By Gene Meyer | Kansas Reporter
FAIRWAY – Kansas has a nifty new chandelier under the Capitol dome. Workers installed it this week.
The ornate, fabricated brass and cast bronze light fills a void, which has existed since its 19th century predecessor was sacrificed to a World War II scrap metal drive.
It’s a beauty, said Gary Behm, president of the St. Louis Antique Lighting Co., the metal fabricator that spent nearly two years replicating the chandelier from old black-and-white photos.
“It’s 14.5 feet in diameter, with 76 arms, and a central body that is 38 feet tall,” Behm said. “It weighs about 900 pounds.
“The only problem is that now it’s 200 feet off the ground and it really doesn’t look very big,” he said. “You really have to go up to about the seventh floor to get a sense of the scale.”
The seventh floor in the Kansas Capitol takes you inside an elaborate double dome, the building’s most prominent architectural feature. The dome is still closed for renovation, which was supposed to be completed about four years ago.
The Capitol work, which started in 2001, is costing more than three times what Kansans were told it would cost more than a decade ago. Where the new chandelier fits into those spiraling costs isn’t clear.
“I don’t remember what it cost,” said Behm. “It’s part of a package of north wing work I bid on more than three years ago.”
Treanor Architects, P.A., the Kansas City, Mo., firm heading the restoration effort, said the Topeka executive overseeing the installation was unavailable.
Kansas Capitol Architect Barry Greis said earlier this week he didn’t know the cost of the chandelier and declined to give an approximate figure before he could check. Greis did not return phone calls Thursday.
Members of Kansas 2000 Legislature originally approved what they expected would be an eight-year effort, costing no more than $120 million to restore the Capitol building to its appearance of 1903, when workers finally finished work that started in 1862.
It’s been nearly a dozen years since the latest work began, the end is still years away, and the price price tag is $320 million and climbing. Legislators after 2000 added a $15 million underground parking garage to the project, and inflation rates ran higher than projected during the first half dozen or so years. In December, Greis reported that much of the Capitol’s roof and its iconic copper clad dome needed replacing, too, for another $21 million or so.
The renovation work is being paid through a series of revenue bonds that Kansas began issuing in 2001, loans that future taxpayers will make final payments on in May 2031.
Legislators in 2012 scuttled additional funding for a planned visitors’ center, envisioned as a welcoming entry to “the People’s House,” on the Capitol’s north side when money began running short. Some legislative leaders, including Senate President Steve Morris, R- Hutchinson, have recommended trying to find private funding for the center.
As far as tax money goes, “we had to shut if off somewhere,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R- Newton.
“Otherwise, the costs just keep going up and up, don’t they?” Rhoades said.
Rhoades, too, said he did not know the cost of the chandelier.
“I suppose it is in one of the big packages we passed before,” he said. “I certainly hope it was, because I don’t remember seeing it when we were going through the budget line by line in committee.”
The once place containing the cost is almost as difficult to get to as the chandelier itself.
Kansas Watchdog reported in May that virtually every financial transaction and decision regarding the Capitol renovation project is included in a specially bound 1,781-page package of contracts and amendments in a Kansas Department of Administration office in Topeka.
The document, which is nearly twice the length of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, isn’t available online. There are no text or PDF copies. People who want to read it must go to the department’s offices, where a designated page turner will watch.
You can get copies, though — 25 cents a page, or $445.25 for the package.
Contact Gene Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org