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Gov. Quinn blasts Capitol rehab: ‘Palace of Versailles’

Louis XVI (1754-1793) last French monarch Versailles.  Portrait by Joseph Siffred Duplessis  From http://en.chateauversailles.fr/homepage

Louis XVI (1754-1793), last French monarch at Versailles. Portrait by Joseph Siffred Duplessis, From http://en.chateauversailles.fr/homepage

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Updated: October 12, 2013 6:25AM



SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday compared the nearly finished west wing of the State Capitol to the “Palace of Versailles” and vowed to block future statehouse renovations after being angered by “excessive flourishes” such as newly installed copper-clad doors, sculptures and expensive chandeliers.

In an exclusive interview, the governor came out swinging at Capitol Architect J. Richard Alsop III for signing off on $670,000 copper-plated doors, $80,000 statues of maidens and 300-pound chandeliers that are part of the soon-to-open west wing of the Capitol – expenditures that have been the subjects of recent reporting by the Chicago Sun-Times.

With Illinois’ $100 billion pension crisis unresolved, Quinn said those items don’t represent the state’s biggest financial priority and that any future historically aesthetic upgrades at the Capitol should be put on hold until “we get this architect under control.”

“I thought the architect was excessive in what he was doing. We’re not designing the Palace of Versailles,” the governor said. “The architect, J. Richard Alsop III, has to understand we believe in doing things in a frugal, cost-efficient manner.”

Quinn’s comments came as he was getting hit by his 2014 primary rival, Bill Daley, for not blocking the historically accurate niceties — purchases Daley called “wasteful spending” — before they went in rather than reacting to them after they’d been purchased and installed.

The issue also percolated on the Republican side of the gubernatorial campaign with state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) and state Rep. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy), his running mate, filing resolutions in the Senate and House seeking a probe by Auditor General William Holland of the renovation work.

Work on the renovation is nearly complete as occupants forced out of the Capitol’s west wing by nearly two years of construction are scheduled to begin returning to their offices this month. The focus then will shift toward renovating the historic building’s north wing — a project one source said could cost up to $140 million.

Funds for that exist within a $250 million allotment that is part of a $31 billion capital program state lawmakers and Quinn approved in 2009. However, design work and engineering for the Capitol’s north wing hasn’t begun, and no timetable for it yet exists.

Quinn Tuesday dispatched his budget director, Jerry Stermer, to inform Alsop’s office that the governor intends to hold up funding for the north-wing renovation at the Statehouse “until there’s a complete review and reform of how the architect is operating.”

Alsop, who reports to a board controlled by the four legislative leaders, did not respond Tuesday to a Chicago Sun-Times email and phone message left at his Capitol office seeking comment on the governor’s remarks.

On Aug. 23, Alsop defended his office’s work while leading the media on a tour of new offices that will be occupied by state senators and representatives, House and Senate GOP staffers, GOP Treasurer Dan Rutherford and the statehouse press corps.

“I don’t think we made a wrong move here,” Alsop said when asked about the optics and expense of the detailed historical work.

But Tuesday, Quinn disagreed.

“I think [Alsop] certainly needs his work to be reviewed, and I think he needs to be instructed of our current fiscal situation in Illinois,” said the governor, who said he understands the need for fire-safety, asbestos removal, handicapped accessibility upgrades that were part of the existing work at the Capitol.

“Those are fundamental things that should be carried out,” the governor said. “But when it comes to these flourishes, this isn’t the right time to carry that out. The legislators should instruct him to focus on the fundamentals and leave the flourishes to the Palace of Versailles.”

The Palace of Versailles, located in suburban Paris, served as the residence of the French monarchy during the late 1600s and most of the 1700s until the French Revolution ended the reign of King Louis XVI. The complex is regarded as one of the most opulent buildings in the world.

Despite its far smaller scale, the nearly completed $50 million Capitol facelift has created outrage from voters, some lawmakers and a prominent financial watchdog because it comes at a time when state health care for the poor has been slashed, vendors are owed nearly $7 billion and the state’s unresolved $100 billion pension crisis has led to bond-rating downgrades.

While Quinn’s Capital Development Board released funds for the nearly finished phase of Capitol construction, the governor said the state is on the hook for paying for work already completed since construction contracts have already been signed.

“If there are contractors who’d already completed work, we’d have legal obligations to pay those vouchers, or we’d wind up in the Court of Claims. But anything further or additional or what they’re planning for the next wing, I think, should be totally held up until we get this architect under control,” the governor said.

Controversy over the renovation work bubbled up in August when the Sun-Times detailed the project in a front page story and intensified earlier this month when Alsop confirmed that historically-accurate copper-clad doors for three entrances in the Capitol’s west wing cost more than $669,000 — the same price as a luxury executive home in the northwest suburbs.

On Sunday, the Chicago Sun-Times followed up with a report on a pair of maiden sculptures that each cost more than $78,000 and four 300-pound chandeliers hung in one senator’s office that cost another $323,000.

“What we’re going to do is hold up the release of any further appropriations for this project until the commission really has a complete review and reins in these excessive and extravagant expenditures,” Quinn said Tuesday.

The governor said he doesn’t think entrances to the Capitol on the building’s north and east sides should be equipped with the same expensive, copper-clad doors that are now on its west wing, even if it means all of the building’s doors don’t match.

“My view would be if the current doors are operating in safe manner, they should continue as is,” the governor said. “Frankly, the architect, you know, engaged in these, in my opinion, these excessive flourishes, and we should stop them now so we don’t have a continuation of this excessive approach.”

Quinn’s comments, made upon his return from a trade mission to Japan, came as Daley slammed him again Tuesday for not stopping the copper doors, statues and chandeliers before they were installed and only reacting to them after they drew public criticism.

The more than $1.1 million spent on those purchases alone, Daley said, amounted to “wasteful spending that could be better used to rehire teachers and restore health care cuts for people across Illinois.”

Told of Daley’s digs, Quinn dismissed them during his interview with the Sun-Times.

“I certainly don’t need any advice from a millionaire banker,” the governor said.

Meanwhile, in his resolution, Dillard specifically cited the Sun-Times reports on the doors, chandeliers and sculptures in pushing for a spending analysis of the renovation by Holland, the state’s auditor general, because “the integrity of the Capitol renovation project has been cast into doubt.”

The State Journal-Register in Springfield first reported the price tag of the copper-clad doors.

“In light of published reports that $700,000 was spent on three pairs of Capitol doors and nearly $500,000 was spent on four chandeliers and two sculptures, we need to find out whether there’s any more excessive spending and try to stop it,” Dillard said.



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