the Secretary of the Interiors standards for historic preservation. These "excessive" rememdies have been mandated.

I guess the other solution would be to just tear the darn thing down and build a nice "cheap" glass box and call it the capitol...hows that sound? Personally I'd rather pay a little more in taxes and have a Statehouse I can be proud of.

dinglesmith 10 years, 3 months ago

Question for Mr. Neufeld. Have you proposed a local Topeka tax to pay for the renovation similar to the tax you proposed for University cities to pay for University maintenance? The argument is similar. Because the capitol is in Topeka, the city benefits more economically and thus should pay more for the renovation. Wasn't that the argument for University towns?

sofaking_what 10 years, 3 months ago

Responses to COOL's comments:

11% fee is right in line for a historic preservation project. You're comment regard the ratio of fee percentage to scale of project might hold true for a traditional design bid build project but not for historic preservation as several specialty consultants get paid out of that 11%. So the architects and engineers are not getting the full 11%...truth be told the architects actual stay at home fee is probably closer to 6% after they pay all consultants out of the 11% gross

Additional cost for the garage is a valid arguement...take that up with the primadonnas that don't want to walk in the rain from an offsite garage or lot. However keep in mind some of these decissions were made out of security concerns immediately following 9/11. The old parking situation at the statehouse was unsafe and unsecure so something had to be done. Now whether an underground garage is necessary is debateable.

Dividing the management/design up amongst arch/engineers would only add to the cost not to mention extend the time as the cross corrdination would be a nightmare...this is already a problem in regards to contractors. Its a constant battle when 2 portions of the project with 2 different contractors adjoin one another. Its a giant game of "its not in my scope of work...thats their responsibilty".

Yes, all retrofitting is with up to date systems with electrical and mechanical systems being moved into the underground vaults and out of the historic building proper in an effort to capture usable space and make the building safer

Yes there is daylighting into the basement spaces via at grade skylights

Might I suggest taking a day trip to topeka to visit the statehouse and see the project first might be impressed.

alm77 10 years ago

Cool, you just go on and on and on..... have a conversation for pete's sake. With someone besides yourself.We were just there for a third grade field trip and yes, it does need the renovating very badly and yes, it's going to cost a lot. What I didn't understand was that so much of the materials in the building were from all across the world. Why didn't they spend more locally and how much of the money for renovations is being spent locally?

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