JUNEAU -- The Legislature approved two Capitol building projects Tuesday, a $1.7 million renovation of the Capitol itself and a $74,000 outdoor smokers' den.
The items passed without objection by the Legislative Council, the joint committee that conducts the Legislature's business.
The rebuild of the 83-year-old Capitol, the first phase a major reconstruction project, had been long in the works. It will restore the weather- and earthquake-damaged portico, some of the outer sandstone, and repair or replace rusted steel pillars in the crawl space.
The project is meant to reverse the slow decay of the brick and sandstone Capitol and its famed marble columns brought on by Juneau's soggy climate, and also to prevent a catastrophic collapse in an earthquake.
The smokers' den would have been a surprise to anyone who saw the council's official agenda, which listed something called "Capitol Stair Landing."
In reality, the Capitol Stair Landing item called for approval of a Douglas contractor's $74,000 bid for a shelter for smokers on the back outdoor stairs. The stairs lead down from a parking area to the Capitol's courtyard patio. The upper deck on the parking level is already covered. The project will add side glass and floor grates and move some rails on that upper deck.
"In the interests of the legislators who smoke, it might be best if we just buy a bunch of anti-smoking patches instead," said Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.
Sitting across the table from Stevens was the Legislature's Smoker in Chief, House Speaker Mike Chenault. Chenault didn't say a thing, but council chairman Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, asked Stevens:
"Would you like to make that as an amendment to the motion?"
"Just a thought," replied Stevens.
Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, asked Legislative Affairs Agency director Pam Varni if the money for the project was coming out of a fund for "life safety priorities."
Varni responded that it was being paid out of a $16 million fund established by the Legislature for capital projects advanced by the Legislative Council.
Later, Chenault said he didn't mind going outdoors for a smoke. He can often be found near one of the back entrances to the Capitol, sometimes with another inveterate smoker, his chief aide, Thomas Wright.
By RICHARD MAUER