Thursday, September 5, 2013

EXTRA: Would we have preferred a Capitol renovated on the cheap?

It seems the new dirty “word” for followers of Illinois state government is $669,608.

Maintaining the 19th Century look
That is the dollar figure being placed on the portion of the Illinois Capitol renovation that paid for three sets of copper-clad wooden doors that were meant to replicate what was installed at the Statehouse when it opened in 1871.

WE NOW HAVE people complaining about waste in government, citing the doors that went for just over $220,000 a pair. They were most definitely custom-ordered, and not something that could have been picked up at the nearest Home Depot store and installed by the governor himself, coming into work on a Saturday to do the work and save the state some money.

That ridiculous image might be what some people dream of being done. Yet it just isn’t realistic.

Which is why I personally am not all that offended by the renovation – which is costing the state some $50 million overall. Funded by a bond sale, it will be repaid by the state during the next quarter-of-a-century.

State officials say the reason renovations needed to be done at all related to the ventilation (air conditioning in summer, heat in the winter), fire escape and disabled access – all of which were inadequate in the building that is approaching its 150th year of use by state government.

PUTTING THOSE KINDS of things in without totally ripping apart the building is naturally going to be more costly. That is just a reality. People who are upset are getting a little too irrational in expressing their partisan contempt for government.

While I’m a little concerned about cost and realize that somebody has to pay for everything, I also realize that doing the job on the cheap would create just as many complaints.

We’d have some people (perhaps even some of the same people) claiming that the Statehouse was somehow defaced with a mediocre renovation that didn’t respect the building’s character.

And let’s be honest, when the structure was built in the years after the Civil War, it was meant to be an ornate palace, of sorts, that celebrated the significance of Illinois and its government.

A CHEAP JOB would have been disrespectful of that concept.

If state officials had delayed the job until a time when state finances are allegedly more sound, we’d either be waiting forever (because there’d always be something they’d want to consider a higher priority) or we’d be hearing complaints about the inadequate escape access in the event of a fire or the difficulty of people with disabilities to get in (and out) of the Statehouse.

My point being that we were going to hear complaints about this renovation no matter what was done. It is why I can dismiss the complaints we’re actually hearing now.

For those who want to say this cost could have been scaled back somewhat, I’d cite another state-built structure on the South Side – U.S. Cellular Field.

JUST A FEW months after the General Assembly was pressured into approving the bonds that would raise the money to build a new stadium for the Chicago White Sox, there was the potential for cost-overruns.

Would we have wanted a government version of this?
Knowing there’d be no way of getting legislators to back more money for the project, the design was scaled back. A lot of the details that would have given the building some character were eliminated.

Which led to the rants of a generic, over-bloated building that we used to get (and occasionally still hear) about the stadium. Future renovations added some of those details in.

But I wonder if those complaints would have been heard in excess about the Capitol. The truth being that some people just want to complain – and ornate chandeliers gives them something to gripe about.


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