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Mead blocks new state office building, focuses on Wyoming Capitol

June 1, 2012 in Events, Features, News, Opinion

CHEYENNE — Gov. Matt Mead has delayed spending $4.4 million toward planning for and design of a new state office building, instead turning his efforts toward a much-needed State Capitol renovation.

Mead said in a letter to state legislators that he is concerned about the lack of fire suppression in the Capitol as well as outdated water, electric, HVAC and data systems.

The Legislature allocated the $4.4 million in the state budget for an office building to be constructed west of the Capitol. The budget language gave the governor authority to hold the money if necessary.

Mead earlier said he thinks now is a bad time to construct a new office building, given potential state agency budget cuts of 4 or 8 percent, and tight revenues caused by slumping natural gas prices.

“It is a time for fiscal restraint,” Mead said in the letter released Wednesday.

He also said that doing the planning now might be unwise because the plans could become outdated if the Legislature and other elected officials agree with him and delay the project for several years.

Mead issued his letter to the co-chairmen of the Legislature’s Select Committee on Legislative Facilities — Rep. Pete Illoway and Sen. Tony Ross, both Cheyenne Republicans. In the letter, Mead said he has directed Rich Cathcart, the state’s administrator of construction management, to explore options to relocate employees who work in the Capitol while it is being renovated.

The state office building, he added, can be revisited when revenues stabilize.

The Legislature’s plan had been to construct the state office building, move Capitol building employees into the new offices, renovate the Capitol, then move the employees back into the Capitol.

The Legislature set aside $70 million several years ago for Capitol renovation, although the money can be used for other capital construction projects, including a new office building.

Illoway and Ross said Wednesday that while they are disappointed, they want to meet with the governor when he returns from a coal conference in China the first week of June and move ahead with the Capitol renovation.

“The Capitol building is probably the most critical need,” Illoway said.

Although it is the governor’s prerogative to delay the state office building, Illoway said he still believes the state could pay for it through bonding.

Illoway said he is concerned about a potential fire in the Capitol, as evidenced by a piece of old electrical conduit from a Capitol wall he displayed at a recent committee meeting.

He said the conduit had wires that appeared to have burn marks.

The building has no sprinkler system.

Ross said everyone realizes the Capitol is in desperate need of work and there is money available to fix it.

The state up to now, he said, has been applying “Band-Aid” fixes to the building. He cited as an example the balky state Senate elevator that can’t be replaced until the building is brought up to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and other codes.

“We’re just going to have to figure out how to renovate the Capitol without building a new building at this time,” Ross said.

Contact capital bureau reporter Joan Barron at 307-632-1244 or joan.barron@trib.com

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