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Restoring majestic state Capitol is one thing, but $669,608 for doors?: Brown

Updated: October 7, 2013 1:02PM

I’d just finished making an impassioned defense to my colleagues of the $50 million renovation of the state Capitol in Springfield, knowing full well the potential for comeuppance, when the other shoe dropped Wednesday.

State officials confirmed they’d spent $669,608 to buy and install three new doors at the Capitol’s west entrance. I hadn’t expected the comeuppance so quickly.

$669,608. For three doors.

Three double-doors, to be exact. Ornate, copper-clad, historically-correct wooden doors, if that makes a difference, though at $669,608, probably not much of a difference.

Oh, man, what is it about government service that causes some folks to lose their way?

Never mind, we know the answer: other people’s money.

Obviously, these are not items you could pick up at Home Depot, nor would you want to do so.

But that’s no excuse for throwing common sense out the window.

I love the Capitol, consider it the most important public building in Illinois. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful. The inspiring majesty of the Capitol rotunda belies the dirty business so often conducted under its dome.

For all those reasons and more, I didn’t begrudge our political leaders a moment for seeking to spend $50 million to fix it up and preserve it properly.

As always, though, the devil is in the details, and just because it might have been possible to responsibly spend $50 million on what anyone familiar with the building knows were much needed improvements, that was no guarantee they would be responsible.

The result is that now we have spent $669,608 for three doors with a full accounting for the rest of the project yet to be detailed, which sadly is bound to yield other such embarrassments.

Just wait until we find out what those 300-pound chandeliers cost, or my favorite, the pair of bronze sculptures of robed “maidens” holding glass-bulbed ornamental lighting, which were newly installed on the Grand Staircase.

I find the maidens particularly curious because as Dave McKinney, our Springfield bureau chief, reported previously, they were part of the original concept of the Capitol’s architect, Alfred Henry Piquenard, but were abandoned in the 19th century as the building was being constructed when somebody decided the sculptures would be “too risqué.”

Adding them back at this time is one of those little restoration flourishes that the architecture critics may adore but which the person minding the pursestrings probably should have said: That might be nice if we could afford it, but we can’t really justify the expense to “restore” something that was NEVER THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Plus, many of the more extravagant touches are in office areas of the building not readily accessible to the public, McKinney tells me.

The doors, chandeliers and maidens are all destined to become symbols during the coming political season of the wayward priorities of our state’s leaders.

This spending comes out of the pot of money the state sets aside for capital projects, so arguably it never could have been used for our pension problems or backlog of unpaid bills, not to suggest it would have made the tiniest dent in either.

But every dollar counts, of course, and this is money that could have been spent on fixing up our dilapidated parks or building new schools.

To be clear, state officials tell us most of that $50 million went toward upgrading the building’s fire safety, heating and cooling and accessibility to the disabled, which are always going to be more costly in a 19th century historic landmark.

Somewhere along the way, though, somebody’s ego got the better of them.


Twitter: @MarkBrownCST

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