By Chris Ehrmann, Associated Press
LANSING (AP) – The Michigan Capitol’s aging infrastructure is starting to wear down.
Out of sight behind the walls and beneath the floors, significant repairs and upgrades are needed to much of the Capitol’s plumbing, electrical, mechanical and fire suppression systems. Water and moisture damage has eaten away at mortar that holds together sections of original brick walls in the basement, where steel beams that hold up old steam pipes are rusting. Any person in the area if one of those beams or pipes fails could be seriously injured or worse due to the extremely high temperature of the steam running through the pipes.
Director of Facility Operations Rob Blackshaw said a massive potential danger is also in the basement where electrical equipment is housed to help run the building. Above the electrical equipment are old water valve lines. If they were to break or leak onto and the equipment, it could lead to the Capitol being shut down for months and be costly to replace.
The first and last major renovation and restoration project was almost 30 years ago when equipment and new systems were installed, but they have not been updated since. That same 1987 to 1992 renovation project also helped to start the ongoing restoration process of returning the Capitol to what it looked like almost 140 years ago.
“It’s like having a brand new suit with a dirty shirt, or you know, you have heart disease or whatever, the building’s infrastructure needs help,” Blackshaw said.
There are plans to introduce legislation in the coming weeks a that would tackle the problems.
In 2014, the Michigan State Capitol Commission was established, replacing the Legislative Council Facilities Agency. The commission’s primary concern is preserving, operating, managing and maintaining the Capitol and Capitol Square. It is made up of the clerk of the House, secretary of the Senate, and four individuals appointed by the governor and Senate majority leader.
The commission has tackled projects such as renewing the Capitol exterior, stonework and dome. Many of the recent renovations have been cosmetic and have not focused as much on the systems.
Blackshaw said the state wastes too much money on systems that are not performing at 100 percent efficiency. At best, he said, they were performing at 70 percent. He said the 2016 utility cost was over $800,000. Renovations could save up to 50 percent.
State Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette, sponsored a bill last year that would have spent up to $60 million to address the infrastructure problems, but it died in the lame-duck session. He saw first-hand the systems problems on a tour of the basement.
“If you look at your house, and you have a roof that is leaking, the more you put it off, that problem is not going away. It’s only getting more expensive,” Kivela said.
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