Otter's Statehouse plan may save $11 million

‘He's very pleased with these projected savings,' spokesman says of project to build one-story wings

Idaho StatesmanMarch 1, 2007 

The numbers are in, and the new, smaller Statehouse expansion could save Idaho $11 million, state officials say.

That is about one-fourth of the more than $40 million cost originally budgeted for two underground wings to expand hearing rooms and office space for the Legislature.

Plus, the state's architects and construction managers say the new wings can still be completed in time to get the Legislature back in the Statehouse by the 2010 session.

Gov. Butch Otter, who risked his early relationship with the Legislature by ordering a halt to the project, was happy with the results.

"He's very pleased with these projected savings," Otter's spokesman, Jon Hanian, said Wednesday. "He's looking for ways to save taxpayers even more."

Otter stopped the work in January, less than two weeks after taking office, and then cut a deal with Republican legislative leaders: He would agree to two underground wings as long as they were one story each — not two, as originally planned — and the space was devoted to public hearing rooms.

The whole project, including a renovation of the 100-year-old Capitol, could now cost about $120 million, though the state has already borrowed $130 million. The bonds will be repaid with cigarette taxes.

The major expenses will come with the massive restoration effort, which will add new plumbing, electrical wiring, heating and cooling and restore some parts of the Statehouse to their original appearance. Plus, new, accessible elevators will be added to boost safety. Today, the elevators can't accommodate a horizontal ambulance gurney. The restoration and contingency allowances total an estimated $90 million.

Led by Senate Assistant Majority Leader Joe Stegner of Lewiston, legislators have been carving up their new space, agreeing to just one dining hall and kitchen (unlike the small areas that exist in each of the chambers now), one auditorium-style large hearing room and less space for offices.

The new cost estimates were given Wednesday to the Idaho Capitol Commission, a citizen panel charged with overseeing the renovation and Capitol Mall planning.

That group revised the master plan Wednesday to accommodate the compromise, and heard an update on the transition.

State historical workers are archiving the Capitol's displays this week, and some of the major statues are already moved from the building.

The Legislature still plans to finish business before the end of March, and the last of the Statehouse tenants will be moved out by May 20.

With the new wings mostly designed and the contractors comfortable again with the 30-month timeline, the Capitol Commission is even trying to speed up completion by a month or two.

The original plan didn't let anyone move back in until Dec. 13, 2009 — just weeks before the start of the 2010 legislative session. The goal now is November, but Commissioner Andrew Erstad, a Boise architect, said he's hoping to push that to October.

"Knowing what it takes to move furniture in and out, I know we'll have challenges," he said.

To offer story ideas or comments, contact reporter Gregory Hahn at ghahn@idahostatesman.com or 377-6425.

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