Architects, Lawmakers: Why $ 210 Million in Illinois Capitol Improvements Are Worth the Price | Government-and-politics
Dean Olsen The State Journal-Register
SPRINGFIELD – As of next summer, $ 210 million in planned renovations at the North Wing of the Illinois Capitol will do it 130 year old building safer, energy efficient and accessible to people with disabilities.
It would not be surprising if the work, funded by the bipartisan Rebuild Illinois investment program, would be criticized by the public, said Capitol Architect Andrea Aggertt.
There was a public outcry in 2012 over the copper-clad doors installed at the west entrance to the Capitol during a major upgrade on this side of the building. The types of improvements on the 368,000-square-foot North Wing of the Capitol will be similar to the $ 50 million in upgrades on the West Wing from 2011 to 2013, Aggertt said.
But she said the public should keep in mind that the renovations to the North Wing, which will employ hundreds of construction workers over the project’s 2.5 years, will include historic details costing much more than ‘a typical renovation of a house or building.
“We don’t have a commercial building or a hospital,” she said. “We have a state house to be proud of, and therefore the quality of the materials we put into our one and only state house must reflect the quality and craftsmanship that has been produced at the end of the years. 1880, when the building was built. “
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The story of a State Journal-Register columnist in 2013 about $ 670,000 spent on three-door west-entry copper-clad wood doors garnered a wave of attention from the media and the public. In response, so-Gov. Pat Quinn called the work “overkill” and compared it to the Palace of Versailles in France.
State Representative Tim Butler, R-Springfield, was not in the General Assembly at the time, but said the West Wing project is necessary and will help the tourism industry to Springfield and central Illinois.
It is important to maintain state buildings so that they do not deteriorate, he said, citing maintenance issues at the 37-year-old James R. Thompson Center in the city center. from Chicago.
Butler said he and Representative Mike Murphy, R-Springfield, had kept in touch with the Capitol architect’s office for the past year and a half as the Capitol project was planned.
“I think Illinois has one of the most impressive Capitol buildings in the country,” Butler said. “Everything we do has to respect the historical integrity of a building like this. We have to invest in our public buildings, especially our Capitol. It has to be a place of destination so that people can be impressed.”
Aggertt, who was not the architect of the Capitol in the early 2010s, said: “Once we start a renovation, we will want to be continuous and consistent as we work around the Capitol building to ensure that ‘it doesn’t look like someone different did the west wing compared to the north wing.
“As the money is spent there will likely always be a concern about how it is spent and what materials are used, but this is a thorough review process that I myself , my agency and our consultants follow up to make sure we specify the right materials and systems that go into the building. “
The north wing has not undergone major renovations for decades. Most of the money allocated to the project will improve basic infrastructure, Aggertt said. For example, interior sprinklers and energy efficient windows will be installed, and the fire alarm system, air handling, electrical wiring, and heating and cooling systems will all be upgraded.
The toilets, doorknobs and other aspects of the North Wing, from the basement to the sixth floor, will be brought into compliance with federal rules for equal access for wheelchairs and walkers, Aggertt said.
The elevators in the wing will be enlarged so that firefighters and other emergency responders can place a patient on a stretcher inside. And back-up power will be made available to the wing to keep everything running during power outages.
Stairwells will be installed in the wing so that the more than 100 people working there can exit the building directly in the event of fire or other emergencies, Aggertt said.
The north wing includes the Senate Chamber, and the Senate plans to meet in the auditorium of the Howlett Building during the project.
The Senate Chamber will not be renovated much. The Senate and House chambers were largely emptied in 2006 and 2007 and underwent extensive renovations, including new flooring, carpeting and furniture.
But a small room used for committee meetings at the back of the Senate Chamber will be made wheelchair accessible, and the maid’s washroom in the chamber will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Aggertt said.
Republican Senate Leader Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods said he was happy the meeting room next to the chamber was changed. Since using a wheelchair, he has not been able to use this room.
There are aspects of the Capitol that are inaccessible to him and the thousands of members of the public who can visit the building on normal session days, he said. The building was largely closed to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
McConchie said he heard from members of the public with disabilities who had problems making their way into the building. And when it comes to the price of the upgrades, “I don’t think we have a choice,” he said. “… We have to comply with federal law. It does not meet standards.”
The six-year Rebuild Illinois program was enacted by a set of bills passed by the General Assembly on a bipartisan basis and enacted by Governor JB Pritzker, a Democrat, in 2019.
The $ 45 billion program is funded by a doubling of the state fuel tax, an increase in taxes on cigarettes, an expansion of gambling that includes new casinos in Chicago and its suburbs, and the introduction of legalized sports betting.
The north wing of the Capitol houses many senators’ offices, the comptroller’s office and part of the governor’s offices. Plans are underway to house the state workers displaced by the project in the Stratton office building on the west side of the Capitol complex, Aggertt said.
Current ADA-related laws require 60% of entrances to be accessible, but the West Wing of the Capitol is the only part that meets that requirement, she said.
“Obviously, this building was built when the codes we have today were never thought of,” she said. “We want to make sure that we bring it up to code and that building occupants are the safest they are in any other building in the state today.”
A series of permanent ramps will be installed on the north slope outside the Capitol to allow people who wish to avoid the stairs when using the north entrance.
The exterior glass doors at the entrance to the north wing, installed in the late 1990s, will be removed in favor of doors similar to those in the west wing, Aggertt said.
There are also plans to remove the driveway on the north side next to the building. The drive has over 100 parking spaces that place lawmakers and others with those spaces just steps from the front doors.
The curved driveway has been part of the grounds of the Capitol since the building was constructed over a 20-year period that ended in 1888. But current concerns about car bombs, events such as the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, and terrorist attacks on government facilities nationwide have fueled plans to eliminate the Reader, according to Eleni Demertzis, spokesperson for the Republicans at Illinois House.
“Especially considering everything that is happening across the country, this is a huge problem which I think needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible,” she said.
The Capitol Architect’s office is looking for ways to “memorize” the northern route through paving or landscaping “to mimic it,” Aggertt said.
Inside the building, patches of paint have been removed from some of the walls to create “exhibition bands” that reveal the colors of the original paint. This way, the ducts and other parts of the walls that need to be removed when the renovation begins in earnest in the summer of 2022 can be restored once the contractors have improved the plumbing and services under these walls.
“As we spend money to modernize a lot of our infrastructure, we also want to make sure that when we get things back together, we do it the right way and capture how this building was built ago. over a hundred years, ”Aggertt mentioned.
After the north wing, the east and south wings of the Capitol will be renovated, but the timetable for this work has not been set, she said.
“We are trying to make the state house accessible and more functional for everyone, all Illinois, so there are no barriers for people to come here and be able to enjoy and admire this glorious building that we. have and are so proud of, ”says Aggertt.