CHEYENNE — In the early days of the Capitol Square restoration project, one of the major critics was Eli Bebout.
The big, tight-fisted veteran legislator from Riverton, now Senate President, said more than once during meetings that he would vote for a scaled-back simple repair job for the Capitol Building alone if someone would just make a motion.
No one did. And so the complicated Capitol Square complex project went ahead. The effort entails renovation of the Capitol Building and expansion of the nearby Herschler State Office Building. It’s a major, $300 million deal.
Bebout is chairman of the Oversight Committee of the Capitol Square project, a panel that includes other legislative leaders such as House Speaker Steve Harshman of Casper.
Also on the panel are Gov. Matt Mead, who hasn’t been tickled with the project either, and Treasurer Mark Gordon.
They all seemed rather grim last week as they sat around the long table at the Jonah center, the Legislature’s temporary home during construction.
They are, I think, a bit wary of being responsible for such a big, controversial construction effort during a downturn in the state’s revenues.
Despite his misgivings, Bebout has led the committee’s goal of getting a quality historical product while keeping the undertaking under budget and on time.
Last week he toured the project again.
Afterward he said he is pleased with the progress that has been made.
“I think we’ve really turned the corner,” he said.
The entire complex has started coming together, a statement buttressed by the discussions that followed.
The consultants from the Salt Lake City firm, MOCA, and the committee members talked about ordering new furniture for the offices of the elected officials who will be moving into three floors of the newly-finished East wing of the Herschler Building early next year.
The governor’s office remains in the Capitol Building. The secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and state superintendent of public instruction will have offices in the Capitol Building but not their staffs.
Bebout said he wanted to be sure the four elected officials are being kept in the loop as it were.
“We don’t want to have someone come in later and complain they didn’t know what was going on,” he added.
His reference was to the dust-up caused by the original plan for the three elected housed in the Capitol Building. Three years ago, the oversight committee, with a different membership, voted to boot the secretary of state, auditor and treasurer from the Capitol Building to make more room for the Legislature and public committee rooms.
Because of the renovation, the amount of available space in the Capitol will be reduced, thus the squeeze against the elected officials.
The oversight group later changed course and agreed to a compromise that allowed the officials some space in the building while their staffs will be located in the Herscher Building.
Meanwhile, the consultants from MOCA in Salt Lake City continue with delight to find historical gems in the Capitol like decorative trompe l’oeil style painting in certain areas.
Matching this style costs extra, as you would expect.
For that reason the committee members were not as thrilled about these ‘“finds.”
The Legislature, in my experience, has been reluctant to spend money on itself as an institution.
That’s why the lawmakers sat behind tacky metal surplus property desks for years, even as the revenues started pouring in.
When they did buy some beautiful desks the critics pounced. Stung by the barbs, some legislators paid for their own desks.
Anyway, one sign that the Capitol complex project is coming together is the announcement that the state is taking applications for production of public art for the Capitol. The state wants proposals for four sculptures for niches on the third level in the rotunda.
Yet another sign of movement is the preliminary approval of the Veterans’ Commission plan for a “Fallen Warrior” monument on the Capitol Building grounds.
And then there is the plan for landscaping.
The Capitol Square Project is slated for completion in the spring of 2019.