- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Gov. Jay Nixon stepped through mud and used his fingers to snap off one of the many skinny stalactites that have formed from water leaks under the Missouri Capitol on Monday as he sought to draw attention to the need for repairs to the century-old building.

The governor toured the Capitol’s substructure with five lawmakers, several staff members and more than a dozen journalists while pledging his support for a bonding package that would finance renovations to the Capitol and numerous other government and university facilities around the state.

“As we have seen today, critical structural elements of the Capitol have fallen into disrepair,” Nixon said after the tour.

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a measure authorizing up to $400 million in bonds for repairs or renovations at state facilities and an additional $200 million for repairs and renovations at college campuses. But the only project actually getting financed is an engineering building at the University of Missouri-Columbia, because no other specific bond-funded renovations were included in the annual budget.

Nixon wants lawmakers to approve a bonding project list during the 2015 session. He has spent parts of the past couple of weeks touring buildings at college campuses that also are in need of improvements.

He said Monday that he will ask lawmakers to approve a supplemental budget bill detailing college and university projects to be funded with the roughly $160 million remaining in that bonding authority.

Of the $400 million in bonding authority for state facilities, Nixon said he wants to use $200 million for renovations, including $40 million to $75 million for the Capitol repairs. He said he may ask legislators to amend state law so the remaining $200 million of bonding authority could go toward new facilities.

The Missouri Capitol was constructed about 100 years ago after the prior building was destroyed by fire. Water has been leaking from its grand south steps into a basement storage area and from an asphalt driveway into a dirt-floored substructure. The water has formed stalactites up to 2 feet long. It also has rusted the reinforcing structural steel, causing it to expand and concrete to fall off, said Cathy Brown, director of the Division of Facilities, Management, Design and Construction.

For Nixon, the tour marked the first time he had been under the Capitol since he was a state senator more than two decades ago. But lawmakers said they had been on the tour multiple times and were well aware of the building’s needs.

“It’s getting to be a place where it’s dangerous to work in the basement,” said Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, a Joplin Republican. “We’ve got water infiltration that’s undermining the foundation of the building and it’s going to cave in upon itself if something’s not done in the not-too-distant future.”

State Sen. Mike Kehoe said Monday marked the first time that a governor had accompanied him on one of his inspections of the Capitol’s underside. The Jefferson City Republican said that’s an encouraging sign.

“I hope everybody’s sincere about moving this forward,” Kehoe said.

The Capitol renovation could provide a startling sight to the public, most notably because the south steps would be removed and rebuilt. The project also includes tuck-pointing around the exterior of the building. Some staff offices and legislative parking spots in the Capitol basement would have to be relocated.

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