Ever attended a public hearing at the Utah Legislature and stood in the back of a cramped room, unable to hear what's going on? Maybe you even turned away in disgust because you couldn't even squeeze into the room.
No more, legislative leaders promise, as a $4 million remodeling program at the State Capitol rushes to completion.The work, which included remodeling Gov. Norm Bangerter's personal office and completely reworking the offices of House majority and minority leaders, is part of the first phase of a five-phase, $30-million refurbishing of the 80-year-old Capitol.
"We knew one of the most immediate problems in the building was adequate hearing-room space for the Legislature," says Neal Stowe, director of Facilities, Construction and Management, the state division that oversees state buildings.
"We remodeled every current hearing room and created several more, providing adequate light and sound." Legislators and the public will now have eight full hearing rooms with built-in sound systems that will amplify comments made by each legislator sitting at the hearing tables and those addressing them.
A kitchen behind the House Chambers was enlarged and remodeled to accommodate various catering events and another kitchen built next to two fourth-floor hearing rooms so social events can be held there as well.
Ultimately, the Capitol, which is controlled by the legislative branch of state government, may only house the part-time lawmakers and their full-time staffs. Even the governor's office may have to move to some downtown location.
Already, as part of a study of centralizing the state court system, officials are looking at moving the Utah Supreme Court, law library and attorney general's office to a downtown courts complex.
The two other elected state officials, the state auditor and treasurer, could also be moved out of the Capitol.
But such decisions are at least a year or two away, says Stowe. "We wanted to take care of the Legislature first, since that is where we were getting complaints from the public - many just couldn't get in (to a hearing room), and when they did they couldn't see or hear or be heard themselves."
Stowe said legislators have heard grumblings about spending $4 million on remodeling their workplace during a time of state revenue shortages.
"People should realize that this money was appropriated two years ago. It wasn't money that was taken from the pot during the teacher problems (in the) last legislative session.
"We must maintain our public buildings. We haven't yet addressed a general refurbishing of the Capitol - something that hasn't been done since it was finished in 1912. We haven't addressed earthquake problems and the building needs a whole electrical refitting," Stowe said.
Those more basic problems will be addressed, if money can be found, in later construction phases, he said.
Republican and Democratic House leaders get new offices as part of the latest remodeling. Senate leaders got new offices and refurbished the Senate Chambers several years ago when the Supreme Court's law library was moved from the third floor to the first floor and more space became available next to the Chambers. The House Chambers weren't refurbished in this latest work and will certainly look a bit shabby when compared to the new offices and meeting rooms.
Politicians hate to spend taxpayer money on their offices and furniture, since such expenditures are easy targets for criticism. But House Speaker Nolan Karras, R-Roy, who didn't seek re-election this year and is retiring Jan. 1., decided to go ahead with the House remodeling.