For the next three years, the discordant sounds of construction will join the echoes of citizens' rallying voices, lawmakers' aye and nay votes and awe-inspired visitors' gasps in the Minnesota Capitol.
The century-old building is undergoing what is to be a $272 million renovation. The work will restore historic features, add visitor space and bring the long-suffering mechanical structures into the modern era. As part of the overhaul, the exterior stone will be repaired to avoid heavy pieces of marble dropping on Minnesotans below and to allow the detailed work to shine again.
Opened in 1905, the Capitol now hosts about 250,000 visitors annually. Some come to admire architect Cass Gilbert's Beaux-Arts-inspired 1905 marble masterpiece and the art inside. Others arrive to tell their lawmakers' of their wishes. Others, voted in by the state's citizens, come to govern.
All will experience the four-year construction project on "People's Building" and its results. While the building will be open during construction, the basement of the building is already a maze of plywood walls. After construction, it will become show place for visitors. At some point during the renovation, the governor and the attorney general will have to move out to allow for work in the building. They are slated to return when the work is done.
The murals on the walls, the decorative paintings and chipped paint will be repaired and restored. New signage, more dining space, glass-front elevators and prominent information center will be added. Importantly, more and improved restrooms will add to the visitor experience.
Follow along as we explore the Capitol as it now stands, the Capitol under construction and hints of what is to be.
Long the home of Capitol staff and the Minnesota press, the basement has been gutted, its tenants relocated, and its tunnels rearranged to allow for mechanical work. By the end of the project, the basement area will be opened up to become a show space for visitors: adding an underground rotunda to serve as a public event space, restoring long-closed areas and exposing long painted-over stonework. The basement is home to the public Rathskeller cafeteria, which has been restored to again show off German phrases along its walls, which will have additional seating added. Many are drinking themed, including "Ein frischer Trank, der Arbeit Dank" translated as "Enjoy a glass after a duty well performed."
The ground floor, like much of the Capitol, will have its walls and ceilings cleaned and restored. The work may uncover original decorative paint in the north hall and elsewhere. Throughout the building, the restoration will add new directional signs because, as one report on the restoration noted, the current sparse signage means visiting the Capitol has become "prohibitively complex and inaccessible" for visitors and regulars alike. The East side of the floor will be opened, allowing for extended public space and a classroom.
This is the premier visitors' space at the Capitol, home of the rotunda where thousands of Minnesotans gather each year to make their voices heard. Both the governor and the attorney general's office on this now on this floor will be moved during some parts of the restoration. This floor will become home to a new public information center to ease visitors trip to the Capitol. The Capitol's current elevators get new glass-front doors and a new service elevator will be added.
The second floor of the Capitol houses the House and Senate chambers, where lawmakers meet in session to debate the issues of the day and vote on measures to deliver to the governor. It is also home to the state Supreme Court historic chambers, directly across the rotunda from the Senate, which could allow the Supreme Court chief justice and the Senate president to stare into each other's eyes. With construction, the second floor will get a thorough cleaning, decorative paint will be restored and an outdoor balcony will be repaired. The restoration will allow the addition of a lunch counter that will be open whenever lawmakers are meeting in session.
The decorative paint on this floor, which provides access to the House and Senate galleries, has largely been refurbished to its Easter egg original pallet. From the third floor, visitors can look down to the rotunda below and up to the slightly damaged but still vibrant paint that rings the inside of the dome. The water-damaged dome is in the process of being repaired. Murals on this floor include one that shows a six-toed man, a small mouse and an animal skull. This floor, like others, will get new restrooms.
Specialists are going through the painstaking process of cleaning and replacing the crumbling Georgia marble. Before renovation began in 2013, the deteriorating stone was sloughing off the building and causing safety problems and water damage. The Capitol grounds have also undergone renovation-related changes as temporary parking lots have been built into the mall to allow other work to be done. Eventually, the roof will be restored and repaired.