Holiday gifts aren't the only things being unwrapped in St. Paul this week.

As soon as wind and weather conditions permit, a construction cloth will come off the top of the State Capitol dome. The ornament known as the Lantern Finial atop Cass Gilbert's masterpiece will be visible again.

It won't gleam in the sunlight yet. The finial's golden skin won't be reapplied until warm weather returns. Seen until then will be a copper underlayer, which will start shiny and fade rapidly to brown.

This week's unwrapping represents progress on the most extensive dome repair work since the building opened 107 years ago next week. The $13.4 million project, initiated in 2008, was urgently needed to stop deterioration in one of the four largest self-supporting marble domes in the world.

That's only the beginning of what the Capitol requires if it is to serve this state as well in the 21st century as it did in the 20th.

A commission including Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators from both parties will meet Jan. 12 to consider whether it's time to start a long-postponed Big Fix to keep the iconic "people's palace" safe, functional and beautiful.

Gone are the elaborate ideas for an enlarged basement that planners advanced a few years ago. (There goes our planned press corps lounge.)

The latest thinking is all about preserving the structure's integrity and function, said state Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, sponsor of the bill creating the commission.

That doesn't mean it won't be costly. Stopping the leaks, repairing crumbling stone and upgrading failing systems could, by one estimate, cost $300 million over 10 years, and might require temporary quarters for the governor, attorney general and Legislature.

If that sounds expensive, the alternative could be worse.

Urdahl said experts who have inspected the Capitol report that "we're at a tipping point. If we don't do something now, we may never be able to catch up."

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Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer.