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Dome repair revives Capitol money debate

Paul Snyder
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The monetary evidence keeps undermining lawmakers and architects who want the Legislature to set aside a pot of money specifically for maintenance and repair work at the state Capitol building.

“I’ve said for years there should be a segregated fund,” said state Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison. “But it’s never obtained legislative support. The Joint Committee on Finance has never liked the idea.”

During the last 12 years, Wisconsin spent about $160 million for maintenance and upgrades in the Capitol building. Next month, the state will add about $1.4 million more to the tally with a project to place a dehumidifier below the building’s granite dome to prevent moisture buildup and corrosion on the trusses. The project also includes tuck-pointing, caulking and interior paint touch ups.

Risser, who is chairman of the State Capitol and Executive Residence Board, a 16-member committee that directs maintenance projects for the two buildings, said the dome project is exactly the kind of work that justifies a segregated pot of money for the Capitol.

All state building projects draw from the same budget, he said, meaning that if upgrades are needed at the Capitol, a University of Wisconsin-Madison classroom building and a state office building, those projects must compete for the money.

But Charles Quagliana, a Madison-based architect who worked as a project manager on Capitol improvement projects, said the state does not have a history of shortchanging the building.

“They do take good care of it,” he said. “The systems are functioning and when the Capitol needs money, it gets it.”

A segregated budget for Capitol maintenance, Quagliana said, would best be used for such Capitol elements as the paintings and mosaics on the building’s interior.

Laura Davis, president of Madison-based Isthmus Architecture, agreed. She said the state does a great job with general maintenance, but special features are not properly maintained.

“Things are being overlooked,” she said.

Although mosaic touch ups may not be as immediately worrisome as corroding trusses, Davis said, the longer the special features go unattended, the more expensive that work becomes.

“From a preservation standpoint, I want to see it maintained,” she said. “After 14 years of restoration work, you don’t want to see it all lost again.”

But Risser said he does not know if the segregated budget will ever get sufficient legislative support. The state Building Commission approved the $1.4 million for the dome work, he said, and the project will be done.

“The thought has always been if the Capitol needs something, it can get money out of the pot,” Risser said.

“But when you’re dealing with one sum of money and X amount of dollars, we could run into trouble.”

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