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Jan. 8, 2024 |  By: Rudi Keller - Missouri Independent

Future of MoDOT building puts hitch in Missouri Capitol expansion plans

modot headquarters

By Rudi Keller - Missouri Independent

The biggest plan for expanding the Capitol Building since its construction is still a draft, derailed prior to an approval vote last week over suspicion that Gov. Mike Parson’s administration was moving too fast on a deal for the Missouri Department of Transportation headquarters.

Since 2019, the Missouri State Capitol Commission has been working toward final approval of a plan to construct a 145,000 square foot building below ground level on the south side of the Capitol Building in Jefferson City . It would provide space for legislative hearing rooms and staff offices.

Over the past two years, lawmakers have set aside $600 million from record surpluses to finance the project. And on Thursday, the nine-member commission that includes lawmakers, legislative staff, gubernatorial appointees and the Commissioner of Administration, plus Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe as an ex officio member, was scheduled to vote on a resolution that would launch the project and hire an overseer called an owner’s representative.

The vote was at first delayed, then a new resolution omitting references to the master plan was approved after House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, a commission member, said he was upset that negotiations over the MoDOT building were underway.

“If anyone is moving forward with the purchase, I would consider that to be like a willful defiance of legislative intent and I certainly hope that that’s not the case,” Smith said.

Converting the MoDOT building, which is just steps from the east basement entrance of the Capitol, for use as legislative and executive offices has been discussed for several years. Last year, Parson asked lawmakers to appropriate $44 million for the purchase. That item was removed from the budget by Smith and never restored. 

Lawmakers did, however, appropriate $50 million from commission funds for “planning, design, construction, acquisition, maintenance, and repairs of the State Capitol Complex.”

In the fall the Office of Administration and MoDOT discussed using that money for the purchase, with the transportation department presenting a proposed sales contract. When he heard about the negotiations, Smith said, he met with the administrative agency’s counsel and Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden to object.

“The intention there was to send that to the Capitol Commission for later contemplation about exactly how that was spent, but under no circumstances was that an authorization to purchase the MoDOT building without that contemplation,” Smith said.

Other lawmakers on the commission, and some recently appointed members, said they were also caught off-guard by a November report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that negotiations were underway on the building.

“I feel like we have an elephant attached to the back of this project that no one was anticipating,” said state Sen. Greg Razer, a Kansas City Democrat.

There were talks with MoDOT about a purchase but that is as far as it went, Commissioner of Administration Ken Zellers said.

“There was a contract drafted by MoDOT that was presented to our legal counsel, and that was rejected,” Zellers said.

The funding and ownership of the building is in question, plus the cost of renovations and repairs and that is being investigated, Zellers said.

The oldest part of the MoDOT building was completed in 1928, to move what was then the Missouri State Highway Department moved out of cramped quarters in the Capitol. According to the 1929 Official Manual of Missouri, the state road fund paid for the land, construction and furnishings. 

Built and furnished at a cost of $348,250, it was designed by an architect from the firm that planned the Capitol and built with stone intended to harmonize with its appearance.

The building has been expanded twice since it was initially constructed. 

If the MoDOT building becomes space available for legislative or executive use, Smith said, it alters both the funds available for other aspects of the project and the amount of additional space needed.

“This was intended to be a discussion amongst this group, these commissioners, and I think there are a lot of big things we need to talk about before that purchase is made,” Smith said.

The last major renovation of the Capitol Building took place in the 1980s as executive officers moved to the Truman State Office Building and the James C. Kirkpatrick State Information Center. Every legislator has a private office but many are not much larger than a walk-in closet. Dozens are not accessible to people with mobility issues.

The master plan calls for digging up the south lawn and covering the new building over. There would be a skylight to allow natural light to enter, but when work was completed, the lawn, with its fountains and expanses of grass, would be replaced.

Other elements of the plan call for a complete renovation of the Capitol basement to provide 78 offices for members of the Missouri House and a new parking garage to replace one built in the 1960s.

Originally projected to cost $521 million, a new estimate completed last year pegged the current cost at $755 million.

Building the Capitol cost about $3 million starting in 1912, approximately $95 million today. A $55 million project to restore the exterior stonework was completed in 2022.

During the meeting, permanent legislative staff asked for the commission to approve at least hiring the owner’s representative.

Senate Administrator Patrick Baker, commission chairman, said the representative would consider whether a new or revised master plan is needed. And House Chief Clerk Dana Miller said delay would be an opportunity lost.

“I’ve just sat through many discussions about master plans and and they’ve come and they’ve gone and at the end of the day, I would just like to see us be able to move forward,” she said.

The vote for the revised resolution was unanimous and, with legislators in session and budget hearings underway, how far negotiations went on the MoDOT building are likely to be aired thoroughly.

“Obviously it’s news to the commissioners that there was some movement on purchase of the MoDOT building,” Baker said after the meeting. “I think that was unexpected for most of the commissioners.”