SPRINGFIELD – Critics are befuddled by Illinois' decision to pay nearly $670,000 for three sets of copper-plated wooden doors at the Capitol building, saying it is too "elegant" a purchase for a state whose pension fund is underfunded by $100 billion.
The ornate doors, which are part of a $50 million renovation, were custom-made to resemble the original oak and black walnut doors that had bronze ornamentation. The building is a National Historic Landmark.
The doors that were replaced were made of glass and metal.
"Every other bit of our infrastructure is crumbling, too," State Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Wheaton Republican told the Chicago Sun-Times. "At some point, you say we'll just do this amount [on life-safety and disability upgrades] now, and we'll upgrade later to an old stately look when we can afford to. That's what a responsible homeowner does, right?"
She added: "I'd have slapped on ordinary doors and called it a day."
Gov. Pat Quinn's spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson, said Thursday that he believes capital projects should be done in "prudent and cost-effective" ways.
"The governor is concerned about the architect's judgment and some of his decisions," Anderson said.
Laurence Msall, president of the financial watchdog group Civic Federation, said the doors are an example of the state's poor judgment.
"In order to accomplish such an elegant rehabilitation of the Capitol building, the state Legislature skipped the requirement of justifying why that investment was a higher priority than the needed improvements to our water, roads, public transit and education systems that are not being fully funded," he said.
The renovation is being paid for by construction bonds that were part of a $31 billion capital construction program approved by the General Assembly.
Questions about the project have been referred to Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Brown said Thursday the project went through the state's normal bidding and procurement process, and the doors were part of a master plan approved by the Office of the Capitol Architect Board. The board includes representatives from the offices of all four legislative leaders, Brown said.
He also said the doors are part of an effort to restore the building – a popular site for tourists and other visitors – to its "historically significant period."
Republican state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who's seeking the GOP nomination for governor in 2014, said Thursday he supported spending money to improve the Capitol's outdated heating and ventilation system and to remove mold and asbestos from the building. But he called the ornate doors "abundantly unreasonable."
"I think that type of expenditure by whoever and however did that is inappropriate perhaps at any time but particularly at this time," Rutherford said during a campaign event in Chicago.
State officials initially said they could not break out the cost of doors, but later said the doors cost $535,808 for materials and fabrication, $55,800 for project management and $78,000 for installation.
The new doors are expected to last about 30 years, but officials said they will turn a dark brown in a matter of months.
There are three other entrances to the Capitol, including the main visitors' entrance. Brown has said he doesn't know if a decision had been made to add similar copper-plated doors to those other entrances in the future.
Information from: Chicago Sun-Times, http://www.suntimes.com/index