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James MacPherson, Associated Press, Published June 05 2013

Officials look to rid ND Capitol areas of 'locker room' smell

BISMARCK — The Roughrider Room at the North Dakota State Capitol smells rough and the Harvest Room hardly emits the fresh fragrance of new-mown hay.

After years of complaints, building managers are working to bring more fresh air into the rooms where officials from state agencies sweat out budgets before the Senate and House appropriations committees.

To some, the rooms reek of a nervous person's armpits; others — usually those that have spent much time in the spaces — can't detect anything malodorous.

“We've had complaints over the years that the rooms smell like a locker room,” said Loren Haid, the Capitol complex's physical plant manager.

Maintenance officials plan to improve ventilation system in the rooms, along with two others that are adjacent, with a project pegged at about $75,000, said John Boyle, state facilities management director.

“It's important enough to be put on our list of things to be done,” Boyle said of the ventilation project. Work is slated to begin next year on the improved ventilation system and be completed before the Legislature reconvenes in 2015, he said.

The rooms have windows but are they are rarely opened during the 80-day session that begins in North Dakota's bitter-cold January. The installation of new carpet and repainted walls over the years has done little to mask the B.O.-like odor.

The Roughrider Room is named for Theodore Roosevelt, who ranched for a short time in North Dakota before becoming president. The Harvest Room apparently was named to honor the state's agricultural heritage. The rooms are located on the main floor of North Dakota's Capitol, which was completed in 1934, about four years after the original statehouse burned.

Both rooms are where North Dakota's two-year state government budget is largely crafted. In the most recent biennial session that ended last month, lawmakers took the entire 80 days allowed by law to spend a record amount of cash that has come from the state's new-found oil wealth. The new oil riches placed unprecedented for spending on roads, schools, public works, law enforcement and emergency medical services.

House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer of Underwood said he has never smelled anything unusual in the Roughrider Room in the more than 12 years that he's had meetings there.

“I've never had a problem with the room myself. I suppose I'm used to it,” Delzer said. “If it has a smell, it's something I associate with that room.”

The House Appropriations Committee that meets in the Roughrider Room has more than 20 members plus legislative staff. Dozens of agency officials and lobbyists fill the room to capacity almost daily during the Legislative session. The Harvest Room, used by the Senate Appropriations Committee, is much smaller, though similarly packed elbow-to-elbow during the session. Reporters sometimes sit on the floor.

“Those two rooms are used by the bigwigs,” said Michael Schmidt, a maintenance worker at the Capitol. “Both of those rooms smell goofy but they have their own distinctive smell.”

Schmidt said the unpleasant whiff typically wanes a few weeks after the session concludes but not by much. The rooms get an extra thorough cleaning after lawmakers go home

“We just can't get rid of that smell,” Schmidt said. “We need fresher air flowing through there.”

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