State taps KDOT funds to help complete Capitol renovations

A photo of the Kansas State Capitol taken about a week ago

TOPEKA — The State Finance Council Monday approved  a $17.4 million financing package, including state highway department money, to pay for a visitors center, driveways and landscaping at the Capitol, a move that should put an end to an extensive renovation project that has lasted more than a decade.

The plan takes $7 million from the Kansas Department of Transportation for grounds and roads work. Meanwhile, the state will issue $5.4 million in bonds for the visitors center. Another $5 million of money saved during the lengthy construction project would also be used.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, cast the lone dissenting vote, saying that she disagrees in principal with using KDOT funds on the project and that the full legislature should vote on a project intended to pay for a building that is for the people.

“It seems like we’re continuing to use this as a slush fund,” McGinn said.

The KDOT money comes from their operational fund, not construction funds.

McGinn said lawmakers rejected a similar bonding proposal two years ago. Monday’s vote came from the state finance council, which is comprised of eight top state lawmakers and is chaired by the Governor.

“I truly believe that this is the peoples’ building and I think the people that represent the people should be the ones that vote for that,” McGinn said.

The 7-1 vote capped off an hour-long discussion that exposed communication problems among law makers, the state architect and Gov. Sam Brownback.

House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, said he thought lawmakers had already approved money to create a visitors center “shell” that would provide a nice entrance on the Capitol’s north side.

“It was my understanding that we were done with the bonding that was necessary to get us access and functionality at the Capitol,” he said over speakerphone as Brownback and other listened from the Capitol. “This is a significant misunderstanding.”

Statehouse Architect Barry Greis said that the state never approved money to finish off the entry way, which is currently a hodgepodge of sheet-rock walls and temporary construction that leads visitors from an underground garage to the statehouse with a line of red tape.

The new funding will pay for a visitor’s center, including a lobby, elevators, security areas, audio and visual rooms and a dining area, Greis said.

The $332 million Capitol renovation project has run far beyond its original budget and has taken much longer than expected. It should be completed by the start of 2014.

Brownback said that he doesn’t like the costs associated with the project and has been disappointed with the growing expenses associated with replacing the Capitol’s copper dome.

“I haven’t been the biggest fan of this project,” he said. “But it’s just time to wrap it up.”

Gov. Sam Brownback talks with reporters Monday.