- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Top Wyoming officials have voted to hire a project manager to oversee the $300 million renovation of the state Capitol.

Gov. Matt Mead and Wyoming legislative leaders met Wednesday as the Capitol Building Restoration Oversight Group and voted unanimously after a closed session to negotiate a contract with a Utah firm that has experience overseeing capitol renovation projects in other states.

The group directed state officials to negotiate a contract with Salt Lake City architect David H. Hart and MOCA Systems, the firm where he works. Sen. Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, chairman of the oversight group, said he expects work on the contract to start in coming days.

The move to hire Hart and MOCA Systems follows a contentious meeting last week at which oversight group members expressed concern that the deadline for substantial completion of working drawings for the Capitol restoration project had been pushed back to October - two months later than they had been promised in June.

Also, group members said last week they were worried that their desire to maintain the historic nature of the Capitol apparently wasn’t filtering through from state staffers to the project architect, HDR Architecture Inc., of Denver. Members said they were dismayed to hear only recently that the renovation plans called for lowering the ceilings in some rooms of the building to accommodate new duct work.

The project’s guaranteed maximum price was also in limbo, state staffers told the oversight group last week, because plans were still being drafted.

The state already has moved members of the Legislative Service Office out of the state Capitol and the state has rented real estate around Cheyenne to house state agencies while the renovation project is underway. Officials say the whole project, including renovation of the neighboring Herschler Building, is still set for completion in time for legislative session in early 2019.

Sen. President Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, said after the meeting that state officials have been aware of Hart’s work on capitol renovation projects in Utah, Idaho and Minnesota.

Hart’s office said Wednesday he wasn’t immediately available for comment. According to his website, he had served as capitol architect for Utah, before going into private practice.

“Over the last month and a half, unanimously we’ve come to the conclusion that we do need the strengths of a project manager,” Nicholas said. He said Hart attended the oversight group’s meeting last week and later gave members his assessment of how the state needs to proceed.

The cost of Hart’s contract is still subject to negotiation, Nicholas said. He said it will be less than 1 percent of the total project cost and said he expects the state ultimately will save money by having an experienced project manager representing the state.

J.E. Dunn Construction, a company based in Missouri that has handled renovations of capitol buildings in Kansas, Minnesota and other states, has the contract to perform the renovation work at the Wyoming Capitol. Nicholas said Hart’s firm has experience in dealing with J.E. Dunn on the Minnesota Capitol project.

Wyoming officials toured the Idaho Capitol last week, Nicholas said. He said seeing that project assured them that Hart and his firm are the right choice for Wyoming.

“When we look at it, we say, ‘you guys get it, you understand what we want, and we’d like to that that assurance on this building,’” Nicholas said.

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