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Derailing the Runaway Renovation

This is the second of two articles on the July 7, 2015 Capitol Building Restoration Oversight Committee meeting. To read the first installment, please click here.

During Capitol Building Restoration Oversight committee meetings, Representative Kermit Brown has waxed worriedly about scope creep, and rightly so. In many construction projects, and particularly common in those funded by taxpayers, random musings find their way into the plan and the project’s scope can spiral from a basic renovation to a palatial reconstruction. But instead of worrying about how to rein in scope creep, Rep. Brown’s worries seem more concerned with appropriating money to fund it. To ensure our children and grandchildren are free from a legacy of debt and higher taxes as a result of Capitol Renovation overdrive, the Oversight committee must excise all palatial visions and get back to the basic renovation originally proposed. The people of Wyoming cannot afford to fund a monument to the egos of some legislators.

One recent example of scope creep resulted from Senator Phil Nicholas’s (R-Laramie) reverie about his youthful visit to his state capitol and how awed he was by it. He wanted to make the Capitol awesome to small children in Wyoming too. This musing brought both the Tourism and State Parks and Cultural Resources directors to present plans to increase the scope, and of course, cost of the project by adding a student learning center and historical displays in the much beautified connector between the Capitol and Herschler buildings. Ms. Diane Shober, executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism, arrived before the committee with one of her fantasy fictions about how these additions would increase visits to the Capitol by 30 percent.? She showed off her creative math ability when she said this could add a $1.35 million economic boost to the area each year.

But putting in a student learning center? Adding historical displays? Final design plans for the project were due back in May, and although they are nowhere in sight, isn’t it a bit late to be adding costly extras?

Scope creep didn’t stop there.

In the July 7, 2015 Oversight committee meeting, the committee decided that the office of the State Superintendent of Public Education should be in the executive building. Recall that the rest of the elected officials returned to the Capitol from exile in the executive building in the June Oversight committee meeting.

The location of the State Superintendent of Public Education came up during a discussion about putting that office into the much beautified connector during legislative sessions. The idea is to give the officeholder greater access to the public—a good idea—however this scope creep didn’t stop there either.

The Herschler renovation will create an extra 50,000 square feet of office space and the entire Department of Education takes up 30,000 square feet in the Hathaway building. The committee’s discussion turned to moving the entire Department of Education into that extra space. If the State Superintendent of Public Education moves into the executive building, then there really will be one executive in the building, making it more difficult to leave this costly extra out of the equation. Oh, and lest I forget, the executive building was no longer referred to as the executive building, but rather the addition, as it no longer, until that very moment, housed any executives.

Maybe, in addition to going back to a basic Capitol renovation and downsizing plans for an awesomely improved connector, the entire executive building should be deleted from the plans.

I queried Senator Tony Ross about this, saying that with the forecasted $338 million deficit, the school recalibration issues and the specter of declining revenues, perhaps the committee should drop the executive building from the project. He told me they still needed the executive building because they want to stop leasing space around the city.

But building ownership and management is not the role of government.

I wasn’t the only person thinking about jettisoning the executive building. Treasurer Mark Gordon said to the committee, “We may not even want to build the tower but use that unassigned space given the challenges the state is about to face [emphasis added].”

So with all the changes and delays, the Capitol now likely won’t be ready until January 2019, if then. But let’s face reality—it is very possible that none of the current Oversight committee members will serve inside of the capitol again, so perhaps none will be held accountable at the ballot box once the palace is complete and taxes go up to pay for it. Instead of trying to figure out how to fund a monument to the ego of some legislators, the committee should reduce the scope of the project to a level the people of Wyoming can afford.

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