The newly-restored Idaho Capitol is already showing some wear and tear after the first legislative session, and a panel of state lawmakers met to go over some small fixes to the 100-year-old building. Most of the enhancements the panel recommended will be paid out of the bonding money for the renovations, which came in under the $127 million budget.
“It’s June, and we survived our first legislative session back in the building,” said Robyn Lockett with the Legislative Services Office (LSO). She said more than 12,000 people went on guided tours of the new building since January.
The changes include adding new lights to dimly-lit places, adding glass to the doors for committee hearing rooms, and some potential security improvements. The Capitol Services Committee recommended the improvements during its meeting Thursday. They still need approval from the Legislative Council, which meets on Friday.
The panel rejected some of the costlier proposals, including adding glass tops to new desks used by lawmakers and staff at the Capitol, which would cost $40,000, and adding full bronze message boards outside hearing rooms, which would cost $17,000. Instead, there will be partial bronze signs, costing $8,800 paired with a less expensive material.
Lawmakers also recommended using other kinds of desk covers to avoid scuffing desks. Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said he noticed some marks on his desk where he uses a mouse. “These weren’t deep gouges, but it was definitely something I would’ve gotten in trouble for in my mother’s house,” he said. “The $40,000 price seems high, but I don’t know if it’s a bad investment on a 100-year building.” Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, suggested spending $400 or less on mouse pads.
Adding glass panels to the legislative hearing room doors, which could cost $10,000, could reduce disruption during committee meetings, since fewer people will open and close doors to see who is speaking. “Government should be transparent,” said Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs. “I don’t know if there’s any way to make it transparent.”
The panel also raised some safety concerns about the new Capitol. Geddes said several people have fallen and broken bones on steps from the basement garden level up to 8th Street, west of the Capitol. The exit requires people to step down after walking up steps, and many people overlook the step down and fall. Capitol staff painted a bright yellow stripe on the step, and are considering other safety measures, including a handrail.
“Even with the stripes, it appears to be problematic and we have accidents and injuries there,” Geddes said. “I think it’s confusing that you step up to go down stairs.”
The Capitol will also roll out a new plan for the north entrance on State Street, where one lawmaker was injured in a collision in December. An overhead, pedestrian-triggered light will hang over the street, and current road barriers in the middle of the road will be removed. Jeff Youtz, the director of LSO, wants to lower the speed limit on State Street from 30 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour, but the Ada County Highway District opposes slowing traffic. “It’s too fast, as far as I’m concerned,” Youtz said. Construction on State St. would start in July and last two months.
For security inside the building, Geddes and House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said they spent $40,000 to hire two Idaho State Police officers to be in the Capitol during the session. Geddes said there were three or four individuals who entered the Capitol during session that raised security concerns. “That’s a decision the speaker and I will continue to evaluate,” Geddes said about hiring the officers. He also said that, during a security walkthrough of the new Capitol, police raised concerns about all the unguarded entrances to the building. “They’re a little uncomfortable with the security situation.”
Another security improvement the panel recommended is adding three panic buttons to staff members’ offices at a cost of $4,500. Those panic buttons alert Capital Mall Security during a potential incident. The committee also recommended adding a door to a back of a closet in a Senate meeting room at a cost of $5,000 and rounding some square wood fixtures that are at the bottom of the Senate chambers, which will cost $4,000.