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Sticker Shock Over Governor's Mansion Repairs

The historical building may be endangered but so is the state's pocketbook

By Lee Nichols, Fri., Feb. 20, 2009

The charred Governor's Mansion
The charred Governor's Mansion
Photo by John Anderson

Last week, the organization Preservation Texas placed the Governor's Mansion at the top of a list of the state's most endangered historic buildings. Its timing couldn't have been better – just a week earlier, the Senate Finance Committee balked at the State Preservation Board's estimated $27.3 million price tag to repair the 153-year-old residence, which was severely damaged in an arson attack last summer.

"That's a lot of money," said Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, D-Mission. He asked why Texans shouldn't just take the cheaper route of knocking down the structure and building a new one. "If we built a new house, it would not be the historic Governor's Man­sion; it would be a new home," said John Sneed of the State Preservation Board, which cares for the mansion and Capitol. "What's the difference?" asked Hinojosa, apparently not one for nostalgia.

Sneed and Dealey Herndon, project manager for the mansion restoration, said a completely new residence would cost $14 million to $15 million. The cost of the restoration, they said, included closing off Colorado Street in front of the mansion, enlarging the grounds (a security suggestion from the Department of Public Safety), adding a wing to help meet Americans With Disabil­i­ties Act requirements, and improving its functionality as an actual residence ("There's almost no closet space," Herndon said). Of that $27.3 million, only $2.1 million would be covered by the highly touted private donations drive pushed by first lady Anita Perry.

"After September it's [been] a tough year," complained Sen. Robert Duncan of Lub­bock. "This is more than a restoration. [It's] a hard sell to a constituency during a period of time when we're sitting here listening to [testimony about] hospitals, and major damages have been done on the coast."

"I'm the ultimate practical preservationist," Herndon told the committee, insisting that she had looked for ways to cut expenses. But "it's not just a matter of looking for savings," Laredo Sen. Judith Zaffirini said. "It's making some changes. Because I do not think that your proposal as you've presented it today would be approved by this panel. ... With all due respect, I suggest you go back and try to change it in ways that would be acceptable to members of the Finance Committee."

Sneed was before the Finance Committee again on Tuesday, and Chairman Steve Ogden of Bryan suggested he research whether federal stimulus money could be used for the renovation.

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