- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Another squabble is shaping up over offices for Minnesota politicians.

The 83-year-old State Office Building that is the main workspace for 134 House members and their staffs is in need of more than $100 million in repairs, according to the agency that manages government properties. But a bitter aftertaste from the clash over the new $90 million Senate Office Building makes lawmakers of both parties squeamish about confronting just as costly repairs to existing space.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton acknowledges it’ll be a “heck of a hard sell” and is weighing whether to even include the project in a construction finance proposal he’ll forward to the Legislature in January. It is competing with more than $3 billion in requests that have poured in - less than one-third of which are expected to make the final cut.

“That building has to be renovated,” Dayton told The Associated Press on Monday. “It’s in serious need and we’re trying to set up the Capitol complex for the next 50 to 100 years and we’re trying to make it functional for legislators and for the public. I would support something there.”

With a $300 million renovation of the Capitol just past its midpoint and the Senate building almost finished, the idea of another disruptive and costly project in the heart of government is being met with cringes.

Sen. David Senjem of Rochester, the top Republican on the Senate bonding committee, said anything that resembles an office upgrade for legislators won’t go far.

“There’s building fatigue,” he said.

In 2014, Republicans hammered Democrats for authorizing the new Senate building, which TV campaign ads described as a “luxury office building” for politicians.

The seven-story State Office Building with the orange terracotta roof last had significant work done three decades ago, when two floors were added, wooden-framed windows were replaced and two internal courtyard areas were converted to office areas.

A 2012 consultant’s analysis commissioned by the Department of Administration found extensive problems, from troublingly thin insulation to pipes pushed to their limits to creaky heating and cooling systems prone to leaks. The exhaustive study - paid for with funds approved when Republicans ran the Legislature in 2011 - concluded that “many of the building components and control systems are beyond their rated life expectancy, causing higher operating and repair costs and risking failure.”

Lawmakers and other building occupants have experienced it firsthand. In May, ruptured cooling coils caused water to gush from the ceiling outside House Speaker Kurt Daudt’s office and cascade down through the two floors below. In mid-September, staff complained of a persistent sewage odor throughout the building. At least one complaint of a “sick building” by an ill employee prompted air quality testing this spring that didn’t detect any reason for alarm.

Operating costs for the building last year totaled $10.38 per square foot, according to Administration Department figures. That’s about 6 percent higher than in newer office buildings the agency maintains.

On a recent tour, a building engineer showed off worn valves, heating units and wiring as well as elevator equipment dating to the building’s 1930s vintage. Some of the fixes would require relocating tenants and gutting the space to replace fixtures.

“It’ll be invasive,” said Chris Guevin, director of Plant Management.

But none of that will happen unless lawmakers sign off on a $14 million bonding request for 2016 that would be followed with a $96 million allotment in 2018.

Senate Capital Investment Chairman LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, isn’t closing the door to the discussion.

“From my personal perspective, I think we ought to take care of the properties that the taxpayers - the public - own,” he said. “But it would beneficial if the House would take the lead because they’re the ones who would benefit from it.”

House Capital Investment Chairman Paul Torkelson of Hanska said there’s little if any interest from his Republican colleagues to set aside money. “It’s really premature to think seriously about a project of that size and scope on that building,” he said.

Even if lawmakers avoid the proposal in the 2016 session, Administration Commissioner Matt Massman said they will have to take a serious look at confronting the building’s problems soon. He said outdated systems will drive up operating costs and could push things to a crisis level.

“Nothing has been done on this building since 1985,” he said, “and it’s time.”


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