Topeka Kansas legislators authorized $36 million in new bonds for an ongoing Statehouse renovation as part of the new state budget, but they expect a planned visitor center to be privately funded.
The provision authorizing the bonds — bringing the total for the renovation to $286 million — inspired little comment before legislators finished their work this week on the spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
The lack of debate this year contrasted with complaints in past years about Kansas continuing to pour money into the project while the state faced financial problems and cuts in aid to public schools, social services and other programs.
Legislative leaders said Friday that criticism of the project and resistance to issuing new bonds have lessened as the end grows nearer. State officials expect renovations above ground, which began in 2001, to be finished in June 2012.
"It makes no sense to stop the project midstream," said Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican. "It has to be finished."
A new visitor center in the basement is expected to cost a little more than $11 million, said Statehouse Architect Barry Greis. The budget includes a provision requiring the state to look for donors, anticipating money from private foundations. There's not yet a firm date for when it will be done.
Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson expects to sign the $13.7 billion budget by the end of the month. He has the power to veto individual items in it, but he supports the renovation project.
Kansas is among a handful of states that have renovated capitols in recent years or are considering it.
Utah spent $272 million to renovate its Statehouse and cushion the building against potential earthquakes, but the figure includes a parking garage and two new office buildings. Idaho reopened its Capitol this year after spending $123 million.
In Alabama, lawmakers are studying whether to replace their legislative building, at a potential cost of $170 million. Last year, Missouri's House speaker proposed a $250 million renovation, but the idea hasn't taken hold.
The projected costs of Kansas' renovation have escalated, drawing criticism.
Officials initially guessed the renovation would cost between $90 million and $120 million. But that was before legislative leaders added an underground parking garage and expanded the basement for new offices and the visitor center.
"It's too late to turn back now," said Sen. Chris Steineger, a Kansas City Democrat who's been a vocal critic of how the project has been managed. "We're three-quarters of the way across the river."
The visitor center will include a large open space for groups to gather, a classroom, a small auditorium, space for the Capitol snack bar, seating for diners and exhibits about the building.
"The visitors' center is the real crown jewel of the project," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat.
Legislators authorized the project in 2000 because the Statehouse hadn't seen a top-to-bottom renovation in more than 80 years. Its electrical, air conditioning, heating and plumbing systems were years out of date, and legislators also wanted more comfortable committee rooms and offices.
Greis said if legislators hadn't approved the bonds, the state would have had to adjust its construction schedule, slowing down the work. He said stopping the work altogether and restarting it later could increase the project's cost as much as $11 million.
"There was a lot of angst over, 'Why are we doing this when the economy is in the tank?'" said House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican. "We did our due diligence."