Idaho Renovates Capitol Building’s Wells, Structure

Fri January 26, 2007 - Midwest Edition

BOISE, Idaho (AP) In early January, crews at the Idaho Capitol completed the first of four wells that will be used to test groundwater levels and help pump water next spring from pits that will house two 50,000 sq.-ft. (4,645 sq m) underground wings.

Temporarily diverting the water beneath the lawns on both sides of the Capitol is one of the challenges workers must overcome before building the wings, which are meant to relieve overcrowding in the 100-year-old building.

By the project’s planned 2010 completion, the water will be allowed to surround the waterproof concrete boxes of the wings — as if they were boulders in a hidden river, said Jan Frew, the state architect overseeing the project.

“The boxes would be impervious to the water, which would find its own way,” Frew said. “They’re going to be doing some testing to see how fast the water in moving and what level the water is at.”

The $130 million Capitol undertaking includes the wings, as well as renovations slated to start after April.

The building is showing its age more than a century after its construction began in 1905. The domed landmark has no fire protection, no emergency exits and the elevators are too small to hold a gurney if there’s a medical emergency.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who from his new second-floor offices can watch as the wells are bored by drilling rigs that block much of Jefferson Street, continues to oppose the wings.

He made it a compaign issue in the Nov. 7 election, arguing that updating state buildings nearby would be a better use of money from the state’s cigarette tax. Otter will likely comment on the wings during the upcoming 2007 Legislature, spokesman Jon Hanian said.

“His position has not changed on the wings,” Hanian said. “He doesn’t think it’s a wise use of money when we have more pressing needs.”

Lawmakers still must approve the money to repay the bond for the construction. Otter would have to sign that appropriation bill before it takes effect, so the wings could become a bargaining chip.

Despite Otter’s opposition, Frew said the project is moving ahead as foreseen by lawmakers who approved it 33-2 in the state Senate and 40-28 in the House.

The state approved the sale of the bonds in September to finance the construction.

State officials are wrapping up negotiations with builder Jacobsen Hunt on the final details of the renovation contract, which is expected to be approximately $65 million, Frew said. That company, a joint venture of Salt Lake City-based Jacobsen Construction Co. and Hunt Construction Group of Scottsdale, Ariz., also restored the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City.

Meanwhile, Boise-based McAlvain Companies Inc. has the $26 million contract to build most of the wings, including well drilling, the boxes, elevators, heating and ventilation systems.

Once the wells are finished, each will be between 70 and 90 ft. (21 and 27.4 m) deep.

The groundwater levels fluctuate between 25 ft. (9.6 m) below the surface after spring rains and 33 ft. (10 m) after the dry summer months, Frew said.

If possible, groundwater during the wing construction will be diverted into existing storm drains.

If there’s too much water, however, it may have to be pumped away from the site, Frew said.

“It will depend on the results of the tests,” Frew said.

Once the 2007 Legislature wraps up, expected by mid-March, the Capitol can be emptied of state workers so excavation and renovation work can begin in earnest in April.

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