Both the Legislature and the governor will ask the state Capitol Commission when it meets on Tuesday to approve a change in the capitol renovation and expansion plans to include single-story, rather than two-story, underground wings at either end of the state capitol. The idea is to preserve plans to add large public hearing rooms, but cut back on planned office space for legislators. Gov. Butch Otter, who ran TV ads against the wings during his campaign, issued a stop-work order on the whole capitol renovation project two weeks ago over the issue, prompting a standoff with the Legislature – which already had approved the project and sold $130 million in bonds.
Members of the Senate Majority Caucus, briefed on the agreement today, were “pleased that it’s out of the way, and we’re going on,” said Caucus Chair Brad Little, R-Emmett. Resolution of the issue should get the legislative session back on track to end in March as scheduled, he said.
Little said Otter was concerned about possible cost overruns on the two-story underground wings, especially given the big cost overruns that the U.S. Capitol has experienced on its new underground visitor center. “The governor wanted a higher level of confidence,” Little said. So both sides agreed that the entire $130 million in funding for the project would remain available to cover any overruns as the project progresses. The hope is also that despite the need to redesign plans, not going as deep with the wings will shave time off the construction and keep the whole project on schedule.
“Hopefully the taxpayers will come out ahead – the people will have a place for hearings, and we’ll have maybe a shock absorber for any unknown costs,” Little said. He said there’s also “maybe a better understanding” that the state will eventually make permanent use of two nearby state-owned buildings, the old Borah Post Office and the old Ada County Courthouse. Both buildings will house state offices and the Legislature during construction on the Capitol renovation, so they’ll serve as “swing space” for the next three years.