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Location: Michigan, United States

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Blanco orders remodeling just after storms

Office tab: $564,838

Capitol news bureau

Chris Scherer, foreman with CW Custom Cabinets, cleans up after installing walnut paneling and cabinetry Friday in the conference room on the sixth floor of the Capitol. Members of Gov. Kathleen Blanco's staff are scheduled to move into the newly renovated offices on Tuesday.

Some members of the governor's staff will return from the three-day holiday on Tuesday to newly renovated offices at the State Capitol.

Shortly after the two hurricanes, Gov. Kathleen Blanco decided to renovate some of her staff's offices. At the time of her decision, Blanco also was hinting at deep budget cuts to state programs and the possibility of laying off 20 percent of the state workforce.

The project cost $564,838.

The newly refurbished office space on the sixth floor of the State Capitol includes hookups and mounts for two flat screen televisions, Swedish granite countertops, walnut paneling and frosted laminated glass. The floor, which will not be accessible to the public, was redesigned to add three new offices, a conference room and file storage areas.

About 20 members of the governor's staff – who focus on constituent services, children's issues, women's policies and other functions – will work on the newly restored floor.

Concerned about the perception of fixing up their office space while slashing others' spending, Jimmy Clarke, Blanco's chief of staff, said Friday the governor's top aides considered not fixing the 6th floor.

But the sixth floor project was bid six days before Hurricane Katrina came ashore near Buras on Aug. 29. Clarke said he became concerned that the state could be sued successfully if the restoration project were shut down.

"We certainly would not have initiated this work post-Katrina and Rita," Clarke said. "Given all that the state faces at this time, these renovations would be a very low priority."

The floor had not been improved since the early 1980s and the space needed to be upgraded to meet safety codes, Clarke said.

Restoration work began on the sixth floor Oct. 10, two weeks after Hurricane Rita struck Cameron on Sept. 24.

The week before work began, Blanco ordered a spending and hiring freeze to rein in state government expenses.

Three days after crews started tearing out the old offices, the administration announced that the state's budget would be about $1 billion short because of damages caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That day, Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc told a legislative finance committee that the budgets supplying money for public health care and education would need cuts of 20 percent or more and that more than 18,000 state employees would have to be laid off.

All three floors that the governor and her staff occupy saw some upgrades, said William Wilson, director of the Office of State Buildings.

A bathroom was added to the fifth floor and new carpet was added to all three floors, he said.

But the sixth floor saw the most work, costing almost $300,000 alone, he said.

Like most of the government offices in the State Capitol, which was built in art deco style in 1932, offices line the perimeter of the sixth floor with one office per window. The center section had offices and storage space, he said.

With copy machines in the halls and files stacked in corners, "it really wasn't very efficient," Wilson said.

The center section was ripped out and rebuilt to include three new offices, space for student workers and a new conference room. The coffee room in the northwest corner was modernized.

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Over a half million dollars for remodeling of perfectly good offices, while others will lose thier jobs and others have houses that lay in ruins.

I understand the bids were before Katrina, but I am sure natural disasters are something that can force a modification of the bid/contract.

I wonder where the money is coming from they are using for the remodeling?