Same-sex marriage: Tense crowd awaits vote in Illinois StatehouseContinue reading.
From 2007: Nothing but the best — on taxpayers’ tab; $28 million rehab of Illinois Statehouse includes $950 urinals, $405 doorknobs
NOTE: This story was originally published May 20, 2007. Here’s the September 2013 story on the completed renovations: Critics knock $669,608 state Capitol doors: ‘It doesn’t look right’
SPRINGFIELD — A $38,000 clock. Four-hundred-dollar doorknobs. Redecorated bathrooms for state legislators and staff — more than $444,000.
Those are among the hidden costs of a multimillion-dollar makeover of the Illinois House and Senate with opulent showpieces re-creating the look of the chambers in the late 1800s.
With work finished, a Chicago Sun-Times review of construction documents unearthed expenditures one GOP lawmaker said would “appall” her constituents.
“Certainly, the chamber has to be nice and to befit a state of our stature. It’s not like we’re Mississippi. We’re a rich state,” said Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock). “But it doesn’t mean we should waste taxpayers’ money. You see these types of expenditures, and you have to question whether we could have gotten the same effect for a lot less.”
Work began in 2001
Aides to House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) called the shots on the work, which started in 2001. Gov. Blagojevich’s administration managed construction.
A Madigan aide said planners set out in painstaking detail to re-create the original look of the chambers. Historic renovation is inherently expensive, the aide said, and this work should last decades.
“We’re looking at the restoration of a landmark space that serves as sort of the office for 200 or 300 people on a daily basis when the Legislature is in session and a visitors’ destination for tens of thousands,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.
“I’m not sure when you talk about renovating a 130-year-old structure, how you can compare costs,” Brown said.
In the washrooms, used during the five months lawmakers are in Springfield, records show urinals were upgraded to top-of-the-line, “touchless” models that cost $950 each.
Other urinals from the same manufacturer sell for as little as $178. On this project, the state intended to install models that cost between $500 and $600, but opted for the costliest version because of enhanced durability.
“With the $500 or $600 urinal, we’d have gotten 10 to 20 years use out of it. The upgrade provides 30 to 40 years of longevity,” Jones spokeswoman Cindy Davidsmeyer said.
Since the renovation, House members have dried their hands on high-quality paper towels embossed with the state seal and the word “House” rather than paper towels found in the Capitol’s public restrooms. The House towels are produced “in-house” at no cost, Brown said.
‘Worst possible time’
A government watchdog doesn’t fault the state for wanting the House and Senate to appear true to their historical origins but believes some niceties go too far — particularly during a time of potential tax increases, legislative pay raises and no relief for consumers facing soaring electricity and property tax bills.
“I can’t think of a worst possible, frickin’ time for them to be doing this,” said Jay Stewart, the Better Government Association’s executive director. “Pay raises for us, gridlock for everyone else. And, by the way, we’ll have really nice bathrooms.”
Other expenses include automated window shades in the House that cost $15,128, a custom-made brass clock in the Senate that cost $38,582 and 27 custom-made doorknobs bearing the state seal that cost $405 each.
In the House, four crystal chandeliers were rebuilt and attached to a new motorized hoisting system for $497,795. A new, backlit, stain-glass laylight cost $456,201.
Custom-built desks used by the 177 lawmakers are made of solid mahogany, one of the most expensive hardwoods available but the type used originally at the Statehouse. Blagojevich’s administration said it could not provide a per-unit price, but records show four models of the desks cost $40,000 to build.
“We’re very proud of the beautiful renovation and the work that went into restoring the Senate chamber. We feel the work that was done was an investment in our Capitol, which is the people’s building,” Davidsmeyer said.
Rank-and-file lawmakers approved $28 million for the renovation. So far, $20.2 million has been spent.
“My constituents are going to be appalled when they read those numbers,” said Sen. Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) when told about the doorknobs and clock. “This is a prime example of why the public just doesn’t want a tax increase. They don’t believe their money is being spent wisely. It’s tough to disagree.”
Wool carpeting milled in England, sewn in the U.S. and designed to resemble carpeting original to the Capitol covers the floor of both legislative chambers, adjoining hallways and galleries. The state predicts the carpet could last 80 years.
Members-only bathrooms were remodeled with new lighting, plumbing and fixtures. Work in the Senate men’s room made it compliant with disability laws, while space was set aside in the House men’s room for a shoeshine station. Top-of-the-line urinals cost $950 each; a more modest model from the same manufacturer lists at $178.
The state won’t say how much it paid for custom-built, solid mahogany desks used by House and Senate members. A $7 million woodworking contract covered those expenditures. Records show that four models of the desks cost $10,000 apiece to produce.
A period, brass-plated clock was custom built and installed in the Senate. The clock was built to include space for a camera to televise Senate proceedings over the Internet.
Four crystal chandeliers were rebuilt and restored in the House, and a winch system was installed in the chamber’s ceiling to lower them for cleaning.
A stained-glass, backlit laylight was installed on the ceiling of the House and resembles a similar fixture that was original to the chamber but lost to a fire in the 1930s.
$2,522 (Senate) $3,218 (House)
Total for bronze nameplates bearing the name of each legislator that are affixed to desks.
With the push of a button, automated shades rise and fall in tune with the rising and setting sun to spare House members from glare.
Bearing the state seal, about 25 custom-made doorknobs were mounted on doors to match original hardware or replace worn-out doorknobs.