Costs spike for Minnesota governor’s mansion upgrades

A white construction lift reaches towards the roof of a brick residence.
A worker on a construction lift works on a section of the governor's residence Monday.
Matt Mikus | MPR News

Updated: Oct. 3, 5:54 a.m. | Posted: Oct. 2, 12:20 p.m.

Anticipated costs for renovating the Minnesota governor’s residence have ballooned because key components were in worse condition than anticipated and due to extra security upgrades, according to state officials in charge of the project.

The work, which has already begun, would reach an estimated $12.8 million if the project moves forward as planned. That’s up from $7.1 million when the inside-and-out rehabilitation began in June. 

In a letter Friday to top lawmakers, the Department of Administration attributed the jump primarily to higher-than-expected bids received to replace heating, air conditioning, ventilation, electrical and plumbing systems. The entire boiler and piping system is facing replacement and much of the building’s wiring dates back to the initial construction completed in 1912.

“This work to meet current code and life-safety requirements is necessary to complete if the facility is going to remain in use,” temporary commissioner Stacie Christensen wrote to DFL and Republican legislative leaders. 

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

Christensen sought feedback from them by early this week to keep things on schedule. Whether that input affects how the project proceeds is yet to be determined, but nothing would require the agency to gain explicit approval.

In response to questions from MPR News, Assistant Commissioner Curtis Yoakum said the agency’s communication with lawmakers is meant to keep them engaged in key decisions.

“We would like their feedback on this significant project before moving forward,” Yoakum said.

A spokesperson for Gov. Tim Walz reinforced that the governor’s office “is concerned about the increased costs and would like the Legislature to weigh in before the Department of Administration makes a decision to proceed with this project.”

The agency is using money from an existing facilities repair account to cover renovation costs.

The department also consulted with the Governor’s Residence Council, which supported going forward with the work.

Council Chair Amelious Whyte Jr. expressed alarm over the poor shape of structural and mechanical components at the state-owned mansion.

“In order to preserve the structural integrity and the viability of the building, significant heating, cooling, electrical, plumbing, windows and waterproofing improvements must be made to preserve the value and usefulness of the building,” Whyte wrote to Christensen last month, adding, “The council understands that the work on the residence is necessary and can no longer be neglected.”

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in a written statement to MPR News that she is on board.

“Based on the information provided by the Department of Administration about the condition of the residence, the bids that were received and the unanimous vote by the Governor’s Residence Council, I do not have concerns,” Hortman said.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson said he’s troubled by the revised cost.

“It’s concerning to see this project nearly doubled in cost in just a few short months,” he said in a written statement. “While inflation has impacted the cost of doing business for all Minnesotans, taxpayers can’t afford to be treated as a bottomless source of money to provide perks for politicians.”

House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth also issued a statement questioning the cost increase.

“I have requested additional information from the Department of Administration to determine whether any effort was made to keep costs contained for this project,” Demuth wrote. “These types of cost overruns go well beyond what’s considered reasonable.”

Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic said in her statement that the repairs are much-needed.

“Both the Department of Administration at the Governor’s Residence Council have looked at this,” she wrote. “The Council unanimously approved the completion of this much-needed maintenance work and structural repairs.”

The 111-year-old Tudor mansion on Summit Avenue was donated to the state by a lumber baron’s family in 1965. It has been a home to 10 governors and their families.

Masonry repairs are already in progress and could be near completion by winter, the agency said in its letter to lawmakers.

The renovation has already been a headache for the Walz administration.

Because of the disruptive nature of the work, the first family was temporarily relocated. The state initially signed a pricey lease to put the Walz family in a Sunfish Lake home, but that was rescinded amid outcry over the $17,000 monthly rent. 

The Walz family instead was put up in a University of Minnesota-owned property along the Mississippi River. The Eastcliff estate, which usually houses university presidents, was not in use as the school looks for its next leader. The lease called for a $4,400 monthly rent plus utilities.

The renovation to the governor’s residence is slated to wrap up by fall 2024.