Lawmakers to ‘step up’ talks over historic building | Govt. & Politics

James Q. Lynch Gazette Des Moines Office

MONKS – As work progresses on building an airtight roof to protect more than 200 million pieces of Iowa history and culture at the State Historical Building, lawmakers promise to “step up” their discussion on planned improvements that could reach up to $ 60 million.

The 37-year-old building is a “hive of activity,” state Department of Cultural Affairs spokesperson Michael Morain said. This fall, work crews used a crane to remove most of the skylights above the atrium to rebuild a watertight roof. The building remained open, with temporary walls encircling the atrium so that visitors could still access the museum’s galleries and the research center.

The museum’s collection reflects settler life even before Iowa was granted statehood – which on Tuesday marks its 175th anniversary of its 1846 admission to the union.

Morain describes the maintenance work of the building, not “major renovation”. But in the budget documents, the work which should continue until at least 2025 is qualified as “total renovation”.

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The current project and its price have raised questions from lawmakers in Iowa, some who view the building down Capitol Hill as a money pit. In addition to housing the administrative offices of the State Department of Cultural Affairs, the building houses the museum and archives of the State Historical Society as well as its research centers.

As Iowa’s 2022 legislative session approaches, lawmakers promise to intensify discussion about the building’s future, including whether it would be a good idea to replace it with a new building to showcase the history. and the heritage of Iowa.

“Guess the only thing I can tell you is that the discussion is going to intensify,” said Representative Gary Mohr, R-Bettendorf, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “It has to escalate just because of the money involved.”

This is not a new discussion. In a 2016 report, Neumann Monson Architects said the building was a “critical moment”.

“The building and its systems no longer meet the needs of the DCA or its primary function as the state’s flagship museum,” he wrote in a report to the Legislative Assembly. “The ministry’s ability to serve as a cultural institution is threatened due to poor construction, maintenance and an oversized structure. “

Based on this report, Cultural Affairs presented an $ 80 million plan to “size” the building from 234,000 square feet to 155,000 square feet in order to make it, according to the architects, “more functional, flexible and adaptable. for the future “.

Lawmakers were told it would be “the most durable and cost effective option” for the building that required more than $ 40 million worth of repairs to mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems as well as those skylights that were fleeing. Estimates put the cost to demolish and build a new facility at $ 118 million, which the architects said was prohibitive.

Lawmakers did not follow through on this proposal and since then have continued to talk about the building without making a decision. “We can’t keep putting money into it (because) every year we put millions of dollars into it, it’s just one more year,” Mohr said.

But that’s basically what lawmakers did, according to Rep. Dennis Cohoon, D-Burlington, who sits on the Transportation, Infrastructure and Appropriations subcommittee. The problems are not new to him. Cohoon recalls that there were buckets on the ground to catch water that was leaking from the roof when he visited the historic state building shortly after it opened. In recent years, repairs to the three-story building have continued on a “sort of piecemeal basis”.

“It’s like, what’s the minimum we put in to keep something fixed?” ” he said. “It doesn’t follow anything. “

It’s a classic case of lawmakers “kicking the box down the road,” Cohoon said. “But we’re spending money on it as we roll it out. It is as if we are putting in money but not enough to really save it.

A few years ago, the legislature created a $ 500,000 task force to consider moving the historic building to the Iowa Fairgrounds. There was some interest, but no decision.

“Such a large structure, this audience, we need a lot of options,” Mohr said of the museum, which attracted nearly 90,000 visitors in 2019, which Cultural Affairs called the last “typical year”. before the coronavirus pandemic.

In the meantime, the ministry plans to continue improvements to the building. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs submitted a request for $ 13.7 million as a down payment for future phases of the renovation, including replacement of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, windscreen applications. steam, fire alarm, security system upgrades and other repairs and renovations. Projects will also include improvements to collection storage, archival digitization, other technologies and exhibits.

The total “demand” for the remaining project would be $ 57 million, according to the State Department of Administrative Services.

When lawmakers see the numbers, “it’s going to raise our awareness and intensify our discussions,” Mohr said.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver R-Ankeny recently said he would look to the Capitol Planning Commission on whether to continue with the improvements or replace the building.

The commission is “in favor of a continuous and complete renovation” as indicated in its annual report 2020, declared the president Annette Renaud of Ankeny. It recommends continuing and completing the gradual renovation of the historic state building.

According to its annual report, that includes $ 20 million for exterior wall and lighting repairs, $ 600,000 for floor repairs, $ 1.5 million to replace the cooler and $ 500,000 to replace a boiler. , $ 2.15 million for HVAC orders and $ 2.275 million to replace elevators.

Citing the annual report, Renaud said the commission’s priorities include preserving and enhancing “the dignity, beauty and architectural integrity” of the buildings and grounds of the Capitol complex.

There wasn’t much talk about the historic state building during the pandemic-disrupted 2021 legislative session, Cohoon said, but he expects the conversation to continue when lawmakers turn to will meet in January. However, he is not convinced that this will lead to a decision.

“We’ve been talking about it forever,” Cohoon said. “The question has always been, do we want to invest more money in this and end up spending more on it, literally, than it cost to build? “

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