Last week, workers removed the scaffolds and windscreens to reveal the building’s crowning glory — its newly refurbished finial, a golden ball at the very top. But much is still to come.
When it comes to fixing Minnesota’s aging State Capitol, you start at the top and work your way down.
“I love seeing the top of the Capitol dome,” a delighted Gov. Mark Dayton said last week, soon after workers removed the scaffolds and windscreens to reveal the building’s crowning glory — its newly refurbished finial, a golden ball at the very top. “I’ve never seen it so shiny.”
Of course, everything below the finial remains a work in progress. The 107-year-old building needs millions of dollars’ worth of work. The facade is crumbling. The windows are leaking. The paint is peeling.
“I don’t know how long it’s going to last,” Dayton joked about the newly revealed dome. “They take down one scaffolding and put up another.”
Minnesotans will have at least a few months to enjoy an unobstructed view of the dome. Next year, the scaffolding goes back up as crews move on to the next item on the dome repair list: replacing its large, leaky drum windows.
“People are always excited to see the scaffolding come down,” said Wayne Waslaski, senior director of real estate and construction services for the Capitol. “Pointing to the finial, it gives you a sense of how magnificent the building must have looked when it was first built” in 1907.
The finial had been under wraps since September. Once the repairs were finished, crews had to wait for just the right conditions — 10 consecutive days of warm, dry weather — to apply the gold leaf.
Less showy, but even more important, was the work they did to fix drainage problems that were further damaging the dome and the interior paint beneath.
The restored finial shines over the chaotic work zone that is the Capitol. The entire site has turned into a cloud of construction dust and the clatter of jackhammers, a situation augmented by the ongoing work on the University Avenue light-rail corridor.
The Capitol’s west staircase is a pile of rubble as workers tear out and replace water-damaged steps. Another crew is tunneling under University Avenue, its work funded by part of $44 million in renovation money that the Legislature included in its bonding bill this year. The new tunnel will make it easier to deliver supplies to the Capitol without pulling the trucks up next to the building itself.
In December, the Department of Administration will submit its estimate for how much money it will need to continue the restoration efforts next year.
For those who haven’t gotten a close look at the dome lately, the finial caps an ornate cupola. The Georgian marble dome itself was designed by architect Cass Gilbert to resemble St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Even more gold leaf glitters below on the Quadriga — four gilded horses pulling a chariot, representing the progress of the state and the power of nature.
For more information about the Capitol and its ongoing preservation efforts, visit www.mnhs.org/places/sites/msc.