Capitol restoration underway, to be completed by end of 2016

by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political Editor

Minnesota legislators of opposing parties are often found in combative, opposing positions, but when discussing the business of restoring the Minnesota State Capitol, the legislators have often agreed.

Scaffolding surrounds the northeast corner of the State Capitol. Work begins in earnest in September with stone replacement and repair. (Photo by Howard Lestrud, ECM Publishers)
Scaffolding surrounds the northeast corner of the State Capitol. Work begins in earnest in September with stone replacement and repair. (Photo by Howard Lestrud, ECM Publishers)

Capitol restoration has been a topic of mutual interest for many years, but now a price tag has been affixed to the overall restoration project: $272.7 million. Capitol restoration, which will take place over three years, has actually been competing with other statewide priorities.

Legislators have played the role of collectors of history, remindful of those of us who take an old relic of a car and try to make it brand new.  Looking at the scaffolding and netting surrounding parts of the Capitol, it almost looks like the building construction is creating a younger face of the Capitol.

Restoration work involves repair and replacement of the marble and granite used in the original construction. The Capitol features 16 types of marble and large-scale murals.

Large pieces of stone were once in danger of falling, said Wayne Waslaski, senior director of real estate and construction services for the Department of Administration. Work in 2009 helped correct that problem.

The Capitol has 50,000 pieces of stone on the exterior. The exterior stone is of Georgian marble and the base is of granite.

Walking the hallways of the Capitol basement, Curt Yoakum, director of communications and legislative affairs for Administration Department Commissioner Spencer Cronk, pointed to columns of stone that support the structure.

“It is very solid,” he said.

The Capitol, which opened in 1905, has been called one of the most beautiful historical structures in the country. The building was built by Butler-Ryan Construction, designed by Cass Gilbert and modeled after Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The building, although in need of restoration for many years, is finally taking on a new look, inside and out. That makeover began 30 years ago when piecemeal preservation measures were taken.

Work recently began on the most ambitious part of the restoration, reported Waslaski. The construction has also caused a disruption of daily activities at the Capitol, and this will multiply many-fold until completed by the end of 2016.

The Capitol restoration project will result in approximately 100 construction jobs in 2013, 200 in 2014, 250 in 2015 and 200 in 2016.

A maze of electrical and mechanical utilities can be seen in the lower level of the Minnesota State Capitol. This will all be updated with the State Capitol restoration. (Photo by Howard Lestrud, ECM Publishers)
A maze of electrical and mechanical utilities can be seen in the lower level of the Minnesota State Capitol. This will all be updated with the State Capitol restoration. (Photo by Howard Lestrud, ECM Publishers)

The project is being done in phases and includes repairing a deteriorating facade and modernizing mechanical, electrical, plumbing, life-safety, security and telecommunication systems.

A key objective of the restoration is also to make the building accessible to the public, including the handicapped.

The bipartisan message the past few years was that the State Capitol building had reached “a tipping point” where piecemeal approaches to repairs no longer worked.

Plans were finally drawn and debated but never funded until 2012 when the Minnesota State Capitol Preservation Commission, consisting of bipartisan leaders in government, recommended a $241 million restoration package.

The Legislature since has authorized $37.4 million in Capitol restoration plus $6.6 million toward construction of a tunnel under University Avenue. The Legislature also authorized lease-purchase of a legislative office building to be located north of the Capitol on Parking Lot B property.

The Legislative Office Building preliminary design shows a three-story structure. Design builders will be selected this month. It will be completed by June 2015.

Gov. Mark Dayton, Attorney General Lori Swanson, legislators and staff members will receive eviction notices and must be out of the building during various phases of construction. Members of the Capitol press corps must vacate their basement facilities at the Capitol by Aug. 30. Their new home will be in the Centennial building.

Historic preservation of the Capitol is not a new topic, and many beautiful German murals were restored in the Rathskeller area at the turn of the 21st century.

Waslaski said a very comprehensive approach has been used in replacing exterior stone of the Capitol with consideration of life safety issues. Water damage has also had to be addressed.

Window replacement, excluding the dome/drum part of the Capitol, will cost approximately $4,190,000. Much of that work is currently underway. Twenty-eight sets of French doors are also being replaced at a cost of $930,000.

The Capitol restoration affects all three branches of government: the legislative, executive and judicial branches. In addition to the lawmakers and executive leaders giving input for Capitol preservation, the judicial side has been active, too, Waslaski said, with recently retired Associate Justice Paul Anderson providing insight to the project.

The Minnesota Capitol is a landmark building featured on the National Register of Historic Places. A goal of the current restoration is to make the Capitol usable for the next 100 years. It functions as an office building, museum and public forum, Waslaski said.

Working on the Capitol project has been a professional challenge to say the least, Waslaski said.

In doing this comprehensive restoration, workers will make the Capitol site less than friendly, especially during the peak of repair. Much of the Capitol mall area will be used as a staging area. Scaffolding is currently in place on a third of the building in the first phase.

Significant staging areas will disrupt activities at the Capitol with considerable amounts of plywood and Sheetrock brought onto the site, Yoakum said. The mall will be affected, but it will not involve any removal of trees or monuments, he said.

A safety perimeter will be established around the work site. Signage will be critical to the project with public accessibility being essential during the restoration project, Waslaski said.

Schematic design is still taking place, and part of the design process has included 11 workshops focusing on major building elements.

Waslaski said the challenge during the three-year construction project is to make the Capitol building operational. All tenants, at some point during the construction, will be forced to relocate, Waslaski said.

Abatement and demolition in the basement and attic will begin in September. Work on public spaces begins in June 2014. Work will be done then on the north and west wings including roof replacement. To illustrate the sound condition of most parts of the 108-year-old Capitol, Waslaski said the east and west sides are almost perfectly level.

MOCA Systems was selected by the State of Minnesota to provide Owner’s Program Manager services for the Capitol restoration project. MOCA of Boston, Mass., provides a full range of on-site program and construction consulting services with innovative software technologies to address owners’ construction challenges.

David Hart of Salt Lake City, Utah, is the leader of the MOCA design team. He was program manager for the Utah Capitol restoration project, which began in 2004.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who will be forced to move next year from the Capitol to other office facilities, was recently asked about the effect construction will have on those using the Capitol. Dayton replied, “It’s going to be miserable for you, for me. But there’s really no options. It’s something we can’t postpone any longer, so we make the best of a situation.”


Howard Lestrud is at [email protected].

Comments Closed