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Lawmakers eye Capitol Square costs

Jun 8, 2016 By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE (AP) -- Top Wyoming officials expect to learn next month the maximum price tag for completing the ongoing restoration of the state Capitol building in Cheyenne.

Officials may have to scale back or discontinue entirely planned work on the neighboring Herschler Building depending on how much the Capitol work ultimately costs.

Senior state legislators and Gov. Matt Mead are serving as the Capitol Building Restoration Oversight Group. A consultant told them Tuesday they will learn the guaranteed maximum price for restoration of the historic building next month.

The state already has capped the total funds available for the Capitol restoration project at about $300 million. But in addition to refurbishing the 19th century Capitol building, the state also intended the $300 million to cover renting alternative office space during the project and refurbishing the state's neighboring Herschler Building.

"We're going to go forward with the Capitol," Mead said. "The question is whether we're going to go forward with the Herschler."

The structure of the Herschler Building has been damaged by water leaking in behind its stone exterior. Plans call for replacing the stone and changing the exterior design of the office building to make it more complementary to the classical design of the Capitol.

Sen. Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, chairman of the oversight group, said after Tuesday's meeting that until the state receives the guaranteed maximum price figure, lawmakers won't know how much of the Herschler Building they will be able to renovate, or whether they may have to postpone work on it entirely.

The state last year hired a Salt Lake City, Utah-based architecture firm, MOCA Systems, to oversee the Capitol project. The move came after state lawmakers became dissatisfied with early plans drafted by the project architect, HDR Architecture Inc., of Denver. MOCA Systems now oversees plans drawn up by HDR.

David H. Hart, an architect with MOCA systems, told the oversight group at Tuesday's meeting in Cheyenne that construction drawings are just over 50 percent completed. The drawings won't have to be entirely finished for the contractor, J.E. Dunn Construction of Missouri, to calculate the maximum price, he said.

State workers already have moved out the Capitol, and the construction crews have been working to remove interior features that have been added to the building over the years.

Hart said crews are still inspecting the metal structure at the top of the walls that holds the roof. He said that must be examined before it will be clear how much work it will require and how much it's going to cost.

Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, questioned Hart about how much of the construction budget for the Capitol already has been spent and how much has been committed.

"If we don't have the GMP (guaranteed maximum price), there's no way I'm going to move forward without a number," Bebout said. "We could get blown out of the water. We've been messing with the GMP for a year now."

When MOCA entered the project last summer, lawmakers were told they could expect substantial completion of working drawings by last fall. That deadline has been pushed back repeatedly.

Ross said the entire restoration project "has had a rocky road to some extent." In hindsight, it would have benefited the state to have MOCA on board earlier in the process, he said. Restoration of the Capitol is still set for completion by early 2019, Ross said.

Two lawsuits are pending in state district court in Cheyenne challenging the process of contracting for work on the restoration project. State Treasurer Mark Gordon has asked for a judicial opinion on whether the state Constitution requires him to approve contracts on the project. State Rep. Gerald Gay and another plaintiff have asserted in a separate lawsuit that the state has violated competitive bidding requirements on the project and in other state purchasing.

Senate President Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, questioned Hart about bidding on the project. Hart said the contractor has taken competitive bids from qualified subcontractors for the work.

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