ST. PAUL, Minn. — Sprawling sections of Minnesota's well-manicured Capitol lawn will soon be ripped out to make room for asphalt parking lots and heavy construction equipment needed for a renovation project that planners conceded Monday will be disruptive.
Gov. Mark Dayton and other members of the Capitol Preservation Commission got a detailed rundown of the $272 million Capitol fix-up project that gets going this fall. It will gradually force relocation of most of the building's tenants and could temporarily hinder access to the building.
"It's going to be miserable for you, for me, for everybody who needs to function here," Dayton told reporters following a tense two-hour meeting where architects were sharply questioned about their schematic design and timetable.
"It's going to be like a major highway project — you've got construction, dislocation and everything else in order to get to the other side, which is essential to the health and safety of people who work here as well as the general public."
The Legislature approved a critical chunk of financing this spring. Scaffolding already envelopes the 108-year-old building, where a crumbling facade on the outside and deterioration from water damage and neglect on the inside have long led to calls for a top-to-bottom spruce-up.
The Capitol Preservation Commission went over the first of four phases of construction during a meeting Monday and will reconvene in two weeks to give formal consent. Bids for companies that want in on the work are due soon.
As part of the project, many features will be restored to their 1905 feel — such as tall French doors, rehabbed ornamental decorations and glass-door elevators. They'll be staged alongside modern technological enhancements —such as wall-mounted TV screens, efficient heating and cooling equipment, a better visitor center for tour groups and more-reliable Internet access.
The path to this point has been anything but simple. Even with the infusion of money, there are still tussles over which elected officials and their staff will get what space when all is complete. There's ample grumbling about the blight and inconvenience that will be felt along the way.
To make room for construction staging, most parking lots ringing the Capitol will be closed. So trees and sod out front will be paved over for new surface lots, including around sections near solemn war memorials or statutes to Minnesota icons. That means lost space for rallies that are common during legislative sessions.
Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, quoted a Joni Mitchell song lyric to express her displeasure: "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."
Architect David Hart, an adviser helping steer the project, promised that the grassy areas will be restored to their former state — eventually. Other project planners stressed that lawmakers and others should look past the short-term sacrifices to the goal of preserving a priceless state asset for its second century.
The internal work is being staggered to allow for the Legislature to meet in its annual sessions through the three years of significant construction. But some meeting rooms will be off-limits and senators with offices in the building will be moved out before 2015. Separate from the Capitol work, a new legislative office building is going up nearby but won't be ready until June 2015.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, a carpenter by trade, said he's braced for a disruptive few years.
"It's not going to be business as normal," said Bakk, DFL-Cook.