Minnesota's Capitol face-lift has its ups and downs

  • Article by: PATRICK CONDON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 8, 2014 - 5:38 AM

Construction enters next, more visible phase, but groundbreaking on new Senate building won’t get underway until at least August.

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Wood and metal barricades went up in halls and doorways of the State Capitol building Monday, as its ongoing renovation project entered a new phase that will result in very limited public access to the seat of state government for the next few years.

Even as the $273 million Capitol makeover kicks into high gear, officials at the Department of Administration said Monday they won’t be able to break ground in July as originally planned for a connected, and more controversial, project: a $90 million building across the street to house state senators and their staff, $77 million of which will be footed by taxpayers and the remainder by parking fees.

Department of Administration senior director Wayne Waslaski said groundbreaking will be delayed until August, as financing details are sorted out. The timeline of the larger Capitol renovation depends on construction of the new building across the street, largely because state officials plan to close the Capitol completely next spring. To accommodate that, the new building includes room for a temporary Senate chamber for the 2016 legislative session.

That the entire state Senate would move into the new building, and hold floor sessions there, is likely to be a bitter pill for Republicans, who have opposed its construction. Republicans contend the new building is unpopular with voters, and have worked to use it as a political wedge against Democrats.

“For a long, long time, the Senate has officed in the Capitol building, and there has been sufficient room to do that,” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. “We’re all happy to get the Capitol restoration work done, but that shouldn’t result in the public having to spend $90 million on a new office building.”

Hann suggested that if Republicans win the governor’s office or state House this November, there may be an attempt to alter the building plans. But he acknowledged he and fellow Republicans may have to just move in at some point.

Waslaski said the renovated Capitol will have less office and hearing space for senators, because of plans to add badly needed updates, including new mechanical systems, stairways, an elevator and other modern elements. The renovation plans also call for additional office and meeting space for the governor’s office and House of Representatives.

The temporary Senate chamber is planned for one of three hearing rooms in the new building, which will be about 150,000 square feet. The facility will feature office space for all 67 state senators, workspace for most Senate employees and additional public meeting space.

For now, the House plans to hold its 2016 session in the under-construction Capitol. The work already underway Monday showed what a challenge that could be: Workers were erecting plywood barriers to close off access to much of the building, including its iconic rotunda. Plywood sheeting covered many floors, construction dust hung in the air, a machinery buzz echoed down corridors and four large statues of Civil War soldiers that ring the rotunda’s second-floor overlook were swathed in plastic sheeting.

“It’s almost an otherworldly quality,” said Brian Pease, the Minnesota Historical Society’s Capitol site manager. For weeks the Historical Society has been removing the historic artwork, which now is being stored in a climate-controlled warehouse.

The governor’s and attorney general’s offices have vacated the building, along with a number of Senate employees. Of nearly 300 people who worked in the building, about 110 remain; the rest will be moved out next spring, after the 2015 legislative session adjourns.

By early fall, the building’s front, south-facing side will be covered with construction scaffolding.

“It’s going to be like this for a couple of years now,” Waslaski said.

 

Patrick Condon • 651-925-5049

 

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  • Statues of Civil War soldiers that ring the State Capitol rotunda’s second-floor overlook were covered by workers for protection from the ongoing renovations.

  • As renovation on the Capitol’s top three floors kicks into high gear, workers have closed off most of the wings of the building from the rotunda with drywall and temporary steel supports.

  • Scaffolding will move to the north side of the State Capitol this fall, when workers will begin extensive stone restoration.

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