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Wyoming State Capitol

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

in News/Legislature
9207

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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“If you don’t keep up with your major maintenance, and with new construction and replacing buildings, when they’re out of date, you get behind and then it gets more and more expensive to fix,” Nicholas said.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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Dave Simpson:An Old Reporter Checks Out the New Capitol

in Dave Simpson/Column
State Capitol
3121

By Dave Simpson, Cowboy State Daily columnist

My, how things have changed at the Wyoming State Capitol over the 38 years since I spent time there.

For four years in the early 1980s, I was part of the Casper Star-Tribune team that helped our Cheyenne bureau chief (the truly amazing Joan Barron)  cover the bases during legislative sessions. It was a fun opportunity for editors to be reporters again.

These days, reporters are covering the news from up in the balconies surrounding the House and Senate. Back in the old days, we got to sit down on the floor, close to the lawmakers. In the House, there was a table to the left of the Speaker’s desk. In the Senate, our table was to the right of the Senate President’s desk.

There we were, right in the thick of things. (Lawmakers got a little ringy toward the end of sessions, and one year a senator from Casper hit me with a piece of Jolly Rancher candy as I sat at the reporter’s table on the final evening. Funny stuff. Everyone was tired and ready to go home.)

The great access began to unravel while I was there. A radio reporter from Cheyenne insisted on filling his coffee mug – about the size of a Big Gulp – from the urns in the doughnut room, draining them dry. Some reporters may have been chowing down on too many doughnuts. (Not me.) We were summarily banned from the doughnut room, and reimbursed for the money we had paid into the doughnut fund.

I also heard that the Cheyenne radio reporter was ambushing lawmakers as they came out of the bathrooms off the House and Senate floors, sticking a microphone in their faces for surprise interviews. Not good.

Not long after that, our access to the floor was limited to the press tables, and we had to be invited to visit lawmakers at their desks. Today, I noticed a couple of young reporters doing their work right beside me in the House gallery. No more press tables on the floor.

Another big difference today is that everyone, EVERYONE, has a computer.

Lawmakers all have laptop computers, which they peruse as the process of introducing, amending and deciding the fate of bills drones on. Up in the gallery, the reporters sitting next to me took their notes on laptops as well. And folks in the gallery could be seen peering into their cell phones every few minutes.

It wasn’t that way in the ’80s. For the first couple years, it was all taking notes in reporter’s notebooks, then scurrying up to the third-floor press room to write our stories on clunky, unreliable desk-top terminals.

When you finished a story, you took your life in your hands and hit the “send” button to send your work to the office in Casper. One Saturday I wrote four stories, and every one of them was lost in transmission. (I think they disappeared somewhere between Wheatland and Glendo.)  An entire day’s work, gone, and I was wastebasket-kicking mad.

In 1983, however, along came the Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100. The paper equipped us with the $1,000 early laptops, and suddenly we were able to listen to the debates in the House and Senate, and write our stories right at the press table. And you still had a copy of your story if something went haywire in the transmission process.

The TRS-80, while revolutionary, was primitive. It had 8 kilobytes of memory. (My computer-savvy son laughs at the notion of 8 kilobytes.)

Our “Trash-80s,” as we called them, were so primitive that much of the software was written by a guy named Bill Gates.

“Part of my nostalgia about this machine,” Gates said in an article I Googled, “is this was the last machine where I wrote most of the percentage of the code.”

When we started using our TRS-80s, suddenly the lawmakers were coming up to our press table to see what we were doing. (They didn’t need an invitation to visit our desk.) Our equipment was that new, and ground-breaking.

Today, all that has changed, and everyone has at least one computer on their desk, and a cell phone in their pocket. And I’m guessing that news stories don’t disappear between Wheatland and Glendo anymore.

They say that if you get an old reporter talking, he or she will talk longer than you want to listen. So, I’ll end with this.

In an age when national politicians call folks “lying, dog-faced pony soldiers,” a visit to the Wyoming Legislature will lift your spirits. I highly recommend it. All the lawmakers seemed to be at their desks and paying attention to the process. Good humor was evident, as even the opposing parties seemed to be getting along, at least for the moment.

And there’s this. The newly-renovated Wyoming State Capitol building is, in a word, spectacular. The old Supreme Court Chambers are fully restored. The House and Senate chambers are stunning, faithfully brought back to their original grandeur.

The entire renovation process was first class in every way. (I think Esther Hobart Morris belongs out front, where she used to be, but the statue still looks great in the lower-level concourse.)

You hear a lot of talk in legislative sessions about living up to the ideals and virtues of our forefathers. Wyoming’s restored Capitol building is a true testament to our state’s amazing brick-and-mortar commitment to our roots.

Every Wyoming resident can be proud of our beautifully-restored Capitol.

Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson began his journalism career at the Laramie Boomerang in
1973. He has worked as a reporter, editor, publisher and columnist at
newspapers in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois and Nebraska. He lives in
Cheyenne.

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.” 

Actual Capitol remodel costs just higher than estimates

in Government spending/News
Wyoming Capitol Square Project nears completion
2640

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

After nearly two decades of setting aside funds and working on design and construction, renovations to the state Capitol and Herschler State Office Building are nearly complete, a Wyoming State Construction Department spokesperson said.

“The Legislature started saving for the Capitol Square Project in 2003,” said Suzanne Norton, the state Construction Department project manager. “The projected substantial completion date for construction is Jan. 31 (2020). Final completion is typically 90 days after the substantial completion date.”

The Construction Department provided Cowboy State Daily with documents summarizing the cost of the Capitol Square Project as of Dec. 1, 2019. 

The square project is an extensive overhaul of the Capitol and Herschler buildings. A new central utility plant was also built to service both. 

While numerous aesthetic renovations were made to the Capitol, work also included several major infrastructure updates. 

“Before the project, only about 75 percent of the Capitol had heating and cooling,” Norton explained. “We also installed a complete fire suppression system throughout the building, which it didn’t have before.” 

On the Herschler side, crews peeled the building back to its bones, said Mel Muldrow, an administrator for the Construction Department’s Construction Management Division.

“The interior was all gutted out — that’s walls, flooring, electrical, everything except for concrete slabs — and replaced,” Muldrow said. 

Originally estimated to cost about $305.6 million, the value of the current contracts in place for the project total $307.8 million, according to Construction Department documents. 

While close to the original estimate, the value of the current contracts values does not include furniture for the Capitol, which is still in the request for proposal process and was originally estimated to cost about $4 million. 

“The project should not go above that cost ($307.8 million), but we are not done,” Norton said. “There are a number categories we are still working on getting contracts for.”

The state has paid about $289 million to date, with a remaining debt of about $19 million, not including contracts still in the request for proposal process.

Where did it all go?

The Construction Department broke down the projects cost into six categories: Owner’s overhead, construction services, equipment and furnishings, temporary facilities, relocation and contingency fund.

Construction services

Estimated at $223 million, the current value of contracts for construction services is $256 million.

“Construction services includes all the work done by our construction contractors and abatement companies, among others,” Norton said. “It’s all the nuts and bolts, plus some.” 

Accurately guessing construction costs and materials prices years ahead of time can be challenging, which is why the Legislature built a $20 million contingency fund into the project cost, Muldrow said.

Basic construction costs were estimated at $219 million, but contracts for the work are valued at $250 million, an increase of about $31 million or 15 percent.

A new parking lot that was slated to cost about $600,000 was never built, Norton said. 

However, the abatement estimate was about $550,000, but wound up costing triple at $1.5 million.

“Abatement is the removal of usually hazardous materials, such as lead and asbestos,” Muldrow said. “You can only guess at where you’ll find those materials. One example is when we took the exterior walls off the Herschler building, we discovered they were put up with hockey-puck sized chunks of glue material, which tested positive for asbestos.” 

Contingency fund

Construction Department documents state $20 million was set aside for the contingency fund, all of which was spent.

“One of the things you always want to have in a project is some extra money for all the little things that come up that you didn’t expect,” Muldrow said. 

Norton said contingency monies were dispersed to nearly every area of the project throughout the process.

Temporary facilities

During the approximately three years of renovations, about 750 state employees were moved out of their offices in the Capitol and Herschler buildings and into offsite state buildings or space leased from private companies around Cheyenne.  

The state estimated the cost of temporary facilities for those workers would be about $14.7 million, but the actual cost will be $15.2 million, Construction Department documents state.

The leases were originally estimated to cost about $7.6 million, but are currently valued at $9.1 million. In December, a Construction Department spokesperson said all relocated state employees were moved back into state-owned properties. 

State improvements to the temporary facilities were estimated to cost about $4.8 million, and the contracts’ value is currently $4.1 million.  

“When you move a government office out of the Capitol, and you want to hold a legislative session in an old retail store, it’s not an apples-to-apples fit,” Norton explained. “Some changes will need to be made to the new property.”

Not everyone was pleased with the tenants’ improvements, however. Wyoming Financial Building owner Wayne Voss sued the state in 2017 for failure to pay almost $1.5 million in rent. State officials argued they were withholding rent because the state had to make improvements to the building, but Voss said the state never sought his permission to make those improvements as required in the contract.

Owner’s overhead

Before hammers can pound nails, pens need to scratch paper and the owner’s overhead category of the Construction Department’s cost summary is an accounting of all the time and ink spent to facilitate the project’s construction efforts, Norton explained.

“There’s research you have to do, permit fees, legal advertising, design costs and a host of other non-construction costs,” she said. 

Estimated to cost about $7.3 million, the owner’s overhead category received funds under the “miscellaneous” line item recommended by the Capitol Square Project Oversight Group, which eliminated the contract value cost and created a credit of about $94,000. 

The funds were ultimately reallocated within the project budget to be spent on actual construction items such as abatement, concrete repair, roof repair and replacement and fire suppression piping that were not originally included in the project scope, Norton said.

Design services is included in the overhead category, but separate from the overhead items in the red.

Estimated at about $30 million, design services included the architect costs and materials testing, which are currently valued at $31.5 million.

Equipment and furnishings

“Furniture, fixtures and equipment are generally defined by design and construction industries as anything that would fall out if you picked up a building and shook it,” Norton said.

Estimated to cost about $8.3 million, the current contracts’ value is $4.1 million. Norton said $3.7 million was spent on furniture for the Herschler building, but no contract has been signed for Capitol office furniture, so the cost of that furniture is not included in the contracts’ value.

Artwork for the two buildings was estimated to cost $100,000, and to date, about $336,000 has been spent on artwork, the department’s documents state.

Relocation 

The estimated cost to move people, furniture and technology to and from the Capitol and Herschler buildings was about $1.9 million, and the current contracts’ value is about $1.2 million.

Capitol’s new furniture might not be delivered until after 2020 Budget Session

in Government spending/News
2519

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Months after Wyoming hosted a grand reopening of the state Capitol building, legislative and executive staffers are still working with folding tables and temporary furniture.

During a Capitol Building Restoration Oversight Group meeting Nov. 15, group members voted to rework a Request For Proposal (RFP), which could provide furnishings for the newly renovated building. 

Oversight Group member Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, said the group originally hoped to see the Capitol furnished prior to the 2020 Budget Session. But reworking the proposal could prevent that goal. 

“We’ve had several issues that have arisen out of our original RFPs,” Bebout explained. “We specced this RFP to a certain greater quality, but the manufacturer that could meet those specs went out of business.”

Additionally, he said the group wanted to ensure Wyoming furniture suppliers had an opportunity to bid on the reworked proposal. 

“The original RFP went out about 3-4 months ago,” Bebout said. “It’s a long RFP, because it gets into the specifics.”

Bebout did not have the specifics on hand at the time of his interview, but instead, directed Cowboy State Daily to the Wyoming State Construction Department for details regarding the furniture RFP.

Construction Department spokesperson Travis Hoff said the agency declined to comment on the RFP details, process, amendments or creation, because the document was being reviewed by the Wyoming Attorney General’s office. 

In an email, Hoff provided the state statute used to create the RFP, which specifies that the agency issuing an RFP can ask for certain specifications or products. However, the law also states if the specified product is not available to “responsible Wyoming resident suppliers,” that fact cannot be used as a reason to prevent Wyoming vendors from submitting bids.

Hoff also confirmed some staffers were currently working in the Capitol on temporary furniture, and while no agencies were still renting space outside state-owned buildings, some had yet to move into the Capitol.

Wyoming Legislative Service Office Director Matt Obrecht said his staff moved into the building earlier this summer.

“We’re working on folding tables and have been since June,” Obrecht said.

Bebout said he wasn’t fond of the situation, but he didn’t place the blame at anyone’s feet. 

“I thought we would probably have it done before the budget session, but there’s really nobody to blame,” he said. “If we don’t get (new furniture) by the time the budget session starts, then we’ll use the old furniture and make it work.”

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.”

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