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Senate Official Building Still Controversial As It Nears Completion

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The controversial new Minnesota Senate Office Building at the State Capitol is nearing completion.

Republicans made the $90 million project an example of wasteful spending in the 2014 campaign.

Workers are putting the finishing touches on the huge project, including a temporary Senate chamber while the Capitol undergoes renovation.

The sweeping glass and stone structure has a spectacular, rarely seen rear view of the Capitol.

Outside, there's a wide a public veranda with landscaped gardens. Inside, there are wide hallways, lots of wood and easy public access.

"If you're going to build a public building, it should look nice," said Vic Thorstenson, the state senate project manager.

Thorstenson says spending focused on Minnesota-made products, including Kasota stone from Mankato, soaring glass from Owatonna, and ash wood paneling from Sartell.

"We were even able to trace the steel that is in the work stations back to the Iron Range," Thorstenson said.

Three large hearing rooms can accommodate about 500 visitors, more than double the space of the cramped State Capitol.

And one hearing room has a special purpose: It'll be the 2016 Minnesota Senate Chamber.

While the State Capitol undergoes a massive renovation, the Senate will meet temporarily in this space next year.

The $90 million project was the target of a tough Republican ad campaign in 2014 as an example of wasteful spending.

And lawmakers are still sensitive about it.

Still, Thorstenson says the finished product may be better than expected.

"I think the controversy has helped us try harder to make this a good building," he said.

The Democratic Minnesota Senate is temporarily moving into the new building, but the Republican House will not.

Even though the Capitol building is completely closed for another year, the House will re-open its chambers from March to May so it can meet there.

Capitol Investment Committee Chairman Paul Torkelson, (R-Hanska), issued this statement:

"In 2013, House and Senate Democrats supported an unnecessary $90 million office building for politicians while the Capitol Restoration project, approved by the Legislature and the governor in 2012, already included plans to keep the House and Senate in their Capitol chambers at no added cost."

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