$101 million renovation proposed for State Historical Building

Lower-cost alternatives also available, Cultural Affairs director says

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Gov. Terry Branstad was presented Thursday with a proposal to renovate the State Historical Building with a new state-of-the-art upgrade that could cost up to $101 million to construct.

Mary Cownie, director of the state Department of Cultural Affairs, said the “place-holder” request for $51 million in fiscal 2014 and $50 million the following year from the state’s vertical infrastructure fund represented the “Cadillac number” that evolved from discussions with consulting and construction experts. She said other lower-cost alternatives would be available if the governor and Legislature considered the overhaul and addition of a visitor’s center to be too pricey.

“It would be phased over several years,” Cownie told reporters after discussing the proposal as part of her agency’s budget hearing Thursday. “Right now it’s very hypothetical because we don’t know what’s going to happen. You could have a renovation/revitalization that could be half that amount phased over several years. There are different options in terms of what can essentially get us up to par.”

Cownie noted that the building was constructed more than 25 years ago and “is in bad condition.”

The State Historical Building opened in December 1987 at its location west of the Capitol Building and is home to the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its two divisions – the Iowa Arts Council and the State Historical Society of Iowa, along with the State Historical Museum, the State Historical Library & Archives, the State Historic Preservation Office, the State Records Center and eight historic sites across Iowa.

Branstad said he planned to “carefully review” the proposal, noting that the original building’s $25 million construction cost was covered by a combination of state money and private contributions.

“That’s a huge price tag,” the governor said in an interview.

“There are some repairs and improvements that have to be made in the building,” he added. “I believe if we do undertake something like this, we ought to do like we did the first time, it ought to be a public-private partnership where we raise a substantial amount of the money from the private sector and not expect the state to do it all. But the state would certainly have a stake in that.”

Cownie said little has been done over the past 25 years by way of keeping up with museum trends, keeping records of the state’s inventory of more than 100,000 historical items and making upgrades to better preserve and sustain the array of artifacts, archives, manuscripts or photographs. She said much of what is contained in the historical building would have to be moved elsewhere during the renovation.

“It would probably be a very large undertaking,” she said.

During her budget presentation, Cownie noted Iowa currently ranks 40th in per-capita funding for the arts, with the $930,000 allocation equating to roughly 37 cents per person. Branstad noted that was up from past years, when Iowa ranked last nationally in per-capita funding of the arts.

During a separate budget presentation, Mike Carroll, director of the state Department of Cultural Affairs, requested $68.2 million in fiscal 2014 and $111.8 million for fiscal 2015 to fund vertical infrastructure projects. He told the governor he wants to explore establishing a revolving loan “bank” that could be used to finance major maintenance and routine and essential upkeep of state assets.

According to the department’s request, $61 million is needed for major maintenance projects statewide over the next two fiscal years, $40 million for routine and essential maintenance and $50.7 million to renovate the Wallace State Office Building near the state Capitol.

Branstad took the opportunity to thank Carroll for his agency’s quick work to resolve a mold problem at the governor’s Terrace Hill mansion, which forced the first family to relocate temporarily from July until November. He said his wife, Chris, had some health problems related to the mold that affected her breathing and sense of taste but she has improved significantly since the Branstads moved back into the mansion before Thanksgiving.

“They did very good quality work,” the governor said. “The first lady is happy.”

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