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Wyoming Capitol Complex

Despite Debate Over Additional Capitol Building Funds, $140M State Construction/Maintenance Bill Passes

in News/Legislature
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Despite being only a small fraction of the $140 million bill needed to fund maintenance and construction projects for state-owned buildings, continued funding for work on the State Capitol building took up a large amount of the Legislature’s time on Tuesday.

The $4.5 million allocated to the Capitol in the “capital construction” budget bill — which funds state maintenance and construction projects — was a point of contention. especially for Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, who said the $300-plus million restoration project needed to be considered finished.

“I think at some point, we need to just accept that the building is completed,” Gray said during House floor debate on House Bill 121. “I don’t think this is ever going to end. It’s becoming a little bit odd, to be honest with you, the number of times we have heard that they need one more traunch to finish this building. It’s it’s getting odd.”

Gray said hearing requests for additional money for the State Capitol was “like an out of body experience” 

“It’s repeated over and over and over again,” he said. “I think we need to move forward and accept that the project is completed.”

Gray also said he didn’t accept the idea that just because there might be some good projects in the state’s Capital Construction bill, the legislation should be passed. To him, funding for the State Capitol and the University of Wyoming College of Law (something he said the university should raise money for on its own) was enough to kill it altogether.

“We’ve heard a number of arguments. One is that there’s some good stuff in the bill and therefore the premise is it should be accepted because there’s some good things in here,” he said. “But where do we draw the line? Do we ever draw the line?”

But Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne said the restoration project was not finished and “we need to finish it.”

Further he said, squashing the entire bill over $4.5 million allocated to the State Capitol was akin to “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”

“If you don’t keep up with your major maintenance, and with new construction and replacing buildings, when they’re out of date, you get behind and then it gets more and more expensive to fix,” Nicholas said.

There was also a disagreement over state spending altogether. Gray said the state couldn’t afford this bill and added he would rather the dollars be allocated for other needs.

“This bill is profligate and unsustainable,” Gray said. “It needs to stop. Whether it’s a $300 million deficit and education or a $700 million, one, based on the capital gains, money’s fungible, and every dollar spent is another dollar that we’re not able to plug a deficit or to fill in needed services.”

Rep. Steve Harshman R-Casper, disagreed with the premise that funding state capitol projects meant not funding something else.

“This is not a choice between construction workers all around the state and the elderly or schoolchildren, it’s not,” he said. “So again, we pay hard cash. We don’t owe anybody any money. And we’re going to keep building the state. That’s what we do.”

The legislation passed on third reading by a 41 – 19 vote.

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Change Orders Boost Capitol Building Construction Cost, but Added Expense Balanced Out

in Government spending/News
State Capitol
3045

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

The cost of construction work on the Capitol Square Project in Cheyenne is expected to run about $30 million over original estimates, due largely to changes in the project, according to state figures.

However, those extra costs were offset by reductions in other areas, keeping the project within budget, said Suzanne Norton, a Wyoming Construction Department project manager.

“We did not increase the budget,” Norton explained. “We just reallocated from within different sections of the budget.” 

The Capitol Square Project involves the restoration and rehabilitation of the Wyoming Capitol and adjacent Herschler Building, as well as the addition of a central utility plant for the two. The state started setting aside funds as early as 2003 for the project, when the cost was estimated to cost about $305 million. 

As of December, the value of contracts for work on the project was set at about $308 million, though that figure did not include requests for proposals currently under review which could increase the overall cost by millions of dollars.

Change orders

The cost of actual construction work on the project — referred to as construction services — was estimated at $223 million in 2015. In 2016, the Capitol Rehabilitation and Restoration Oversight Group first approved construction services contracts with a guaranteed maximum price (GMP) of about $219 million, Construction Department spokesman Travis Hoff said.

Mel Muldrow, a Construction Department administrator, said as of January, the project’s construction services contract were valued at about $248 million.

Increasing construction services costs didn’t happen overnight, but rather took place in increments throughout the course of the project, Muldrow said.

“Any building project — whether you’re remodeling your bathroom or the Capitol building — is going to have unexpected costs,” he said. “That’s why we have the contingency fund built into the overall budget.”

Muldrow said the GMP was slowly increased by a series of 53 change orders submitted between 2017 and 2020.

Change orders are primarily submitted by the contractor as the scope of work changes due to various unknown factors being revealed, such as increased abatement requirements or extended periods of bad weather.

“The way change orders work is you have a standard contract that says here’s what the contractor is going to do,” Muldrow explained. “But that contract is based off an estimate of work needed. If the contract was for the demolition of a single wall, but the contractor opened it up and realized two more walls need to be removed to complete the job as described, that may require a change order.” 

Once submitted, the change order is reviewed by the architect, the program manager, the construction department and if the change order request was more than $100,000, it required approval from the oversight committee, Muldrow said.

‘Shifting money’

Once approved, change orders can range in cost from a couple of thousand dollars to millions. 

Whatever the cost, Muldrow said after each change order, the construction department rebalanced the budget and reviewed new options for the project. 

“It’s a matter of shifting money as we move along,” he explained. “We’re constantly balancing the money.”

Change orders are commonplace on a large project, so options are built into an estimate to give contractors flexibility.

“This project had a number of alternates, and if we needed the money elsewhere, maybe we wouldn’t do some of those alternates,” Muldrow said. “We’d do what we call value engineer the project. We’re not downgrading, but we’re approaching it from an angle we may be able to save money on.”

The paper trail of 53 change orders is thousands of pages long, but Muldrow talked through the process of some of the project’s most and least expensive changes.

Change order No. 1: $3.5 million

Executed Jan. 27, 2017, the project’s first change order was one of its biggest.

“It included 220 tons of structural steel — additional steel needed for the project — which is pretty costly,” Muldrow said. 

Structural steel accounted for $1.6 million of the order and additional concrete added $1.2 million to the total. 

“When they got into the Herschler building demolition, they realized there was a lot more work to be done than originally anticipated,” Muldrow said, explaining the building was torn down to its structural bones. “Of the nine line items in this change order, six are demolition related.” 

In an email, Hoff explained not all change orders had a specific theme.

Change order No. 6: $2.9 million

Whereas most change orders have several line items, No. 6 was executed July 10, 2017, with a single line: structured and audio-visual cabling.

“In this change order, the architect and design group picked what pieces they wanted to install,” Muldrow said. “And when they did that, they issued a change order for a structured cabling package.”

Contractors give vendors a list of work, which vendors use to create a list of materials potentially needed for the job, he explained. Once given contract approval, Muldrow said the contractor returns to the vendor and modifies the parts order to fit his needs.

“The work was scheduled to be done,” Muldrow said, “but a cabling package had not been selected yet.”

Change order No. 11: $6,630

Some change orders remove projects while adding others.

In No. 11, executed Sept. 9, 2017, the allowance for elevator cab finishes for both the Herschler and Capitol buildings was reconciled by an additional $57,278 and more platforms and stairs were added for about $8,000. 

But the change order also removed an approximately $59,000 arched ceiling for the House Chamber. 

“They decided not to do it, creating a credit,” Muldrow said. “At the end of the day, the change order only turned out to be about $6,000.”

Paying the tab

The total for 53 change orders to date is about $29 million, but the budget only set aside $20 million in contingency funds. 

Because project allowances are constantly being reconciled throughout construction, Norton said it’s difficult to determine what projects were abandoned and what options were changed to make up the $9 million needed beyond the contingency funds.

“Those funds are all within the project,” she said. “It’s just a matter of reallocating from line item to line item.” 

Some question Hobart Morris, Chief Washakie statue move

in News/Community
2235

By Cowboy State Daily

Some Cheyenne residents are questioning a decision to remove a statue of the nation’s first female justice of the peace from in front of the newly refurbished Capitol.

The statue of Esther Hobart Morris, which stood in front of the Capitol for 60 years, has been moved to a space in the hallway between the Capitol and the Herschler Building.

The Capitol Oversight Committee, which has overseen the multi-year effort to renovate both the Capitol and adjacent Herschler Building, voted recently to permanently put the two statues in the hallway, which is to become a gallery and interpretive center in the future.

But longtime Cheyenne resident Mary Ostlund said Morris’ statue has become a fixture people expect to see when they visit the Capitol.

“I don’t know how people can think that she belongs inside,” she said. “She’s more visible and accessible where she is and she’s been there for 60 years. People are there all the time taking pictures of her and the (Capitol’s) golden dome. That’s what they remember about this complex, the golden dome and Esther.”

Cheyenne attorney Mike Rosenthal said Morris’ place in state history as a symbol of Wyoming being the first state to grant women the right to vote makes it important to leave her in front of the Capitol.

“Maybe Wyoming’s greatest achievement in history was granting women the right to vote,” he said. “And to bury Esther Hobart Morris … in the bowels of the Capitol is offensive.”

But Tony Ross, a former legislator who chairs the Oversight Committee, said the move was hoped to give Morris and Chief Washakie even more visibility.

Ross said the hallway will become part of an interpretive center that will feature static and digital displays about both individuals and the state.

“Actually, Esther and Chief Washakie are in a place of great importance,” he said. “We in no way ever thought that moving her to the (hallway) was in some way diminishing her importance. In fact, we believed it raised her prominence.”

Ross noted the State Museum recommended the statues be moved inside in the interests of preservation and said that throughout the discussions on the Capitol renovation, no one opposed moving the statues inside.

The State Building Commission, made up of the state’s top five elected officials, will now decide whether the statues will remain inside the Capitol.

Thousands tour reopened Capitol

in Government spending/News
1608

Thousands of people got their first glimpse of the new interior of the state Capitol on Wednesday as the building was opened to the public for the first time since the extensive refurbishment of the Capitol Complex began more than four years ago.

Timed to coincide with the celebration of Wyoming’s Statehood Day, the unveiling revealed a Capitol building considered to be much more accessible to the public, with larger rooms, broader passageways and more open space.

“They’ve done a lot of stuff here that opened up the Capitol,” said Joe McCord, the former facilities manager for the Capitol. “The stairs going into the House and Senate are wide open right now. Downstairs, you’ve got the galley that’s wide open. The rooms are bigger. I just love it, what they’ve done. They’ve done a great job.”

The refurbishment of the 129-year-old Capitol was the centerpiece for a $300 million project that also involved updating the Herschler Building to the north and the space between them.

Cheyenne historian Bill Dubois, whose grandfather was the architect for the two wings on the Capitol, said he was very pleased with the outcome of the project.

“The restoration is wonderful, every room is just a masterpiece and it’s very beautiful,” he said.

Former House Speaker Kermit Brown said he expects the new quarters for the Legislature to help with the level of debate in the body.

“I think that surroundings can make a difference there,” he said. “I think the majesty of these surroundings, the high ceilings, all the things that are in this Capitol building, have an influence on people and the way they act.”

Former Rep. Pete Illoway, a longtime supporter of the project while a member of the Legislature, said he was pleased with the outcome.

“This building is incredible,” he said. “It is really great and it’s wonderful to see how carefully architects can go back through it and say ‘Let’s take it back to whatever’s built and then modernize that.’ It is beautiful.”

As Capitol nears completion, lawmakers say the project is on time, on budget

in Government spending/News
Wyoming Capitol Square Project nears completion
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CHEYENNE – The nearly $300 million Wyoming Capitol Square Project is wrapping up and government agencies are making their way into their new digs after years in temporary office space around Cheyenne.

Consultants and project managers met with the Legislature’s Capitol Building Restoration Oversight Group on Wednesday to give their final reports on the four-year construction project.

The Oversight Group itself was meeting for the last time before the opening of the Capitol on Wyoming Statehood Day, July 10. Gov. Mark Gordon, who chaired the meeting, said he was pleased the project was nearly done and there had been no major cost overruns.

Work on the project involved the restoration of the Capitol, the adjacent Herschler Building and the space between the two buildings.

Mike O’Donnell, project coordinator, said the Capitol will be much more open and accessible by the public than it has been in the past.

“We have returned large spaces inside the Capitol back to the public,” he said. “There are fewer offices in the Capitol and there’s also a lot more what’s called ‘core,’ which is restrooms, electrical, mechanical, elevators … that was office space or meeting space previously.”

House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said there is much to the project that visitor’s won’t notice on first glance.

“They’ll be walking on top of it when they’re on the garden level,” he said. “It’s really all the new foundation and utilities.”

The new working environment may improve the work of the Legislature, said Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie.

“Doing the public’s work and doing it as well as possible is motivated in part by the physical space that we’re in,” she said.

The Capitol Building Restoration Oversight Group met for a final time Wednesday to tie a bow on the project ahead of the grand reopening of the State Capitol on Wyoming’s Statehood Day, July 10th.

In Brief: Plan to give state say over some Cheyenne planning approved by Senate

in News
Image of Historic Wyoming Governor's mansion, ALT=Wyoming Capitol Complex expansion Cheyenne
1027

By Cowboy State Daily

A plan to give Wyoming more of a say in planning in a 16-block area near the Capitol won final approval Tuesday from the state House.

Representatives voted 53-6 to approve HB 149, which would legally define the “Capitol Complex” and allow the state Building Commission to begin drafting a master plan for its use and development.

The state would only allow the state to make plans for the areas.

The bill now returns to the Senate to determine if senators will approve any amendments added by the House.

Committee approves bill setting out “Capitol Complex” area

in News
928

By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s House will get a look at a bill that would create a four square-block area for planning future development in the state’s Capitol Complex.

The House Rules Committee on Thursday approved HB 149, which officially sets the boundaries of the area considered the “Capitol Complex” in Cheyenne. The bill is headed for the House for a review by the full body.

The bill would give the state Capitol Commission the authority to develop a master plan for the area, including construction, maintenance and restoration. The area already includes a number of state buildings and facilities, however, it also contains some private property.

The bill would give the Capitol Commission permission to only make plans for the area. 

The bill does not call for the creation of an area inside Cheyenne similar to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., said Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie.

“I do know there are members in leadership who eventually envision turning that into a small version of the mall in Washington and that woudl cut out traffic on (area) roads,” he said. “That’s not in the bill and that’s going to be a subject for heated discussion, I can imagine, in future legislatures.”

While the measure would have an impact on planning for a portion of Cheyenne, it is fitting that the state government has some say over what its facilities look like near the Capitol, said Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr.

“Really, the state Capitol belongs to the citizens of the state and while we talk about local control … I also believe that when it comes to the state Capitol, the citizens of the state of Wyoming should have a say,” she said.

Orr also noted that the bill would only give the state the authority to make plans for the area.

“It gives them planning ability,” she said. “It’s hard to plan for something if you don’t own it. This will allow for … planning well into the future.”

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