- The Washington Times - Monday, July 29, 2002

RICHMOND Tens of millions of dollars in repairs and renovations to the state Capitol are on hold until architects and engineers calculate the costs and policy-makers determine whether the cash-strapped state can afford to pay them.
The state faces millions of dollars in more immediate needs to other Capitol Square buildings, some of which have potentially life-threatening safety deficiencies.
Among the financing options officials are willing to consider for a foundation-to-roof refitting of the structure, first built to Thomas Jefferson's designs in 1788, is soliciting private contributions, as a few other states have done.
Rich Sliwoski, director of engineering and buildings, cited $90 million as a worst-case guess for the rebuilding costs before a meeting of the Virginia Public Buildings Board.
"I think the actual amount may be less than that it could be half but we have no figures yet on this. None," he said.
About $34 million is already earmarked to renovate the old State Library, just a short stroll northeast of the Capitol, as a meeting place for the House of Delegates and Senate while the Capitol is closed, probably for the 2006 General Assembly session.
Funding for Capitol renovations is imperiled by the worst downturn in state revenue in the 40 years government has kept such statistics. The $237 million shortfall for the fiscal year that ended June 30 is forcing Gov. Mark R. Warner to revise the revenue forecast significantly lower in August, two months ahead of time.
In light of the fiscal crisis, cuts are certain and there is no way to predict the effect on Capitol Square projects, the Democratic governor said Wednesday.
Interim House Speaker Lacey E. Putney, a member of the buildings board who heard Mr. Warner's somber briefing to legislative money committee leaders Tuesday, urged the board to be cautious.
In planning the renovations, the panel needs to decide whether it can complete the renovations by 2007, the Jamestown 400th anniversary observance, or wait until after the statewide celebration that year to close the historic structure for repairs.
"The world will be coming to Virginia in 2007, and you don't want visitors to come to Richmond and find scaffolding covering up the Capitol," said Administration Secretary Sandra D. Bowen.
Delegate J. Paul Councill Jr., Southampton Democrat, questioned whether the project could be completed by then.
"Maybe it's better to do some things with some of the outlying buildings and leave the Capitol as it is for now," Mr. Councill said.
Mr. Sliwoski said that his own top priority would be repairs to the 79-year-old Washington Building, an L-shaped structure at least 12 stories high on the southeast corner of the Capitol grounds.
"I love this Capitol, but my first priority is saving lives," Mr. Sliwoski said.
The 123,000 square-foot Washington Building has no fire-suppression system and obsolete fire alarms, and its escape routes, electrical and lighting systems and toilets are deficient, according to the Department of General Services. Fixing it would cost $13 million, DGS estimates.
Safety problems are so prevalent in the 91-year-old Eighth Street Office Building that the only solution is to demolish it, DGS recommends. The structure is still in use.
The adjacent Ninth Street Office Building, which houses the offices of most of the governor's Cabinet secretaries, also has safety deficiencies throughout, but is not nearly as dilapidated as the Eighth Street building. A new stair tower, new windows and a good cleaning ought to get the building in shape for about $6 million, DGS estimated.
The Supreme Court building needs $5 million worth of work, including new fire alarms, a new roof, a new boiler and upgrades to its pistol range.
Officials also face a decision on the derelict Finance Building, which has been empty for nearly four years and sits only a few hundred feet east of the Capitol. The cost of a full renovation to make the structure habitable would come to $30 million, DGS estimates.


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