The Fiscal Conservative That I Am

I just finished a post over at one of my other blogs (RedLetterLiving) about how Christians should quit spending their money and lavish structures and instead go about doing the work of Christ. That post immediately brought to mind the same thoughts for our public institutions. Why do we spend so much money on buildings that have little to do with the needs of our citizens?

One of my pastime activities is to visit State capitals. They vary greatly, but one thing that all have in common is that they are more show than function. Why is that?

Maybe if the US Congressional representatives had to work in a cubical instead of ornate offices, they wouldn’t want to make being an office holder a permanent occupation. They would then go back to their regular job after a term or two in office was over. I think half the problems we have with gridlock are because of lifetime membership for too many of them. 92% of elected office holders are re-elected each election. The founding fathers thought that serving would be a temporary thing.

I remember reading about how the early congressional sessions in the 1800s were much briefer than they are now because everyone wanted to get away from the squelching heat of Virginia summers. Maybe if we provided congress people with Quonset huts without air-conditioner, they might actually get something done. 🧐

I don’t know what it is about mankind that we think we have to be so showy in most everything? I’m more of a function person than one fixated on form.

And while we are at it, don’t put up any more statues around the capitals because sometime in the future people will realize that those people weren’t flawless and then tear them all down. So, why bother? 🙄

4 comments

  1. Your logical engineering side is showing. I’m with you.
    Religion and politics are not a calling, at this time. They are both big business. Flashy buildings are brand building. It works. People are influenced. There is a lot of money to be made in both of those businesses.

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  2. I have been really enjoying your posts, but I must comment. I’m in the construction business for a large Mid West University. Don’t confuse quality with excess. Many of the reasons that State Capitols, Churches and Universities are built the way they do is for posterity. And it’s actually fiscally responsible in the long run. It’s not uncommon to get 100 years or more from a quality built building, most buildings built 100 years or more ago certainly could last if they were built with the correct materials. All too often nowadays commercially built buildings are built to look good for the first couple of years and as soon as the maintenance cycle starts to hit the owner is trying to sell the building to someone else. Institutional quality buildings are built to last. Who is going to buy that State Capital, Church or University? – once they build it they maintain it forever. And the better built it is to begin with the longer it will last with very little maintenance. Count how many of the County Courthouses or State Capitals were built 50-100 years ago and ask yourself could you ever replace them at 10 times the cost in todays dollars? I’m not talking about size, or excess. I get that. But I’m talking about $/sf. The money spent on limestone or terrazzo today will outlast any modern material made and look amazing. It will be more than made up in the lifecycle of the building.

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    1. Thanks for the thoughts, James. I agree with some of what you say but not all. Governments and Religious institutions have a purpose that has nothing to do with form, it should all be function. They don’t need to be spending so much of the resources we give them on form. 10-story atriums don’t feed people or provide healthcare.

      But I do agree that the $/sf is important to lasting quality and functionality. On your “built for a 100 years” thing has some drawbacks also. 😉 Trying to retrofit heating and air conditioning, and especially Internet can cost big bucks in these old monoliths. I think most of the lavish building are more to for the politician or religious leader’s ego than anything else. Just having my say, nothing personal to you my new friend.

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      1. No worries – We restore old buildings all the time on major campuses. They aren’t hard to upgrade – you just need to know how. We generally spend much less than 50% of what it would cost to build “new” when we do a complete retrofit and generally get another 50+ years if the building was quality to begin with. It’s also generally much more sustainable because you don’t send as much to the landfill when you do a renovation as opposed to a complete demolition and rebuild. It’s very hard to get 25 years or more out of “new” construction nowadays – just look at new high schools vs the old brick and stone classics. Just trying to make the point that building quality at the start costs more, but is often fiscally responsible over the long haul. And many of those old buildings look pretty lavish by todays standard. By the way the greatest expense of a building built nowadays over the next 20 years will likely be the constant upgrades to technology, not the building envelope or systems. You can get 20-40 years out of most building components built to institutional standards. But you’ll likely replace the technology every 2-3 years to keep up. Great blog. I do enjoy following.

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