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Restoration road map: How Kansas’ Capitol project doubled in cost

About a month and a half from now, state officials will be swapping smiles, handshakes and grandiose praise beneath the shiny new gleam of the Kansas Capitol’s newly copper-clad dome.

But there’s likely to be one fact that doesn’t get much play when state lawmakers celebrate the conclusion of Kansas’ epic restoration of the Capitol building: The price tag.

Originally slated to take five to eight years and cost $90 to $120 million, the restoration of the Capitol has essentially doubled in both time and cost since its inception in 2001.

However, Rep. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg,  said that technically isn’t the case. While the final cost is roughly $320 million, he said original estimates anticipated that costs could — or would — change over the duration of the project. Initial figures were never set in stone, he added.

Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, has served on the Capitol Restoration Commission from the start. Hensley said the significant price increase was largely a result of construction crews discovering unknown issues throughout the process.

The building was in poor condition, Emler said, because it had largely gone without major maintenance and care for the better part of 80 years.

Additions in recent years, like a new roof , were added to ensure money spent on work already completed wouldn’t go to waste, Emler noted.

“It probably wouldn’t have been in the best interest of the taxpayers to let all that restoration work go down the tubes,” Emler said.

Hensley told Kansas Watchdog he regrets the final cost of the project.

“We can’t be satisfied with the final cost of the restoration due to its size, but I believe the people of Kansas will be very satisfied with the end results,” Hensley said.

Emler said at times he’s torn on the cost to taxpayers, but said it would have had to happen eventually if the state ever wanted to save the historic building.

“When I think about waiting lists and that sort of thing, yea (the funds) probably would have been well used on those kinds of things,” Emler said. “But the other part of it is we have a treasure in the state of Kansas. I know not everybody looks at it that way, but I’ve visited a lot of other state capitols.”

Restoration Road Map

• September 2000 – State project manager estimates $108.5 million construction cost. This is later revised in working with Treanor Architects to $132.5 million.

• September 2001 – Plans revised to include underground parking and a visitor’s center, though visitors center funding was not added at this time. Cost revised up to$144.9 million.

• November 2002 – Capitol Restoration Commission accepts new lower cost estimate of $135 million.

• December 2005 – Total construction cost estimate increased to $162 million.

• December 2006 – Costs continue to rise, the new total has now been increased to$172.5 million.

• December 2007 – Construction crews discover issues with exterior masonry, project additions raise cost estimate to $211.3 million.

• Early 2011 – Total cost levels out at nearly $320 million with the addition of a new roof, replacing the Capitol dome, new AC chillers, and finishing the north and south wings.