Critics knock $669,608 state Capitol doors: ‘It doesn’t look right’
BY DAVE MCKINNEY Springfield Bureau Chief September 4, 2013 6:54PM
Copper-plated door. One of three on the west wing of the State Capitol in Springfield. | Dave McKinney/Sun-Times
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Updated: October 7, 2013 12:50PM
SPRINGFIELD — Go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and look for a set of exterior doors for your home or business, and the cost likely wouldn’t exceed a few thousand dollars.
But if you’re looking for the kind of copper-coated doors that give the gaudy shine of a brand-new penny to three entrances to the state Capitol, forget about finding those in a strip shopping mall or paying anything less than what a suburban mansion might cost.
Capitol Architect J. Richard Alsop III Wednesday confirmed a published report that the new doors — part of a $50 million overhaul of the state Capitol — cost taxpayers $669,608 to buy and install.
That amount has triggered a new round of criticism toward the renovation project from a prominent financial watchdog and one of the state Legislature’s most aggressive fiscal hawks, who both questioned the optics of spending so much on mere doorways that once featured more modest, plain glass doors with handles in the shape of the state seal.
“We must remember that these are custom doors with carvings that do not exist on a shelf at your typical home-improvement store,” Alsop said of the new, copper-coated doors in a prepared statement.
“Like many other materials in the building, it takes craftsmen to perform the work necessary to give us the desired and appropriate historic fabric,” he said.
The effort to make the Capitol’s west wing appear as it did in the late 1800s while also undertaking vital fire-safety, asbestos-abatement, heating and cooling, and disability upgrades has drawn heat because it comes at a time when the state is nearly $7 billion behind in paying its bills, owes more than $100 billion in pension liabilities and has faced a series of downgrades to its bond rating.
Alsop acknowledged the doors have become a bit of a hot potato when he contacted a contractor about getting a cost breakdown for the doors Monday after being pressed about their price by reporters.
“The doors are stunning, and that seems to be ruffling some feathers,” Alsop wrote in an email to Frank Huschitt, president of Imperial Woodworking Co., a subcontractor that oversaw work on the doors.
Alsop led reporters on a tour of the nearly completed renovations two weeks ago but declined to provide cost estimates for the doors, ornate chandeliers or other items included in the renovation work. But last week, his office relented at least on the doors, disclosing a price to a columnist for the State Journal-Register newspaper in Springfield.
To put the cost into perspective, three sets of doors to the state capitol cost the same as a 4,700-square-foot, five-bedroom, four-bathroom home that is now on the market in North Barrington with a four-car garage.
On Wednesday, Alsop remained silent on the expense of 300-pound chandeliers constructed in one Senate office or on sculptures of robed maidens erected at the base of the Capitol’s Grand Staircase. Lawmakers moving into the area also are expected to receive new office furniture for their offices.
The cost of individual items like those won’t be available until “the project is complete, giving us time to gather the data,” Alsop said.
But a financial watchdog that raised earlier questions about the renovation’s costs urged Alsop Wednesday to divulge the full costs of the work, which is funded through a $31 billion construction program pushed by Gov. Pat Quinn and the Democratic-led General Assembly.
“The decision to go forward with the capital renovation beyond the essential life-safety improvements flies in the face of what most Illinoisans would declare the state’s priority, which would be stabilizing its budget and adequately funding its pensions,” said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation. “In order to accomplish such an elegant rehabilitation of the Capitol building, the state Legislature skipped the requirement of justifying why that investment was a higher priority than the needed improvements to our water, roads, public transit and education systems that are not being fully funded.
“Every time every member of the General Assembly touches those doors, they should be reminded the reason they have them is because they didn’t have a comprehensive capital improvement plan outlining how much the doors and other specifics of their capital spending would be,” Msall said.
The renovated west wing will house offices for state senators and House members, House and Senate Republican staff, the Capitol press corps and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, a Republican running for governor.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) said the hefty pricetag of the doors “doesn’t look right” to her and questioned why so much was spent on them when the state’s financial house is completely aflame and other capital projects are on the backburner.
“Every other bit of our infrastructure is crumbling, too,” Ives told the Chicago Sun-Times. “At some point, you say we’ll just do this amount [on life-safety and disability upgrades] now, and we’ll upgrade later to an old stately look when we can afford to. That’s what a responsible homeowner does, right? But not the state of Illinois. To me, it doesn’t look right.
“At some point you just say enough of that. This isn’t going to a specific bridge or road that was promised to a community, and they already did the pre-engineering of it. That’s not the case. This is something the state completely and utterly controls. It’s not like it’s a bridge that’s a level four out of a hundred, and it’s going to collapse,” she said. “I’d have slapped on ordinary doors and called it a day.”