JEFFERSON CITY - At a time when Missouri is experiencing massive budget cuts, $3 million is being spent to renovate ten Capitol building bathrooms with bronze faucets and marble imported from Germany.
The cost to reconstruct ten public restrooms was met by disbelief, surprise and anger by Capitol visitors protesting education budget cuts.
"Three million dollars is spent for bathrooms and they can't find money for our children," said Gary Sykes, while at the statehouse in early September protesting the closing of 16 schools in the St. Louis area.
"There must be better causes for my tax money and they could have at least have done it for less," said Mary Hall, at the statehouse in support of a bill unrelated to the budget.
But the director of the state's Design and Construction Division says it is too late to halt the project that had been started before the state's revenue crisis.
"It'd be like stopping when you're halfway pregnant. Ending the project would waste $450,000 in pre-bought supplies," said Randall Allen, Design and Construction Division director.
The bathrooms are being rebuilt from floor to ceiling based on historical references and designs featured throughout the Capitol building. Two million dollars was allocated in 2001 for the project, before Missouri fell into budgetary crisis. Another $900,000 was allocated this year to finish the project.
"It is our responsibility as Missourians to keep the Capitol in top form at whatever the cost," said Gene Eldringhoff, construction supervisor for the project.
Hoping to match materials and color schemes already featured in the building, architect Keith Miller, had marble shipped from Germany to match the original gray marble quarried from the now empty Carthage quarry.
Miller justifies spending the money today by looking towards the future.
"The building is a living, breathing monument and in the year 2100 people need to see how proud Missourians felt about the most important building in the state," Miller said. He also feels that while current renovations should be finished no new projects should be started.
Swirling controversy over the allocation of Missouri's limited budget has some legislators questioning whether the current renovations should even continue at all.
"During these tight times, you question the remodeling of the bathrooms. The money could have gone to more appropriate places," said Allen Icet, R-St.Louis. Icet is a committee member on the House budget and Urban affairs committees.
The House Budget Committee chairman - Rep. Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles -said he questioned the project, but received no "hard, straight answers", as to whether the state signed a contract for the bathroom renovations. If not, he proposes withholding funding until Missouri's budget is more stable.
"Now that we're in a budget doldrum, the renovations don't seem like a wise use of funds," he said.
Earlier this year, President Pro Tem Peter Kinder wrote a letter to Gov. Bob Holden asking that the restroom renovations be postponed.
Kinder was told, in a response written by Design and Construction Director Allen that because supplies had already been purchased halting construction would waste more money than it would save.
The letter also explained that the new bathrooms will meet handicapped accessibility requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and replace malfunctioning ventilation and plumbing systems. An unequal ratio of male to female bathrooms is also being rectified.
Despite legislator and taxpayer misgivings, the renovations are scheduled to continue on and will be completed at the beginning of next year. Further renovations of untouched Capitol building bathrooms and other facilities, have been postponed until the state recovers from its financial crisis.