State Capitol architect defends $50M renovations

SPRINGFIELD – The architect of the Illinois Capitol said Friday he's being unfairly targeted by Gov. Pat Quinn's administration for renovations to the building that critics say are unnecessarily extravagant.

J. Richard Alsop III says Quinn's calls to have him "reigned in" are "unwarranted and completely out of line."

After reports that a $50 million renovation project to the Capitol's west wing included spending $670,000 for three sets of copper-plated doors and $80,000 apiece on two chandeliers, Quinn halted funding for future renovations until a review can be done.

Alsop, who's held the job since 2009, said his office is only one player in the renovation process and says it did the best it could with the resources it had.

"We were given a direction. The (project's) scope was agreed to long before I got here. Money was appropriated long before I got here," Alsop said Friday after a previously scheduled meeting in Springfield with the four-member Capitol Architect Board, which oversees him.

Lawmakers approved the project as part of a $31 billion state construction program in 2009, which was to be funded by special bonds and included a total of $250 million in renovations to the state capitol complex. The Capitol Development Board, which reports to the governor's office, reviews project bids.

Quinn spokesman Dave Blanchette described Alsop on Friday as "an important player and also a player who does not have to report through the normal checks and balance system that other state agencies do on construction projects."

Just because, Blanchette said, "something's in budget doesn't mean you should spend $700,000 on a set of doors."

The oversight board was created in 2004 and members are appointed by the Democratic and Republican leaders in each chamber. Currently, it is co-chaired by Tim Mapes, Clerk of the House and chief of staff to House Speaker Michael Madigan, and Secretary of the Senate Tim Anderson, appointed by Senate President John Cullerton.

The board spent a little less than an hour reviewing and voting to proceed on components of other renovation projects at the Capitol complex.

Board members declined to answer questions Friday about the west-wing renovation, but released a written statement earlier in the day stressing that the Capitol renovation project was mostly about safety and followed all budget and procedural requirements.

The board said the pricey "finishes" were intended to restore it to its original glory and represented "a mere fraction" of the project. It also said the upgrade would make the Capitol more safe and accessible and allow it to "stand the test of time while appropriately reflecting the greatness of the state."

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