Scaled-down Senate office building gets final OK

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A Minnesota Senate committee has given final legislative approval to construction of a new $77 million office building which will house the state's senators. The Senate Rules committee voted Monday to move ahead with the controversial project on a party-line vote, with the eight Democrats voting in favor and the five Republicans opposing it, the Star Tribune reports.

The House Rules Committee approved the plan Friday, after the cost of the building was reduced about $13 million by eliminating some design elements like a reflecting pool, a workout room, elaborate landscaping and a parking ramp.

The design was also changed so all 67 senators would have an office in the new building. The previous version would have had room for just 44 of them.

Republicans in the Legislature have been vocal in their opposition to the new building, calling it a waste of money, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

Construction of the new building, which will be across University Avenue directly north of the Capitol building, is scheduled to begin on July 1.

The building is one element of a larger $273 million project to renovate the State Capitol building, which will eliminate a significant amount of the office space that senators currently use. Senators will likely need to move out of their Capitol offices in the spring of 2015, and the renovation is expected to be complete in 2017.

A lawsuit filed by former state Rep. Jim Knoblach, a Republican who represented St. Cloud, is awaiting action by the state Supreme Court. His lawsuit claims the Legislature violated state rules by including the building project in a larger tax bill. The suit was dismissed by a lower court in February, but Knoblach appealed that ruling to the high court.

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