Politics & Government

State approves $17.4 million more for Capitol renovation project

TOPEKA – It’s going to take more money to finish a huge state Capitol renovation project that already has taken much longer and cost much more than initially envisioned a decade ago.

The State Finance Council on Monday approved a $17.4 million financing package that includes state highway department money to pay for a visitors center, driveways and landscaping at the Capitol.

The plan uses $7 million of Kansas Department of Transportation money for grounds and road work. The state plans to issue $5.4 million in bonds for the visitors center. Another $5 million saved during the lengthy construction project would also be used.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, cast the only dissenting vote, saying that she disagrees in principle with using KDOT funds on the project and that the full Legislature should vote on a project intended to pay for a building that is for the people.

"It seems like we’re continuing to use this as a slush fund," McGinn said.

The KDOT money comes from its operational fund, not construction funds.

McGinn said lawmakers rejected a similar bonding proposal two years ago. Monday’s vote came from the finance council, which is made up of eight top lawmakers and chaired by the governor.

"I truly believe that this is the people’s building and I think the people that represent the people should be the ones that vote for that," McGinn said.

The 7-1 vote capped off an hour-long discussion that exposed communication problems among lawmakers, the state architect and Gov. Sam Brownback.

House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, said he thought lawmakers had already approved money to create a visitors center “shell” that would provide a nice entrance on the Capitol’s north side.

"It was my understanding that we were done with the bonding that was necessary to get us access and functionality at the Capitol," he said. "This is a significant misunderstanding."

Statehouse architect Barry Greis said that the state never approved money to finish off the entry way, which is now a hodgepodge of sheet-rock walls and temporary construction that leads visitors from an underground garage to the Statehouse with a line of red tape.

The new funding will pay for a visitor’s center, including a lobby, elevators, security areas, audio and visual rooms and a dining area, Greis said.

The $332 million Capitol renovation project, being carried out by JE Dunn Construction, has run far beyond its original budget and has taken much longer than expected. It should be completed by the start of 2014.

Brownback said that he doesn’t like the costs associated with the project and has been disappointed with the growing expenses associated with replacing the Capitol’s copper dome.

"I haven’t been the biggest fan of this project," he said. "But it’s just time to wrap it up."

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