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House Rules Committee approves alternate Capitol building plan

By Sonja Hegman
A rendering of the proposed legislative office building alternative design approved Friday by the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee. (Image courtesy of Minnesota Department of Administration)

An alternative plan for a new legislative office building that would house the state’s senators squeaked by with a 14-13 vote Friday in the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee.

After more than three hours of, at times, politically-charged discussion, committee members passed a redesigned and more cost-effective plan that would house all of the state’s 67 senators. The original proposal pitched last fall cost more than $93 million and would have housed only 44 of the 67 senators. The new plan’s cost is $89.6 million, but includes user-financed parking that would bring the total cost down to $76.8 million.

The plan now goes to the Senate for approval. If not approved, the building won’t proceed and the current Capitol restoration plan would have to be overhauled to compensate for housing the senators. Many things currently included in the Capitol restoration would be lost, including men’s and women’s bathrooms on every floor. Currently, there is not a women’s bathroom on the first floor of the Capitol. Public classrooms would also be lost.

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, second from left, chairs the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee April 4 as they discuss the proposed legislative office building. Photo by Paul Battaglia

“We all support the Capitol restoration,” said Rep. Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove). “Our Capitol is one of the best, and I’m damn proud of it. I’m beyond fearful that this [building] will jeopardize the Capitol.”

Several committee members argued that the project should have been vetted with the House Capital Investment Committee and that other alternatives were not considered, even though several options were presented on Friday. For instance, repurposing the Ford Building or renting long-term space for senators. In the 2013 session, $3 million was placed into the tax bill for the purpose of planning a new building.

“This set us in stone now because of the planning money,” said Rep. Kelby Woodard (R-Belle Plaine).

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul), the committee chair, said that it’s important to have functional space and an easy way for the public to find senators instead of having offices “sprinkled” throughout various buildings in the Capitol complex.

House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee

“The Capitol is a place that the public loves,” Murphy said. “It’s a jewel to the people of Minnesota. With these improvements, we are ready to move forward with the least expensive choice and best choice for the public to enjoy and utilize the State Capitol complex for the next 100 years."

According to the current timeline, if approved by the Senate, construction of the new legislative office building would be completed in November 2015.

The newly-approved plan includes key changes from the original plan:

  • delay of construction of Parking Lot C, which reduces the cost of the project by $13.6 million;
  • user-financing of Parking Lot B, which reduces the cost of the project by $12.8 million;
  • removal of amenities from the original design such as a reflecting pool and fitness center; and
  • adjustments to the building's facade to make it more modest.

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