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House panel gives its approval to new Senate office building plan

By BILL SALISBURY, St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate will likely get a new office building after all.

After holding up the controversial project for two months, the House Rules Committee on Friday approved proceeding with construction after reducing its price tag to $77 million, down from $94 million.

“It took us a little while to get there, but we did find a path to reduce the cost and make the building as functional as possible,” said House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, the St. Paul DFLer who chairs the Rules Committee.

All Republicans and many DFLers, including Gov. Mark Dayton, had criticized the cost and what some called “lavish” features of the building that the Senate Rules Committee approved in January.

That plan called for a four-story structure with a massive glass wall facing the Capitol across University Avenue. The project included a 730-stall parking ramp a block east of the new building.

At Murphy’s request, the Department of Administration drafted a new, lower-cost design that calls for less glass and more stone on the front wall, smaller Senate offices, fewer conference rooms, reduced landscaping, delaying construction of a nearby parking ramp and no reflecting pool or fitness room — two amenities senators insisted they didn’t request. In addition, a parking ramp under the building will be financed by user fees — paid mainly by senators and their staffs.

If the previous design was lavish, the new one might be characterized as utilitarian. Murphy said it would — and should — look “subservient to the Capitol.”

At the House’s insistence, the revised plan also calls for housing all 67 senators in the new building. Senators wanted 23 leaders to retain offices in the renovated Capitol and while the other 44 members moved into the new building.