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How much is too much for state Capitol upgrades?

If you have ever been to the Oregon Capitol, you will agree that it is truly an impressive building, spanning over two blocks of real estate and crowned with a statue of a gold plated pioneer with his gaze trained on the future.

When people walk up the front steps, there are inspirational quotations carved into the white marble façade, and the revolving glass doors take them into the rotunda where the state seal is inscribed on the floor and murals depict scenes from the past. It never ceases to inspire pride and a sense of historical accomplishment.

This is actually our third capitol building, the last one having burned to the ground on April 25, 1935. In 1977, the building was augmented to add office space for legislators and staff because, up to that time, they did all of their work from their desks in their respective chambers. Even though the wings were built to a higher standard, behind the marble façade is a mish-mash of bricks and mortar that hardly inspire confidence. Science being what it is today, earthquake preparedness has taken on a whole new urgency and we are now at a crossroads as to what to do with a building that may crumble with any appreciable tremor. In fact, in 1993, when a moderate earthquake hit the mid-Willamette Valley, the building showed clear signs of distress, including cracks in the Rotunda and the Golden Pioneer on the top of the building shifted on his pedestal. Access to the Rotunda was limited for almost two years while repairs were completed.

On any given day, there may be up to 1,000 people in the building, many of them children who have come to learn more about their state government.  This is truly the “People’s House,” and some have proposed that it should be preserved for generations to come. The price tag to accomplish this is substantial, however, and some are beginning to question whether or not it is worth it. The project director, Marina Creswell, has estimated a cost of $337 million to renovate the Capitol, home to not only the Legislature but also the governor, secretary of state and treasurer.

So, the question arises, “How much is too much?” Would our money be better spent building a new capitol building with all of the modern safeguards that are required of other commercial buildings? How much should be invested in a 77-year-old building, no matter how much we love it? 

Regardless of which way we go, we will have to borrow using the state’s bonding capacity, which might cost seismic upgrades to other public buildings such as schools, courthouses and hospitals. In your new role as legislator-for-a-day, how would you vote? It’s not an easy call, but I would be interested in what you think.

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend.