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Museum costs are questioned
State reviewing whether up to $15 million can be contested

Published Monday, August 15, 2005

The Illinois Capital Development Board has budgeted $500,000 to determine if the state is owed money from any of the contractors who worked on the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

The state could challenge as much as $15 million in spending as a result of its re-examination of the $150 million project, officials said.

Several years in the works and a couple years past deadline, the library and museum hit many snags on the way toward completion. Two parts of the project - renovation of Union Station and a new park - still are in development.

Politicians disagreed over the complex's scope and who would preside over it. Construction problems led to delays and expensive adjustments. The museum's exhibit designer, Burbank, Calif.-based BRC Imagination Arts, debated with the building's architect, Gyo Obata, of St. Louis-based Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, over floor plans.

BRC received about $56.7 million for its work on the museum, by far the largest share of the total $150 million in federal, state, and local funds allocated for the complex.

As the holder of the most lucrative contract, BRC was the focus of a story in Sunday's Chicago Tribune calling attention to CDB's decision to scrutinize how money was spent.

While $10 million of the $15 million in question went to BRC, CDB officials say the firm is not suspected of any wrongdoing.

"We're not specifically looking into BRC, but into the entire project," said Melaney Arnold, CDB spokeswoman.

The state has hired a law firm and a claims analyst to survey all work done by contractors on all stages of the project, the Tribune reported. So far, CDB has paid about $100,000 to the firms doing the cost inspections: URS and Bell, Boyd and Lloyd.

A host of job changes and contract modifications were necessary during the last phases of the project, from the final pieces being put into place in the library through to the end of the museum's construction, Arnold said. At some point, she said, it became inevitable that CDB would need to go over how money was spent.

"This is a unique project and one of the largest for CDB," she said. "And it just grew and grew. The cost changed drastically, and as (these) things happened, we knew we would revisit (the costs) when we had time."

A story earlier this year by The State Journal-Register documented how BRC spent much of its share on state-of-the-art exhibits and technology. The Tribune's story also detailed some of BRC's expenses and reviewed the history of the library and museum's construction.

In addition to discovering the state's interest in recouping some of the project's cost, the Tribune found that BRC spent about $356,000 of its proceeds to hire law and lobbying firms to negotiate with the state on its behalf.

Using government funds to hire firms to lobby for more government funds is not common, Arnold said, but it's not unheard of with large-scale projects, either.

Both CDB officials and BRC's president, Bob Rogers, have said that BRC's final contract amount was a compromise - a little less than what BRC wanted and a little more than what the state had hoped to spend.

"In the end, we mutually agreed on what had to happen," Rogers told The State Journal-Register earlier. "And it turned out fine. The results speak for themselves."

Pete Sherman can be reached at 788-1539 or pete.sherman@sj-r.com.

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