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Capitol renovations to be 95% complete by session’s start

When Capitol denizens return to their jobs inside the People’s House on Jan. 3, they will enter a transformed building with about 95 percent of its scheduled renovations complete.

“When we open, we will be opening for all of the Capitol’s tenants,” said Matt Massman, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Administration, which is overseeing the estimated $310 million restoration project in St. Paul. “We will be moving them all back into their space for the Jan. 3 session.”

The Capitol is now entirely closed to anyone not employed by one of the 75 subcontractors working on the renovations. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

The Capitol is now entirely closed to anyone not employed by one of the 75 subcontractors working on the renovations. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

The Capitol is now entirely closed to anyone not employed by one of the 75 subcontractors working on the renovations.

Massman said that many Capitol workers — particularly members of the electronic media — have been pressuring his department to be let back into the Capitol at least a few weeks before the session’s start. Media members want access to their workspaces to test equipment and make sure they can broadcast from their new quarters. They probably are in for a disappointment.

“That’s frankly not likely to happen,” the commissioner said. “We will have to see.”

Massman pointed out that for all its grandeur, in the eyes of local coding officials, the Capitol renovation is the same as any construction project. Because the building has been entirely closed for business, the Administration Department must obtain new occupancy certifications proving that all new water, plumbing, electrical, fire and life safety and other systems are up to code before anyone can move back in.

New furniture for the Capitol is on order, but even that will not be moved in until after occupancy certifications are approved, Massman said. At the most recent Capitol Preservation Commission Meeting on Aug. 15, project managers indicated that they expect to begin moving in historic and non-historic furniture sometime in October. Tenants will be allowed in on Jan. 1, project managers said at that meeting.

“We hope that we will have the occupancy authority to move people back in a few days before the start of the session,” Massman said Tuesday. “We are on a timeline to do that.”

There is no real pecking order as to who will be allowed in first, Massman said, though he admits that pretty much every tenant “wants to be first.” However, he jokingly acknowledged, one occupant might receive some slight degree of early-admission priority. “I’m going to make sure I have the governor back in,” he said.


What people might notice

A complex of scaffolding and loud construction noises likely will not confront legislators and the others who make up the workaday Capitol milieu upon their return. While interior renovations will not be entirely complete by the start of the session, what remains to be done inside the Capitol will not be terribly noticeable or obvious, according to Massman.

Possibly most noticeable, artisans will be wrapping up decorative painting in some corridors on the third floor’s north wing, the commissioner said. “People will still be able to walk through those corridors, but along the side walls there will be some scaffolding,” he said.

There will be a few other areas, primarily in the Senate office spaces in both the north wing and east wing on the third floor, where office-finishing work will still be taking place after the initial reopening.

“Those areas will be closed until they are completed,” Massman said. “It is not space that the public would typically walk through, unless someone has an office there. And, of course, Senate members and staff will have offices across the street. So everyone will have office space for the legislative session.”

When the project is done, Massman said, the building will have:

  • All new plumbing: Wayne Waslaski, director of the Department of Administration’s Real Estate and Construction Services office and overseer of the restoration project, said that the original plumbing system was one of the few original features that could not be preserved.
  • New electrical systems.
  • New and improved lighting.
  • New roofing.
  • Historic artwork that has been conserved.
  • 55,000 pieces of exterior marble that have been either restored or replaced.
  • Additional public spaces, including several new dining areas, which should reduce service wait times and overcrowding.
  • Stacked restroom facilities, located in the same spot on every floor.
  • Hearing room technology improvements, including audio-induction loop technology for the hearing impaired.
  • Upgraded technologies in both the House and Senate chambers.

“There will be no change in the historic look and feel of the desk space in the chambers, but all of the electronics that feed into those systems will be modernized,” Massman said. “So it will support transparency.”

In sum, the commissioner said, “Every part of our Capitol has been restored and put on a pathway to sustainability for the next hundred years.”


Obstructed views

The project will reach its four-year mark in June 2017, Massman said. So far, there have been no major disasters. There was, however, one close call.

He said that the ceiling of the Senate retiring room — a room open only to Senators — is among the most ornate and prized features in the entire building. “It was sagging and separating in some areas,” Massman said.

At one point it looked as though the ceiling might not be saved. However, he said, the restoration project team consulted with experts from around the country and found a solution. “I think we have a resin solution that will shore that back up,” he said. “So we are fixing that.” The ceiling repair will cost about $80,000, according to Waslaski.

Massman emphasized that the Capitol restoration will not be entirely complete until late summer or early fall. “I don’t want to mislead the public that might want to come in for an uninterrupted view shed, and for an uninterrupted internal view of the Capitol,” he said. “There will still be work ongoing through late summer and early fall.”

Most significantly, perhaps, the giant crane currently located in Lot O on the Capitol’s north side will remain in place until the project is nearly or completely finished.

That is largely because one major element of demolition and exterior renovation is still unfinished. All of the copper roofs above the Supreme Court, House and Senate chambers, those above the east and west grand staircases, and those above the elevator corridors, must be either repaired or replaced. That $9.6 million job might last until the fall, according to Administration Department estimates.

Nonetheless, particularly from the point of view of the people who make their living there, the Capitol is about to become a much better workplace, Massman said.

“I used to joke late at night when I worked there as a staff person for many years that I just wanted modern plumbing in the Capitol,” Massman said. “The reality is that the functionality of the building will be greatly improved.”

It will also simply be more beautiful, he added. Massman is a particular fan of the renovated Supreme Court chambers. “I have seen those artworks before, but I have never really noticed them,” he said. “The colors of the restored artwork are jaw-dropping.”

Visitors and jaded longtime Capitol workers alike probably will be taken aback by the revamped color schemes in areas like the revamped rotunda, the commissioner added. Efforts were made, in consultation with the Minnesota Historical Society, to restore the Capitol to its original 1905 color scheme wherever possible, he said.

Once the project is complete — or “done-done,” as Massman puts it — there will be a public grand opening ceremony. That has not yet been scheduled.

Public tours, however, will start with the session, said Jake Seamans, an information officer with the Department of Administration’s communications and planning office. The Historical Society will begin hosting those public tours on Jan. 3, Seamans said. School tours will begin on Jan. 8.


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