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Vice President's Mansion Gets Facelift : Spending: Repairs cost Navy more than $1.2 million. Lawmaker questions tapping fund that helps keep ships, planes ready for war.

June 04, 1993|PAUL HOUSTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Navy is spending more than $1.2 million to renovate the 100-year-old vice presidential mansion, including $277,000 to repair a rotting veranda and $909,000 to repair the heating, air conditioning, sprinkler, electrical and plumbing systems, officials said Thursday.

A kitchenette is also being added on the second floor to supplement a basement kitchen, closets are being enlarged and certain privately financed "upgrades" are being made--including a bathtub with whirlpool jets off the master bedroom to be used by Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper.

Rep. Jim Ross Lightfoot (R-Iowa), ranking Republican on a House Appropriations subcommittee, has raised questions about some of the costs and about the Navy's decision to pay for most of the repairs from a service readiness account, rather than accounts specifically set up for maintaining the house.

Spokeswomen for the Navy and for Gore said no government funds are being used for the whirlpool-style bathtub and other kitchen and bathroom upgrades. They are being paid for through private funds, the spokeswomen said.

The Gores are also paying to remove carpets that cause allergy problems for their four children, according to the vice president's spokeswoman, Marla Romash.

The family has not decided whether to cover such costs with money from a $200,000 "residence fund" raised privately by their predecessors, Dan and Marilyn Quayle, or from other private sources, Romash said.

The Navy, which operates the 10,000-square-foot mansion adjacent to the Naval Observatory in northwest Washington, said it had long planned to stretch out the badly needed repairs over several years. But the change of administrations last January made it possible to do all of the work at once and the Gores agreed to remain in their suburban Virginia home until the job is finished sometime this summer, said Navy spokeswoman Kathleen Sampson.

In response to questions about the $277,000 cost for reconstructing the house's covered, wraparound porch, Sampson said: "It is a large porch with dry-rotted wood throughout the whole thing. It has to be done according to the National Register of Historic Places, so it does enter into some bucks."

The repairs come four years after the Quayles had the Navy build bedrooms on the "primitive" third floor of the mansion, adding walls and fixing faulty wiring. Congress approved $200,000 for the renovations.

Lightfoot questioned whether the Navy should be tapping its operation-and-maintenance budget for the current repairs instead of the residence fund or a $400,000 fund that was established by Congress last year for maintenance of the house.

He said the Navy is in "a budget crunch" and should not drain its operation-and-maintenance account, whose funds are a key to keeping ships and planes ready for war.

Defense Secretary Les Aspin has also been warning against raiding the account, saying that it could lead to "hollow" armed forces. However, a spokesman at Thursday's regular Pentagon briefing had little comment on the Navy's repairs to the vice presidential mansion.

Sampson said some of the $400,000 maintenance account for the house has been used for design work and removal of asbestos.

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