"The capitol and its auxiliary buildings are more than a shrine. This is a working complex . . ."

Sen. Jennings Randolp, D.W. Va.1, June 5, 1974.

The U.S. Senate is learning, the hard way, one of the shocking little truths of shrine-building: It just can't be done on the cheap.

The latest case in point is a spiffy new office building, replete with private rooftop restaurant, the Senate is in the process of erecting for itself on Capitol Hill.

When the idea was nothing more than a gleam in the Senate's collective eye, back in 1972, they were taking about a pricetag of $47 million.

Today, with the project advanced to construction stage, they are talking about a minimum cost of $122 million - with the final expense likely to go well beyond that.

By comparison, the Rayburn Building, the House's most recent, cost $85 million, and the J. Edgar Hoover Building cost $126.1 million.

Such a figure is calculated to make the buildings one of the most costly office structures ever built by the government. By one estimate, the cost per square foot would run a minimum of $109 - far above average costs of the most expensive type of private office space.

The future of the project, now known as the Hart Building, after the late Democratic Senator from Michigan, Philip A. Hart, will be discussed today by the Senate Office Building Commission.

And the commission is going to learn, among other things, that several senators are fuming about the escalating cost and the seeming extragavance of the whole thing.

Among the fumingest are Sens. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) and Pete V. Domenici (R.N.M.), who already have told the commission chairman, Sen. John J. Sparkman (D-Ala.), that they have "grave reservations" about the project.

What has them upset is the intention of George M. White, architect of the Capitol, to ask the commission to increase the Hart Building authorization from $85 million to $122 million.

White said yesterday that there is a fairly simple explanation for the cost increases: inflation, a delay in completion of architectural plans, additions to the project as it has undergone Senate review from time to time.

Among the questions expected to be discussed at the commission meeting today:

Can the building be constructed for less money by cutting out some of the extras, such as a physical-fitness room, the terraced rooftop restaurant, marble wall coverings and brass railings on the staircases, sumptous office design and a television broadcasting center?

Will the architect, John Carl Warnecke, be allowed his full 6 percent fee on the finished project, even though part of the inflation-fueled higher cost apparently came about through delay in delivery of his plans?

Why did Sparkman, apparently without consulting other members of the building commission, authorize White last fall to go ahead with the project at the higher new cost figure before it had been discussed or debated by the Senate?

White confirmed yesterday that Sparkman had given him the go-ahead after bid openings in late summer indicated that considerably more money would be needed for the project.

"I wrote to Sen. Sparkman in October, asking his approval to award the contract," White said. "He gave me the approval. If we didn't let the contract, then where would we be?"

The Capitol architect probably would have been where he basically is today - having on his hands a massive hole, three stories deep in the ground, next door to the Dirksen Building at 1st and Constitution NE.

The Hart Building originally was envisioned as an extension of the Dirksen Building, to be built as an architectural replica. It would contain space for the offices of 50 legislators - that is, half of the Senate.

In time, however, the building has come to be something far different, although it still will be joined to the existing Dirksen Building.

The addition would feature an interior gallery, along which two-storey private offices of the Senators and their staffs would be located.

Unlike the Dirksen, which was completed 20 years ago at a cost of about $21 million, the new nine-story structure would provide two-story suits for each senator, a rooftop restaurant with a panoramic view of the Mall and downtown Washington, a two-story "mutlimedia" public hearing room with glass booths for TV anchormen, and a physical-fitness room with a basketball court that could be converted to indoor tennis.