State officials admitted Friday that they may have overstated cleanup costs related to the recent two-week state Capitol camp-out by as much as $7 million as union leaders and protesters harshly criticized the estimate quoted by a state lawyer at a court hearing Thursday.

"It's an insult," said Kevin Gibbons, co-president of Teaching Assistants' Association, the union that organized daily cleanups of the Capitol while maintaining a 24-hour protest village for two weeks. "I'm sure anyone who made that estimate didn't witness the lengths we went to to make sure we didn't hurt the Capitol."

Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch admitted Friday the $7.5 million quoted by DOA lawyer Cari Ann Renlund was "at the high end of the range" and that actual cleanup costs could be as low as $347,500.

Huebsch defended the discrepancy at an afternoon press conference, saying the estimate represented the "best information available at the time" based on a memo by state architect Daniel Stephans.

But in the memo, released to the media Friday, Stephans acknowledged his estimate "was nothing more than an educated guess."

Gibbons said union leaders enforced a rigid discipline on the hundreds of protesters who made the Capitol their home for two weeks, consulting with Capitol Police on policies that would tread as gently as possible on the century-old statehouse.

Early on, union leaders supplied hundreds of rolls of blue painters tape to protesters whose Capitol camp-out began Feb. 15 and ended Thursday. Police told them the blue tape was gentlest on the stone walls and railings. The Capitol's interior features 43 varieties of stone.

The union also began raising money early in the protests for food, supplies and other expenses. It plans to use some of the $67,000 sitting in that fund now to help the state cover cleanup costs.

Meghan Thumm Mackey, an art conservator who has a studio in Middleton, said that even painters tape that's left on too long can leave adhesive residue on stone surfaces and require professional evaluation and removal using a solvent such as acetone, the main ingredient in nail polish remover, with a cotton swab.

That can get expensive, she said, as the small field of people like her trained in art conservation typically charge $100 an hour or more. In Stephan's memo, the state would need to rely heavily on such experts, which to clean 240,000 square feet inside would cost $6 million. He estimated another $1 million to clean and replenish the grounds outside and up to $500,000 for the initial assessment.

Even with the professional help, Mackey said the state's $7.5 million estimate "seems high to me." In a follow-up memo Friday to Huebsch by state facilities official Peter Manternowski, the cost is estimated as low as $347,500 if restoration specialists aren't required.

On Friday, the Division of State Facilities had two stonemasons go through the Capitol's second floor, where the majority of protest signs that once papered the walls have been removed, assessing what would be involved in the cleanup.

The walls and railings had little visible signs of discoloration. One of the masons was observed wiping off adhesive residue on a marble railing.

Using a water-based solvent called Marbleous, the mason was able to wipe the mark clear within minutes, with no lasting mark remaining.

Sean Heiser, an AFSCME field supervisor who oversees the Capitol's eight full-time custodians, said he did a site visit at the Capitol on Monday and found the nearly century-old building in good condition. Custodians reported cooperation from the Capitol's overnight residents.

"We didn't see the $7.5 million in damage they're claiming," he said. "It's just not there."

The local branch of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council also weighed in, saying the union has a century of experience painting and removing adhesive tape from the Capitol. Business Manager John Jorgensen said he believed the damage estimates were overstated and offered the union's volunteer labor to take down signs and clear any debris on the walls.

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