CHEYENNE — The much-talked-about, long-awaited wholesale renovation of the Wyoming Capitol is about to take its first step.
The state’s five elected officials voted Wednesday to spend $400,000 for two initial levels of study for feasibility and planning. The renovation of the historic 100,000 square-foot building initially was estimated to cost $50 million, although Rich Cathcart, the state’s construction manager, said Wednesday it will likely cost less.
Acting as the Capitol Building Commission, the members concluded the need for the renovation is evident, the project is a high priority for the state Legislature, and it shouldn’t be delayed any longer.
“This has gone on for two administrations,” said state Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock, a legislative liaison to the commission. “It’s like jumping on a moving train. You pick a car and jump. We need to move forward.”
Anderson said the Legislature has a responsibility for the safety of 136 employees who work in the building, which has no fire suppression system, among other concerns.
Despite state officials’ current budget concerns because of slumping natural gas prices, money is available for the project. The Legislature put $87 million into a Capitol renovation account over the years. Cathcart said the approved initial study should provide an accurate cost of refurbishing the building, part of which is 122 years old.
The commission includes Gov. Matt Mead, Secretary of State Max Maxfield, Auditor Cynthia Cloud, Treasurer Joe Meyer and Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.
Mead, Maxfield, Cloud and Meyer have offices in the Capitol. Hill’s office is in the Hathaway Building, one-half block from the Capitol.
The plan includes moving Capitol employees into the first two floors of the Herschler Building while the Capitol is gutted and renovated.
The original plan was to construct a new state office building on a state-owned site west of the Capitol and move the employees during the renovation. Because of the state’s budget pinch, the new state office building has been put on hold indefinitely.
Mead reiterated his objection to the new state office building Wednesday, citing the constrained budget.
“I don’t think we should build it just to have swing space,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Legislature has made a strong case for the Capitol renovation project.
The Capitol has multiple defects, the officials said.
In addition to the lack of a sprinkler system, the building is not totally handicapped accessible and has problematic heating and cooling systems, asbestos and outdated electrical wiring.
Cathcart said both elevators in the building are “antiques.” One is currently out of order and is so old parts have to be specially made to fix it.
The Capitol was last partially renovated in the 1970s.
The original main part of the building was finished in 1890. The wings for the Senate and House chambers were added in 1917.
The tentative schedule is to move everyone out of the building in March 2015 after the legislative session. The Legislature will have to meet in some other, as yet undetermined building in 2016 under this schedule, Cathcart said.
The move back into the Capitol could come in 2017.
Later, Cathcart said holding the session in the Herschler Building may be “doable,” although it would be hard because of all of the pillars.
During the meeting, Treasurer Meyer said he would like to see an iron-clad agreement guaranteeing that the elected officials can move back into the Capitol when the renovation is finished.
The office location issue came up during the administration of Gov. Dave Freudenthal through a space study authorized by the Legislature.
The study recommended that except for the governor, the elected officials move to different quarters to give the Legislature more room in the Capitol.
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer of Cheyenne, the other legislative liaison to the commission, said the study did not mean the entire Legislature supported the idea of taking over the Capitol.