Jeff Youtz is the director of Legislative Services, and as such has an automatic seat on the Capitol Commission. He has been involved in the project since 1998 when he was budget director for the Legislature. This interview was conducted in February of 2009.
Was it a tough sell that something needed to be done to the Capitol? I don't believe it was. I think it was pretty self-evident that we were actually late in reacting to doing what was necessary to bring this building back to its original grandeur. The stars just weren't lined up right when we made our first attempt back in 1998-1999 to set up the funding package for it. We had an economic downturn; we had to take back the funds that we had set aside for the original effort and wait until the time was right; and we got the funding together once again to undertake this project.
Where does the money come from? The first time we undertook the effort to fund this, we used a combination of general funds and endowment funds from the capitol building; but when we went into that economic fall, we had to take those general funds back. So the second time around, we picked a funding source from an increase in cigarette taxes that would not be in competition from other agencies; so it was a very specifically earmarked source of funds that we felt would be safe from any economic downturns. So that's what we ended up doing.
But the Capitol Commission never lost sight of the goal? I think at the core of this whole discussion is that the original architect, John Tourtelotte, wanted to create a facility that the occupants had to live up to. And I think that is what has driven this whole vision. Ad he set the bar pretty high.
The classical architecture and the rotunda area with the massive pillars forming that central circle, I think, represented kind of a core moral compass for those common American traits that we were supposed to hold near and dear to us.
The canopy of stars overhead perhaps represented some -- if not divine guidance -- maybe divine protection. And of course the natural light is what is really marvelous about this facility. It just bathes the whole rotunda area and entire facility with light, which I think represents the openness that representative government should be conducted in.
I think John Tourtellotte tried to develop the complete antithesis to the dark, smoke-filled corridors of power, and build a facility that public officials had to live up to, and conduct public business out in the open; and I think he succeeded marvelously.
I've worked in this capital building for 30 years, and every day I've come into this building I always catch myself finding something different, looking up, kind of smiling and almost nodding to myself that I was so lucky to be able to work in this building.
As I said, he set the bar pretty high for the Capitol Commission to reach that level of restoration and bringing back this original building. And the real challenge for us in this project is we're not only restoring the building, we're expanding the building and building wings, an expansion of the capital building. So we had a tremendous responsibility to make sure that our additions to this capitol building lived up to Tourtelotte's vision of this facility.
Do you think Tourtellotte would be pleased? I think he would be pleased, particularly with the use of natural light in those wings, a lot of marble and woodwork. It flows out from the central rotunda like this building is designed. So I hope he would be pleased with what we've come up with for the expansion.
We were trying to look out 50 to 100 years to accommodate the growth and use of this building. Our primary goal with the expansion of the wings was to provide the public hearing rooms for the legislature. The committee hearing rooms are the work engines of the legislature. Nothing gets to the House or Senate floor that hasn't first gone through a committee. And in the old capitol building, sadly, people were spilling out into the hallways and really could not get an opportunity to participate.
I think Tourtelotte would approve of the functionality we're providing, that we're giving the public finally an opportunity for everyone to come in, have a seat, participate face to face with policy makers. And I think that we've succeeded in doing that with the design of the wings.
Folks have to wonder what changes will occur because of the new wings. By diffusing out some of the functions into the wings, there will be a change, perhaps, in the culture of the legislature and how we operate. We're not quite sure what face that is going to take, but, before, where legislators were congregated - particularly in the House - they had no offices. Now they will at least have their own work space or office down in the garden level; but it will probably pull the center of activity away from the chambers perhaps and diffuse it more throughout the building.
When Tourtellotte and Hummel started working on the Capitol in 1905, there were complaints, that it was too expensive. I imagine, with the downturn in the economy, you've had to field some complaints.
I think the need for this project has been a decade in the making; so I think, from a public perception standpoint, the public understands that this is a wonderful project for the state of Idaho.
We have a set budget amount that we've tried to keep to. That has presented challenges for us because of trying to stick to John Tourtelotte's vision of this facility. On the one hand, we want to make this a very cost-effective project; but on the other hand, we do not want to sacrifice any of the elegance of this facility. We didn't want to shortchange ourselves with marble or woodwork. There were some very creative things this project team did to save us a great deal of money; and I think the construction project, the design team, the architects deserve a great deal of credit for bringing this project basically in on-budget and on-time, without sacrificing any of the original vision for the project.
What will folks notice when they walk into the newly refurbished Capitol? I think they will be struck by the raised ceilings, the original raised ceilings in a lot of the conference rooms and office space. Over the years, we've compromised that design when we've put heating and ductwork and things like that in our ceilings; but we've gone back to that elevated feel in these rooms. So there is an airier feel to the whole building.
And there's a subtle two-tone paint approach that we've taken in the chambers of the House and the Senate, which I think really accentuates the beauty of the domes and really makes the architecture pop when you walk into those chambers.
It seems the wings have allowed a return to the original design of the original Capitol. That is an excellent point. We could not expand and blow out some of these beehive-type offices that have evolved over the years in this building without having a place to put them. So, as we built the wings and pushed functions out in the wings, it has opened up the core capitol building, and that has been a very important aspect of this project as well.
And again, the openness and the use of natural light in the main corridors of the wings -- it's just going to be beautiful and is consistent with the rest of the building.
How modern will this building be in terms of communications? We've put in all the data communication lines necessary to function as a 21st century government operation. We've tried to make that subtle. We will use flat screen technology for presentations in some of the conference rooms. We'll probably use flat screen technology on the floor of the chambers to capture the voting process in the House and perhaps the docket and agenda process in the Senate.
All of the working offices in the capitol building will be fully operational, using the latest technology, so we're excited about that. We've tried not to make that noticeable. The intent is to restore this building but it will be a very modern, fully functional state of government.
From the very beginning, we wanted to keep our capitol building a working capitol building. A lot of other states have pushed functions out into other modern buildings and essentially have turned their capitol building into a museum.
What we wanted to do was keep this a working capitol building, so that really is what kind of pushed the inclusion of the wings, so that we could keep functions in the capitol building and keep it a working building.