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New Senate Office Building Sparks Controversy

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(credit: CBS) Pat Kessler
Pat Kessler knows Minnesota politics. He's been on the beat long...
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — An expensive office building for lawmakers at the Capitol is facing new scrutiny

The four-story glass, steel and stone complex would sit across the street from the Capitol, and include offices for 45 of Minnesota’s 67 state senators.

But the cost and design are raising eyebrows, even from supporters like Gov. Mark Dayton, who called the project “overly lavish.”

“If you ask me … does there need to be a building, I would say ‘Yes,’” Dayton said. “I think the one that’s portrayed now with the glass facing and some of the other design features is un-Minnesotan.”

The plans call for a quick build schedule during a three-year State Capitol renovation. It will add more offices and hearing rooms near the Capitol, where open spaces are crowded and public lines often stretch down the hallways.

But critics, including GOP gubernatorial candidate Marty Seifert, say it was all hidden inside a major tax bill last year, and it’s now a major campaign issue in the 2014 governor’s race.

“So now we’re going to put a $90-million building together for 40 some senators? It makes absolutely no sense,” Seifert said.

The original design of the building included a fitness center and reflecting pool, but they were eliminated after a public outcry.

It still isn’t final, but Senate leaders say construction must begin soon. The renovation plans would force the entire Senate and staff to give up 38,000 square feet of Capitol space it now controls in 2015.

“To think that the Senate is going to give up all this space and just be kicked up in the street – that’s just not gonna happen,” said DFL Majority Leader Tom Bakk.

The new office building and parking ramps are tied directly to the renovation of the Capitol. If the project doesn’t go forward, they’re going to have to figure out how to shoehorn everyone inside.

If it is built, there will be a mad scramble to claim the spaces the Senate leaves behind.

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