Taxpayers footing state Capitol renovations

Posted at: 02/11/2013 5:57 PM
Updated at: 02/12/2013 12:13 AM
By: Bill Lambdin

ALBANY - When it comes to spending money at the state Capitol, sometimes government employees don't even consider the cost.

When they started work on the state Capitol building shortly after the Civil War ended, it was supposed to cost $4 million and take four years.

It actually ended up costing $25 million, which was a whole lot of money in the 19th century, and took 32 years. Even then they just sort of quit, rather than complete all the work that could have been done.

“We had, over the years, four different architects over 32 years. I believe there were 11 or 12 governors,” said Capitol Architect Jim Jamieson

The building is so old it was constructed without electric lights or modern elevators.

That's why spacious and elaborately carved staircases were built, with glassed in skylights above the fifth floor to bring natural light into the dark, stone structure.

But over time as the demand for space for the ever expanding state work force grew and security concerns for a possible enemy attack during World War II took priority, the skylights were covered over. Floors were put in and offices constructed in this space at the fifth floor of the Moorish-inspired Assembly stairwell.

Which brings us to the question about $8,000 doors.

Originally NewsChannel 13 got a tip from a viewer who said that a set of doors in the Capitol cost about $8,000 each, and asked OGS about that. They said it's not that simple.

An official in charge of answering freedom of information requests involving spending on state doors told us the contracts weren't bid in that detail -- that they didn't break out expenses by individual doors. That wasn't a denial that the doors here cost $8,000 each, although not a confirmation either.

NewsChannel 13 asked if that much was paid for a door and if so, why?

“I don't, I don't know what that door cost. I mean it's a lump sum, low bid contract so we got everything on the drawings for one price,” said Jamieson.

“We did have a few new doors and windows and transoms that were all historically accurate put into the building so we do have to maintain the level of accuracy.” Said Molly Larkin from the Office of General Services.

All told state officials say they spent $74 million over 13 years. Repairs included fixing up paint that had faded badly after decades of smoke and soot. Terra cotta roof materials that had cracked and separated so that water and melted snow dripped worse than a low rent tenement.

At this point those who work at the Capitol, use it or just admire it from a distance certainly seem pleased the scaffolding is finally gone and the seemingly never ending repairs finally did end.

The state employees who explained the renovations stressed that the repairs had to preserve the unique and historic nature of the building and last far longer than a typical house repair.