Evan Frasure of Pocatello is a member of the Capitol Commission. He also served in both the House and Senate. This interview was conducted in February of 2009.
Some folks wonder if we really needed to spend so much money on the Capitol building. This is well over a decade-long decision process. It started back in the early 1990's and President Pro-Tem Jerry Twiggs, who has passed away, and House Speaker Mike Simpson had a lot to do with the initial thoughts of creating the Capitol Commission. And all kinds of ideas evolved how to do it.
Whether or not to build a new capital building was even a possibility, but I think it was dismissed rather rapidly. And then when we acquired the Ada county courthouse, that was quite a battle - whether or not just to level that building. And it's interesting that by not leveling it, we certainly had the temporary quarters that we needed.
But the process took a long time to decide because of the magnitude of the project. And when they remodeled before, back in the 1960's, in my humble opinion they butchered the building. They dropped an all-false ceiling, hid so much of the architectural quality of the building; it was really a sad day.
As we've uncovered all these hidden secrets now, it's been an awesome experience. I remember when the original commission was formed, you had guys like Roy Eiguren on that commission and Skip Smyser and some of these folks who came in. They asked us, we've got to get some money, get this initially promoted.
I was transportation chairman at the time, and we passed legislation to create the capital license plate, and that was the early stages. We have a lot of specialty plates now but the capital commission plate was one of the early ones and very successful. It worked out really well for us.
What do you think of the newly refurbished Senate chambers? The access, the accessibility - the public can come in and see what is going on. It was a little confined before, because those walls really did kind of close this chamber until you came out into this actual gallery area. But now, with this gallery open and the windows, we can see so much better the depth of the building.
And then the color scheme they were able to restore: you can almost envision the capitol a hundred years ago. And the changes that we've done - the small details - all the lighting fixtures, all the rosettes that we've had to create. There are seven different sizes of them. There is so much detail that people don't realize, and serving on the commission for as long as I have now, it has been fun to watch those things develop.
The Capitol Commission really had to be flexible, didn't it? Oh, absolutely, yeah. And in today's economy where you've got to explain to the public that we're spending 120 million dollars expanding the capitol as well as restoration, in hard economic times like we are in right now, that makes it a pretty tough sell. And again, realize this has been a decision that was made years ago when we did have the money.
The money is set aside for this program. Not a dime is coming out of the general fund. This project is well funded, but we've kept on budget. The amazing thing is cracking open this old of a building, and to stay on budget and on time is quite an accomplishment. We're within two weeks of being right on time right now, and most of the real hidden secrets, the problems we had to overcome, we overcame.
This tempered paint - the fact we couldn't get any of it to stick to the old walls — that was something we could not anticipate, and that set us behind almost 30 days on this project; and we've made up most of that time. The paint would peel right off. There was no way to get it to stick, so then we had to go through and take down all the old paint structure, and that's just something you wouldn't expect to happen. And we were able to do it, and with the contingency funds we built in, we're still on budget. So it's been fun to see the things we've overcome.
Just dealing with the doors in this building has got to be a challenge. We had craftsmen working on both ends of this capitol when it was originally built, and these doors will vary in size two or three inches; so every door was custom built. And you just don't think about those kinds of issues until you start trying to restore a building.
And that domed area of Statuary Hall. That was completely covered up. I remember when that was just sliced into small little offices in there. Even after they banned smoking , some of the old sinners would sneak up there, and that's where they would smoke, because they could open a window, and nobody would know they were there, and they'd kind of hide in the corners.
So there is a lot of history involved, and when it's reopened to the public, it's going to be fascinating to see the reaction. It's going to be the showcase of the state. This is the state's building, it's the people's building, and I think we're doing it justice.
What about the new wings? The wings are a phenomenal idea, and Senator Joe Stegner from Lewiston deserves a lot of credit. He's the one who originally came up with the concept. We were able to model after what the Texas Legislature accomplished in their capitol building. To keep the historic building, and yet have the modern function of those offices and have the outside entrances to the wings -- the public will have much better access.
And the hearing rooms. I remember when we were discussing an issue dealing with truck weights. It doesn't sound like a big state issue, but it's a big issue if you drive trucks in Idaho. And over in this corner is where my office was, and in that corner I had room for maybe 30 people to squeeze in there. We had 500 trying to get in the door. So it was out in the rotunda, we moved it, we kept trying to accommodate the public. There was no way you could do it in the small hearing rooms we had before. And you've got to realize that 100 years ago the state only had a couple hundred thousand people. We're over a million and a half now, and so we've had growth in the state, and to accomplish it in this building with those wings is fantastic.
Will this building allow for better government? No question about it. The public access, the ability to attend hearings - even a new medium-sized room is larger than the old Gold Room, where we could squeeze maybe 120 people in there.
For the public to be able to have the access to come in and to view the legislative process and the added technology that we have - the ability to use PowerPoint, the ability to present to the legislature as well as the public; it's just a tremendous move toward good government. It really is.
Before we did the remodeling, we just did not have the facility to function properly for the public. Now with these huge hearing rooms, they can come in comfortably, they can hear what is going on, they can see the presentations properly, and the access for the public from the entire state is greatly enhanced.