Costs of major Minnesota Capitol renovation creeping up

Stone work
Stonecarvers worked on the exterior details of the state Capitol in St. Paul, March 9, 2015. Deteriorated marble is being repaired or replaced with new marble, harvested near the original quarry in Georgia.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

Updated: 5 p.m. | Posted: 12:10 p.m.

The extensive renovation of the Minnesota Capitol is $30 million over budget, state officials revealed Friday.

That number surprised members of the Capitol Preservation Board, but they heard an even more startling number. Just 17 pieces of art in the building have an estimated value of nearly $1 billion.

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Most of the $30 million overrun is due to water damage around the foundation of the Capitol, said David Hart, the architect in charge of the Capitol reconstruction. He said crews need to reconstruct two of the stairways leading into to the Capitol and further waterproof the building.

"As we began the demolition in the basement and as we started to reveal certain areas of the exterior wall in the interior of the building, we started to recognize the degree to which water was coming into the building," he said.

Hart said the recommendation also includes $6 million for security, landscaping and other repairs.

Cantilever stairway
Construction superintendent Tom Madison walked down the cantilever stairway at the state Capitol, March 9, 2015.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

The Capitol Preservation Commission agreed to recommend that the Legislature spend $20 million to make the repairs and waterproof the building. The commission delayed action on many of the other requests until it receives more information.

If all of the requests are funded, the total cost of the Capitol renovation will top $300 million. The job is scheduled to run through 2017.

Many members of the commission, including state Sen. Dave Senjem, said the state should spend the money to protect the Capitol designed by architect Cass Gilbert.

"Water is the enemy of any building and it seems to me, instinctively, that we're into this thing for a lot of money already that we shouldn't cease to fix it up properly and intact and bring this back into a condition that can go for another 100 years," said Senjem, R-Rochester.

'The Battle of Nashville'
"The Battle of Nashville," c. 1906, by Howard Pyle hangs in the governor's reception room.
Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

The Capitol Preservation Commission also recommended the Legislature spend $3.25 million to conserve and restore 17 pieces of art in the Capitol. Many of the paintings and murals, including work by John La Farge, Edward Simmons and Howard Pyle, are priceless.

Ted Lentz, president of the Cass Gilbert Society, said the 17 pieces of art likely are worth $987 million. He said the painted murals in the rotunda, the Supreme Court and Senate chamber are a piece of Minnesota's history.

"It tells an incredible story of the vision of the legislators and the architect and the commission on how to tell the story of Minnesota," Lentz said.

But several members of the commission say they want some new artwork in the Capitol. They want to include art that reflects Minnesota's history since the Capitol was built in 1905. A commission subcommittee will consider adding art that reflects the state's cultural changes.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he'd like to see many of the governor's portraits around the Capitol replaced with other artwork. He wants to see changes in some of the art in the Governor's Reception Room that focuses on Minnesota's involvement in the Civil War and images that feature Native Americans. Dayton said he worries some of the pieces are factually inaccurate and about the overall message they send.

'The Second Minn. Regiment at Missionary Ridge'
"The Second Minnesota Regiment at Missionary Ridge," c. 1906 by Douglas Volk hangs in the governor's reception room.
Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

"Each one is significant in its own right," Dayton said. "But as the only seven that are in that office and given that it is the office of the governor of Minnesota, somebody could come in and ask whether that's the only thing that matters in terms of your history and your representation."

Lentz said he doesn't think the reception room should be changed.

"The various questions, like should we replace the art in that room, would be a little bit like painting out sections of the Sistine Chapel because it no longer is theologically correct," Lentz said. "No pope is going to change that, and I believe that room itself is a work of art."

The renovation will soon relocate the Legislature. Members of the Senate must move out in June. They will hold floor sessions next year in the new Senate Office Building that is scheduled to open in January.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk renewed his call for the House to find a different place to meet outside the Capitol in 2016. Bakk, DFL-Cook, said it will save money if crews can continue working uninterrupted next year.