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Preserving history or grossly overpriced?

Friday, Aug 30, 2013

* SJ-R columnist Dave Bakke heard a persistent rumor that a single door at the newly remodeled Statehouse cost $240,000, so he decided to check it out

I was directed to several offices that might know the answer: the Office of the Architect of the Capitol, House Speaker Michael Madigan’s office or the Illinois comptroller’s office. I eventually checked with all three. […]

While waiting for a reply [from the House Architect], I went on to Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Madigan. He answered my question by saying it couldn’t be answered, not just yet.

“I’m not sure those numbers actually exist,” he said, “because the itemization isn’t available. Suppliers haven’t turned in those numbers yet. When they do, they will be available.”

* Bakke didn’t think that sounded right, and he eventually got to the bottom of it when Capitol Architect Richard Alsop finally responded…

The total for the doors is $669,608. But, technically, it’s six doors, two for each of three doorways on the west end of the Capitol. So it’s more like $223,000 each for three doorways, not three doors. Just the cost of installation is $78,000, which is included in the total.

“We must remember,” Alsop wrote in his email, “that these are custom doors with carvings that do not exist on a shelf at the local home improvement store. Like many other materials in the building, it takes craftsmen to perform the work necessary to give us the desired and appropriate historic fabric.”

Those are also huge doorways.

* While noting that the money comes from a special bond fund for capital projects, Bakke has serious reservations about the cost…

On the other hand, this is a time of high emotion regarding the state budget. State employees are suffering, retirees are probably going to suffer, Illinois institutions are cutting services because the state can’t pay what it owes them, Illinois’ bond rating is in the toilet, and we are regarded as a leading candidate for the most corrupt, financially irresponsible state in the country.

That’s why it seems disrespectful and even arrogant for state governmental leaders to decide at such a time in the state’s history to spend more on one doorway than my entire house is worth.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Roadiepig - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 10:13 am:

    $669,608 for just three entryways (I won’t say doors, because as Rich said they are more than just that)?

    As usual, they have their priorities at the capitol, and honoring their contracts with state workers keeps sliding down the list for much more “important” things…

  2. - Keep Calm and Carry On - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 10:18 am:

    I love the Capitol. It is a beautiful, important place that deserves to be kept up to the highest standards available. It is the front door of the house that is Illinois.

    That said, timing in life matters. This is dumbfounding and tone deaf. If we didn’t think Springfield was out of touch with Illinoisans before, we know it now.

    The doorway was so pressing that it couldn’t wait until our economy was really back on track?

    And how many similar stories are buried in that mountain of bills?

  3. - TuxedoLady - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 10:23 am:

    It is so obvious that the citizens of our State are not a priority.

  4. - Aldyth - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 10:33 am:

    There are twenty-three thousand people with developmental disabilities on a waiting list to get into a residential program and or a day program in Illinois. To get into a day program would cost about $12,000 for a year. Actually, the cost is less than that for Illinois because of the Medicaid match, bringing in federal dollars.

    When families ask what they can do to get something, anything for their family member, I will tell them how pretty the new doors are in our state capitol and give them the phone number of their state Representative, Senator, and the Governor’s office.

    Illinois has won the race to the bottom for per capita spending on services to people with disabilities, but our state capitol can get a face lift.

  5. - thechampaignlife - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 10:37 am:

    In fairness, those doors probably seem more traffic in one day than his entire house does in its lifetime. It needs to look good and secure against weather and other threats to a much larger scale than an average house. But I’d say a 10th of that cost is more reasonable.

  6. - Bill - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 10:38 am:

    Why not revolving doors instead?

  7. - Ggal - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 10:39 am:

    Please tell me they used Illinois craftspersons for the carvings and Illinois carpenters for the installation.

  8. - anonymoose - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 10:40 am:

    As a kid, I was a janitor at the Capitol and have much love for the building. My favorite - saw pictures of the renovation at S-JR’s website, thinking…where did the stunning (and barely-dressed) female light posts come from? One part of me advocates historic accuracy,preservation and maintaining a structure so it does not fall into disrepair (Gov’s Mansion comes to mind). Understanding maintenance sometimes comes at a high price.

    But just as no one hooked those early-1900 era lamp post ladies to some re-installed oil or gas lines for the sake of authenticity, a part of me wonders if there could have been more economical and still appropriate alternatives.

  9. - Montrose - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 10:46 am:

    Yes, it is a lot of money. Is their timing great from a PR standpoint? Probably not.

    That being said, I am glad the state is investing in preserving our capitol. I know it may sound corny, but one step towards being proud of our government is being proud of where our government is housed. I look at the state of the Thompson Center in Chicago or many of the various agency offices, and it just makes me sad. It is a bleak, worn environment that only sends the message that we don’t care much about the work that is done in those spaces. These places should inspire, not depress.

    So, the doors are expensive, but I don’t think we should go down the route of comparing that investment in our capitol with other important budget conversations. We can care about state workers (and should) at the same time we care about the capitol. It is not an either or proposition.

  10. - TwoFeetThick - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 10:51 am:

    There is never extra money in the State budget that everyone would be fine with using to make a building beautiful. Ever. But, if there is one building in Illinois that should be beautiful, it’s this one. One of the main reasons so much is being spent now is because shortsighted people over decades decided to take the cheap way out instead of spending the money to properly keep this building maintained. Some may be ok with living in a country where everything is “maintained” with the lowest bid, if it is maintained at all. I am not. You get what you pay for, and this building should be the grandest in the state.

  11. - Waffle Fries - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 10:54 am:

    Capitol projects like these are not funded out of the state’s operating budget - separate revenue sources.

    I spend half a year in that building, and its beautiful and it keeps getting better.

    Make no mistake, we have ongoing capitol needs that got worse over years without a capitol program.

    That being said, some of the revenues now being used to pay for bonds could’ve done great things in our state’s operating budget for education and social service needs.

  12. - Norseman - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 10:55 am:

    Bill, doesn’t the ethics law ban revolving doors.

  13. - DanL60 - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 10:56 am:

    ==…funding for the doorways and the rest of the renovation project comes from bonds issued by the state to pay for public works projects.==

    Over the life of the bond Illinois borrowed to do the doors, it’s going to be considerably higher than $669,608.

    They look really nice.

  14. - DanL60 - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 10:57 am:

    And yes, it looks like, in the picture, the doors don’t close properly. /s

  15. - Anon2 - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 11:03 am:

    Montrose === it’s not an either or proposition ===

    You could not be more wrong.

    Plato defined “Politics” as the art of allocating scarce resources. Our tax dollars are scarce resources. The way our politicians allocate them is a reflection of our values and priorities. It’s always either “this” or “that” or less for both. That’s the first job of governement is to allocate reasources for the public welfare and benefit. It is very fair to say the governemnt ranked the doors higher than other unmet needs.

  16. - Norseman - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 11:07 am:

    To the post, I don’t want our Capitol to look like an eclectic and sterile office building, but I do think that goal can be achieved at a lower cost. They seem to be selecting top-of-the-line items for the renovation.

  17. - Mouthy - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 11:12 am:

    If the taxpayers only knew how some of their money was being spent these doors wouldn’t even be on the list…

  18. - Keep Calm and Carry On - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 11:21 am:

    This being Illinois, one must also ask three very simple questions:

    Who got the $669,608 job to make those doors? (Albert J. Wagner & Son made the copper cladding for the doors, but they specialize in sheet metal and apparently did not make the doors themselves)

    Was it via a legitimate process or no-bid to the “friend of a friend” in Springfield?

    Though it may be challenging to compare with such handiwork, was that a fair price to pay?
    More intricately carved doors that apparently fit a normal house cost less than $10,000. Is 10 times the price a normal going rate for a door roughly 2-3 times the size?

    There may be nothing to see here at all, or it may turn out someone’s relative or friend made the doors at an inflated price. The only way to find out is by asking.

  19. - Chicago Cynic - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 11:26 am:

    I was mildly annoyed but not particularly when I read this story. Capital investments, particularly in a Capitol are expensive. But looking at that picture, you’ve got to be friggin kidding me. $223,000 each for THAT???? I mean yes, they’re nice. But you could have done “nice” for a fraction of that cost.

    Misplaced priorities and crazy government excess from people who think it’s their money. Wow.

  20. - Judgment Day - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 11:26 am:

    “We must remember,” Alsop wrote in his email, “that these are custom doors with carvings that do not exist on a shelf at the local home improvement store. Like many other materials in the building, it takes craftsmen to perform the work necessary to give us the desired and appropriate historic fabric.”

    If the State should have done this - well, it’s done. Waste of $$$? - well, those doors are going to be around for a really long time.

    Are the costs appropriate? Probably. There’s a HUGE difference in costs for normal woodworking/trim work vrs. ‘architectural woodworking’ vrs. ‘restoration woodworking’.

    Everything you are doing is special order (IF it even exists), and most of the time, you have to make it yourself - and I’m talking fabricating all the tooling (like industrial shaper cutters, etc.). Very little of it is off-the-shelf gear.

    There aren’t a lot of these types of folks out there. And materials costs are for these types of products are into the stratosphere. And then you add into the equation that everything has to be oversized. And finished. And installed. And it’s all custom hardware - guaranteed. Not a lot of firms out there can do this type of work.

    So yeah, costs make sense.

    Was it the right thing to do? Well, that’s up for grabs. But let’s remember that if we decided to do it on the cheap, in 10 +/- years when the doors are falling apart, we’d probably all be castigating the State of Illinois on overpaying for such shoddy work.

    I would hope whoever selected the providers carefully reviewed the (proposed vendors) portfolio book(s) of past jobs and checked out their past job references. Just basic due diligence.

  21. - dr. reason a. goodwin - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 11:31 am:

    I am a big advocate of preserving historic architecture, but I have a hard time believing that is a fair price for even such large entryways.

    I’d be curious what some of our state’s talented Amish cabinetmakers would say.

  22. - Colossus - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 11:38 am:

    I agree wholeheartedly with you that there are better solutions, but to immediately link THIS spending with THAT cut greatly clouds this issue.
    There is also a responsibility on the part of the government to maintain and build for future generations. While it impacts human lives, capitol investments are meant to outlast that scale. If you’re going to Plato this up, you have to look at all the angles, not just the ones that help you out.

    Seriously, I’m with you on the impact of DD spending on families. But I also think we have a duty to future generations as well as the one that is currently here.

    I’ve said for years: If someone proposed building The Capitol today, they’d be laughed out of the state. Propose to sell it to pay off pensions, you’ll be laughed out of the state. If you want good things, you have to pay for them. So find a way.

  23. - Anonimo - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 11:47 am:

    It’s the people’s house (well at least it should be). I would be appalled if our state didn’t invest top dollar in maintaining the Capitol building.

  24. - Levi - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 11:50 am:

    If some of you people had been in charge, you’d have built the Parthenon out of balsa wood. You don’t cut corners with public architecture.

  25. - Steve Brown - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 11:54 am:

    I was happy to see Bakke was able to publish the falsehood on the prices which was his premise.
    Meanwhile we can only wonder what the fate of the Old State Capitol or Lincoln’s Home might be if the measure of cost of historic landmark restoration is tied to the value of the SJR humor writers?
    BTW thanks to the video poker players at Bob’s Butternut Hut and outlying locations for helping to fund this project and the rest of the $31 billion state construction that continues in every region of the state.
    (I thought I had this posted on the SJR site, but looks like it got plunked)

  26. - Anon2 - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 11:55 am:

    Colossus - I did not mean to imply preservation is noa good thing, rather only that allocating tax dollars is logically a zero sum game (we tend to play games and try to avoid the zero sum nature of resource allocatioon by borrowing from future generations). But if preservation is a value, it should and must be defended in resource allocation debates. What is most sad is that we dont debate anymore. These line items are buried in large capital bills and rarely get debated as they should. Had they been, I submit the doors would have lost to other needs.

  27. - RNUG - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 11:59 am:

    Waffle Fries @ 10:54 am:

    The immediate funding instrument may not directly be the GRF … but it’s still tax money that has to be diverted to repay the bonds sold for capitol improvements. As is noted in Rich’s other post, the State just keeps taking on debt it can’t easily repay.

  28. - A guy... - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 11:59 am:

    When Joe Lyons so dramatically stated to people in the gallery (at the behest of the legislator whose district they were from) “Welcome to your State Capitol”, it was always a warm and reassuring statement that carried a lot of weight. It reminds people who this building and all of its adornments really belong to. I hate waste more than anyone, but in this case, preserving this structure is part of the stewardship of the people running the place. You can’t put stock doors on a majestic building or you cheat the history of the people who built it and maintained it before you. Not to mention those who come after you. Entering that building, even if its everyday, should have some elements that cause people to pause and understand the responsibility that comes with passing through that grand entrance.

  29. - Cheswick - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 12:02 pm:

    I don’t know about the cost of these doors, but I can help but wonder their destiny when discovered by some common copper thief.

  30. - RNUG - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 12:03 pm:

    In case anyone thinks I am totally opposed to the doors, for the record, I am in favor of historic preservation. I own a historic home myself and can relate to the posts about the custom work to do almost anything preservation related.

  31. - Norseman - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 12:04 pm:

    Typical drive-by cheap shot by Brown. If Bakke is wrong, enlighten us as to the actual cost.

    Nobody is advocating balsa wood or other cheap materials, but I walked through glass doors at the Capitol for decades and not once thought it was a cheap-*** building. In this case, I think copper doors is more than what was needed to make the building the class act it should be.

  32. - Keep Calm and Carry On - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 12:06 pm:

    “able to publish the falsehood”

    Touched a nerve?

  33. - Arthur Andersen - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 12:20 pm:

    Steve, if Bakke is wrong, set him straight.

    I think the work that is visible so far looks great, but wondered to myself about some of the ruffles and flourishes. Reasonable people can disagree without being blown off or labeled as clowns.

  34. - Norseman - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 12:29 pm:

    Well said AA.

  35. - Demoralized - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 12:58 pm:

    I have absolutely no problem with these costs. You want the State Capitol to be ornate. We have let far too many structures in this state become in disrepair and that State Capitol should definitely not be on that list. Yes, it might be bad PR given the timing but I think it is money well spent. I’ve always believed that the state needs to be spending more money on capital projects. This is just a drop in the bucket as far as what needs to be done throughout the state. As somebody said, this isn’t an either/or proposition.

  36. - Sunshine - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 1:06 pm:

    Bakke is right. Poor timing, but ya know, we sure do have a great Capitol Palace. Let them scrounge for crumbs while we report to the palace every day and continue to beat them out of their hard earned money.

    Any by the way, why aren’t there any uniformed servants opening these grand doors for our elite self serving legislators.

    Send in the clowns….oops, they already did!.

  37. - Anonymous - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 1:08 pm:

    A beautified building to house……what? I think of a French comment about a well dressed politician: “Merde in a silk stocking”

  38. - PublicServant - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 1:21 pm:

    It’s not just bad PR. I’d expect to see it used as an argument against the state’s ‘effective bankruptcy’ language that supposedly underpins the police powers argument in the pension theft that they are attempting.

  39. - Ghost - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 1:24 pm:

    Money well spent.

    We need to maitain our high dollar tourist attractions and the dignity and majesty of our capital.

  40. - Keep Calm and Carry On - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 1:28 pm:

    @Public Servant - excellent observation.

  41. - Loop Lady - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 1:29 pm:

    We can’t afford this…ask me when the last time the windows were cleaned at the Thompson Center… Private money could have been raised to at least cut the cost in half…unbelievable…notice how this story came out AFTER the work was complete?

  42. - Demoralized - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 1:33 pm:

    ==notice how this story came out AFTER the work was complete==

    Sorry that they failed to get your permission first.

    ==Private money could have been raised to at least cut the cost in half==

    Yes. Brilliant idea. Welcome to the State Capitol brought to you by Pepsi. If you want to start a public building foundation then that’s fine, but this is the process we live under right now.

  43. - Demoralized - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 1:39 pm:

    ==I’d expect to see it used as an argument against the state’s ‘effective bankruptcy’ language that supposedly underpins the police powers argument in the pension theft that they are attempting. ==

    You could say that about ANY spending done by the state so I’m not sure that’s as an effective argument as all of us might like. But use it. I’m all for using everything plus the kitchen sink in any challenge.

  44. - PublicServant - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 2:02 pm:

    @Demoralized - The point is that it’s not just ANY spending. It’s wildly extravagant spending by any standard used. Hell, I’m sure a few retirees could have installed the doors for at least a couple of bucks less, but wait, that would be double-dipping! Double-dipping retirees cost the state money, err wait…

  45. - Keep Calm and Carry On - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 2:14 pm:

    “You could say that about ANY spending done by the state”

    Agreed. That seems to be the very nature of that point.

    Spend some cash on a few doors in a state the size of Illinois? It may seem ho-hum to most as an isolated or rare instance.

    Collectively point out many million$ or billion$ in similar examples as part of any pension case?
    It belies the “effective bankruptcy” argument underlying any claim that extraordinary police powers and the ability to violate the Constitution are necessary for the survival of our state.

    “We are in such crisis that we must violate the Constitution and diminish benefits.”

    “What about your recent spending on x,y & z? That wasn’t required by the state constitution.”

    “Never mind the $$$ we just spent on that. We’re in a crisis, I say. We’re broke! There’s no more money!”

    “OK. If you say so. Funny how you find money for that other stuff, though.”

  46. - steve brown - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 2:24 pm:

    Bakke’s math had doors at $1.5 million

  47. - Will - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 2:25 pm:

    Quick! Don’t pay attention to the enterprise zones! Don’t pay attention to all the special tax breaks for multi-million dollar companies! It’s that door’s fault!
    Nice try.

  48. - Living in Machiaville - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 2:46 pm:

    @SteveBrown. Stop digging. There is no good rationale. The whole rehab is over the top and the “entry ways” are merely the tip of this iceberg. I don’t care how many gamblers are paying. This is hubris of the worst sort.

  49. - Spidad60 - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 3:14 pm:

    As I was driving South on 1st Street this morning and, waiting at a red light, so as not to be distracted, I was actually thinking about the challenge and expense it must’ve been to build the Capitol Building. I wondered if the State would ever consider replacing it at some point in time that it became functionally obsolete.( physically, not politically) My guess is that the next Capitol will be a big Morton building with huge copper clad doors…to maintain the historical fabric

  50. - Loop Lady - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 3:26 pm:

    Steve Brown resurfaces!!!

  51. - Demoralized - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 3:27 pm:

    ==The whole rehab is over the top==

    It’s the State Capitol. You don’t go to Lowe’s and buy a hollow core door for $99. I still say, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with spending money on this project.

  52. - Anonymous - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 3:52 pm:

    Forget pension reform, sounds like we need construction reform. How can Quinn, Madigan, and Cullerton spend this kind of money? It could have been used on education, social services, police, firefighters, etc.

  53. - Jake From Elwood - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 4:39 pm:

    Some of you sound like you want to buy some Menards accordion doors for the front of the Capitol. The Capitol building is one of our State’s architectural treasurers and specialty doors of distinction will cost more than is typical. Doesn’t bother me much.

  54. - Excessively Rabid - Friday, Aug 30, 13 @ 5:05 pm:

    ==Why not revolving doors instead?==

    I would have suggested hot air vents. But the doors are probably (I haven’t seen them) appropriate, and overpriced by probably only 100%, which in Illinois governmental contracting is pretty reasonable.

  55. - Soccertease - Saturday, Aug 31, 13 @ 10:49 pm:

    This is just the West entrance only. Seems to me used mostly by employees. Also, can we expect this amount x 4 in total for North, South, and East?

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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* Black City Council members renew call for top cop's ouster over teen's shooting

* Rauner pardons man found innocent of 1999 attack
* Springfield jobless rate falls again, to 5.1 percent
* Michael Gerson: The Trump effect, still 'understated'
* Catherine Rampell: For millennials, first comes love — then what?
* Springfield police chief sees problems with body cam law
* Lawsuit challenges Illinois ban on marijuana campaign money
* Number of Illinois inmates released on parole climbing
* Lawsuit challenges Illinois ban on marijuana campaign money
* Kathleen Parker: Crazy is as crazy does
* Bryce Benton circulating petitions to challenge Sen. Sam McCann in GOP primary

* PODCAST: Celestina Savonius-Wroth, U of I Library
* Ex-Rockets: Relish experience
* Arcola's Hutton takes care of business
* Updated: Danville teen killed, 3 hurt, in Indiana crash
* The Health Reporter Is In: Nov. 25, 2015
* Danville teen killed, 3 hurt, in Indiana crash
* Man pulled from parked car, robbed in Urbana
* 11-25-15 Dr. Tom Ramage, President of @ParklandCollege
* 11-25-15 Penny for Your Thoughts
* PODCAST: Groce previews UAB

* Steelers' Todman another ex-Panther hoping for a chance
* Settlement coming in District 211 transgender case?
* Falcons not overly concerned by QB Matt Ryan's recent slump
* How to watch Libertyville High football team's title game
* Pierre-Paul just happy to be alive after fireworks accident

* House lawmakers overcome hurdle on key tra...
* Rodney Davis talks funding with Bloomingto...
* The agency that fought Illiana gets a new ...
* Rep. Dold takes educational cruise down Ch...
* Lawmakers decry high turnover rate of VA h...
* CBD Oil, and politics
* Simon considering state Senate bid
* Killer Congressman Tom MacArthur trying to...
* Shutdown? State may not notice
* Rep. Bob Dold

* Nebraska ethanol producers name former Dur......

* Kirk co-authors Government Transformation ......

* Random thoughts.
* Prosecutors drop charges against Malcolm London.
* Lawless: The Obama Administration’s Unprecedented Assault on the Constitution and the Rule of Law
* Thanksgiving by the numbers
* IAR offices closed Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving holiday
* Charter expansion. Where is the IEA?
* Courtenay School Clothing & Toy Drive Underway
* Jail killer cops. Not Poets. #FreeMalcolmLondon
* Jay Michael's Cancer Journey, Part V
* Heartland to help two charities in December

* Emergency Management Officials, National Weather Service Encourage Winter Preparedness - November is Winter Weather Preparedness Month in Illinois
* Keep Your Family Safe This Winter - November through February are leading months for carbon monoxide related incidents
* Governor Takes Bill Action
* Illinois Department of Labor Director Hugo Chaviano Awards Governor’s Award for Contributions in Health and Safety to the Illinois Refining Division of Marathon Petroleum Company LP
* State Regulator Elected Treasurer of Interstate Medical Licensure Compact

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