Despite renovations, Statehouse roof leaks

01/13/2011 12:00 AM

01/13/2011 12:07 AM

TOPEKA — Kansas has spent about $225 million so far renovating its Statehouse, yet the roof still leaks — and it may go on leaking occasionally, an official acknowledged Wednesday.

Statehouse architect Barry Greis confirmed that water from melting snow made its way from the roof over the House chamber into the attic, and then into the chamber itself Tuesday. House staff put down several trash cans to catch the water before workers could stop the leak.

Greis said the issue is the Statehouse's old copper roof, which has aging and sometimes brittle joints that let water in. Also, he said, when workers walk outside on that roof, they do slight damage that may cause leaks.

But he acknowledged that with all the money the state has spent over the past decade on renovating the Statehouse, plans still don't include replacing the copper on the roof. Doing so could add several million dollars to a lengthy project that's already been criticized for its costs.

"Water can drain from rafter to rafter," Greis said. "There are pinholes. There are hairline cracks."

The leaking Tuesday frustrated House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, who's generally been supportive of the renovation project when it's been criticized. He said he doesn't remember leaks being a problem in the past.

"You'd think they'd kind of have that problem fixed, with the kind of money we're spending," O'Neal said Wednesday.

The renovation started in 2001 and is scheduled to finish in June 2012. The project has been a source of both frustration and pride for legislators and other state officials. This year, the rotunda and north wing remain sealed off behind drywall as work concentrates there.

The state is financing the renovation with bonds and is expected to cost at least $285 million, not counting a new visitor center in the basement, which will be financed with private donations. The results have often been stunning — with offices, committee rooms and hallways returning to rich colors and ornate patterns of decades past.

The project also is designed to give the Statehouse modern heating, air conditioning, water and fire safety systems; provide better rooms for meetings to make them more accessible to the public and give legislators less-cramped office space.

Some legislators have criticized the spending because early estimates put the cost of the entire renovation at between $90 million and $120 million, though that was before legislative leaders added an underground parking garage and approved an expansion of the basement for new offices, and before the state discovered unexpected needs for repairing the exterior stone and copper dome.

Greis said the workers have been making temporary repairs on the roof throughout the renovation to stop and prevent leaks. But he said after a winter storm like the one this week, snow can accumulate and be blown into odd nooks and crannies — and leaks can be hard to pinpoint because water travels.

He said workers put down rubberized mats to cover the trouble spots. As for whether the entire copper roof should be replaced, Greis noted that legislative leaders direct the project and, "We'll let them make those decisions."

The latest leak threatened to drip onto an ornately carpeted aisle in the back of the House, only a few feet from members' desks.

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