The cost of renovating the governor's Summit Avenue residence has nearly doubled to almost $13 million, according to the state Department of Administration which is overseeing the project.
Initially, the cost was expected to be $6.3 million for construction only on the 111-year-old English Tudor-style home a couple blocks off Lexington Avenue among St. Paul's stateliest homes. When design costs were added, the cost estimate in June was just over $7 million.
In a letter to legislative leaders on Friday first reported by MPR, Department of Administration temporary Commissioner Stacie Christensen told them about the latest cost estimate of $12.8 million and asked for feedback. The residence is receiving exterior repairs as well as upgrades to mechanical, electrical, plumbing and security systems.
Christensen wrote that the bids for the interior work caused the increase. "This is primarily due to the need for more extensive replacement of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing system components than outlined in the predesign, along with additional security upgrades," she wrote. "This work to meet current code and life-safety requirements is necessary to complete if the facility is going to remain in use."
Reaction was mixed. House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in a statement that she doesn't have concerns, "based on the information provided by the Department of Administration about the condition of the residence, the bids that were received, and the unanimous vote by the Governor's Residence Council."
She was referring to the advisory council that oversees the care of the residence. In a letter to Christensen last week, council Chair Amelious Whyte Jr. said the council voted unanimously to proceed, noting that the residence can "no longer be neglected."
Whyte also noted that the Department of Administration has enough money in the Facilities Repair and Replacement Account to cover the extra cost.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Gov. Tim Walz said, "The Governor's Office is concerned about the increased costs and would like the Legislature to weigh in before the Department of Administration makes a decision to proceed with this project."
Republicans were troubled by the increase.
"It's concerning to see this project nearly doubled in cost in just a few short months," said Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks. "While inflation has impacted the cost of doing business for all Minnesotans, taxpayers can't afford to be treated as a bottomless source of money to provide perks for politicians."
In the House, Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, said she's requested additional information and wants to know if attempts were made to contain costs. "These types of cost overruns go well beyond what's considered reasonable, and Minnesotans should expect that government is making every effort possible to keep projects on-budget before accepting dramatic increases," she said.
Construction, which began over the summer, is expected to take more than a year. The Walz family has decamped to Eastcliff, the residence traditionally used for the University of Minnesota president, a position currently filled by interim President Jeff Ettinger, who does not live in the house.