By Melisa Franzen
Early this week, the Senate Rules Committee approved plans for a new Senate office building that will accommodate all 67 senators. The building will also provide large hearing rooms accessible to all members of the public. With its passage in committee, the proposal will now go before the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning (CAAP) Board for approval.
As a member of the CAAP Board, I intend to vote against the new Senate office building as it is now proposed when it comes before the board for final approval. The CAAP Board’s mission in part is to: “Preserve and enhance the dignity, beauty and architectural integrity of the Capitol, the buildings immediately adjacent to it, the capitol grounds, and the capitol area.”
While hearing rooms that accommodate meetings of high public interest are needed, the building, as it is now proposed, falls short of the architectural standards of the Capitol complex. In its present form, three-quarters of the building will be pre-cast concrete. Only the south wall will have a veneer of stone and glass facing the Capitol. Additionally, public parking has been removed from the current plan.
If we are going to add to the Capitol complex, we need to do so in a manner that respects and incorporates the legacy of its architect, Cass Gilbert. In keeping with that legacy, we are spending $272 million to renovate the Capitol to its original 1905 state, with the inclusion of this century’s amenities such as bathrooms, elevators, access for disabled visitors and a classroom for the Minnesota Historical Society.
The Senate has been part of the Capitol since 1905, when all senators did business from their desk in the Senate Chamber. By moving Senators from the Capitol building to a new Senate office building, we are essentially spending a quarter of a billion dollars to create an empty mausoleum. The Capitol serves an important civic function that is worth preserving. Today, Minnesotans come to hold rallies, express free speech and meet with their senators every day. Take out the legislators and the public will come to the Capitol Rotunda and speak to empty marble corridors.
Rather than search for temporary accommodations or spend millions of dollars in a substandard Senate office building, I believe the Legislature should finish our work in 2015 and not hold a 2016 session. This would allow the Capitol renovations to be completed in a timely and fiscally prudent manner. This option may sound extreme to some, but the decisions we make about our Capitol today will have a lasting effect on generations to come. Minnesotans deserve a Capitol that works for them and a Legislature that makes major investments responsibly.
Melisa Franzen is the DFL senator representing Senate District 49.