Skip to main content Skip to office menu Skip to footer
Capital IconMinnesota Legislature

State of disrepair

Published (5/13/2011)
By Nick Busse
Share on: 

A worker examines deterioration around a panel of marble near the finial (the top of the Capitol dome). The building’s damaged masonry is among the many problems lawmakers hope to address. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Administration)Every year on May 11, officials commemorate Minnesota’s admission as the 32nd state in the union by lighting the crystal chandelier that hangs from atop State Capitol’s inner dome. But not this year.

“If you look up, instead of seeing our beautiful dome alight, you will see a catwalk and a lot of serious damage to our dome,” said Rep. Diane Loeffler (DFL-Mpls). “And that’s because this grand old building is starting to fall apart in a lot of different ways.”

The view from outside isn’t much better. For several months, visitors to the Capitol have had to pass under scaffolding that protects them from the building’s crumbling marble exterior. Pieces of stonework as heavy as 22 pounds have been removed to prevent them from falling on passersby.

“Something desperately needs to be done,“ Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) said. “If one of these things slid off, those canopies would be as effective as paper stopping a falling rock.”

The ungainly steel and wood contraptions that now blight the view of Minnesota’s iconic State Capitol are merely the tip of the iceberg. Architect Cass Gilbert’s 106-year-old monument to the state’s democratic institutions has suffered from decades of neglect. Hampered by budget woes, lawmakers are struggling to come up with a comprehensive plan to fix it.

Beginning in 2000, proposals were floated for an extensive renovation. A comprehensive plan would involve knocking down walls to upgrade plumbing and wiring, replacing obsolete heating and ventilation systems, and expanding office and hearing room space. But with cost estimates for the project rising as high as $260 million, budget problems have delayed the plans indefinitely.

A visitor passes under scaffolding covering the Capitol’s west entrance. Fears of injury caused by deteriorated stonework falling off the marble exterior prompted officials to place protective structures around the building. (Photo by Tom Olmscheid) To address certain immediate concerns that couldn’t wait, in 2008 the Legislature appropriated $13.4 million. With this money, workers have been busy making a wide variety of repairs — many of them on the dome. They repaired extensive water damage, installed new drainage and ventilation, and reinforced the dome’s steel columns. But as they did their work, they also found evidence of new problems.

On April 12, Wayne Waslaski, director of real estate and construction services for the Department of Administration, showed members of the House State Government Finance Committee photos of what they found — cracked cornices, clogged rain leaders, peeling plaster and fractured, discolored, water-damaged masonry.

“Some of our major systems are beyond their useful life. And so then it just becomes a risk assessment on how much longer you can go,” Waslaski said.

Workers discovered they could break off pieces of marble just by tapping it with their fingers. They removed as many loose pieces as they could find, but to be safe, they erected scaffolding over the doorways and fenced off much of the area around the building.

“You’re never 100 percent sure that you got all of the pieces, and so that’s why you have the protection in place,” Waslaski said.

Whether lawmakers can fund the full $260 million renovation project, he said certain projects will ultimately have to be funded for the sake of public safety. On top of the damaged exterior, outdated plumbing, electrical, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems have created a range of safety issues inside the building. Also the roof, the drainage system, and the terrace on the west side of the building — among other things — are all in need of repair or replacement.

Workers discovered they could break off loose pieces of the building’s marble exterior, like these stone carvings, just by tapping on them with their fingers. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Administration) Then there are the security problems. A report released April 1 by a bipartisan panel described a number of security vulnerabilities — some of which can only be addressed through potentially costly upgrades to the building’s facilities.

“Really, from a prioritization standpoint, it’s pretty easy. You’re first focused on life safety issues, and then you’re focused on what’s presenting the greatest risk to the building itself,” Waslaski said.

This year, a pair of bills is progressing through House committees that might get the ball rolling on restoration.

Loeffler sponsors HF1286, which would instruct the department to conduct a structural risk assessment to identify the most critical and immediate safety concerns. Meanwhile, Urdahl sponsors HF1455, which would establish a State Capitol Preservation Commission. Combined, the two bills are intended to kick-start a process that has been stalled for many years.

Loeffler’s bill would provide what she calls a “laundry list” of repairs for lawmakers to take action on next year. Her intention is to address only the short-term needs that impact safety and security.

“I think forward progress on some of these basics has been at times slowed as we’ve looked at grander plans,” she said.

Urdahl’s bill would address the building’s long-term issues. The commission proposed in his bill would draft a comprehensive plan that includes pre-design for a multi-year renovation project. Urdahl is betting that next year’s bonding bill could include “significant dollars” for the purpose.

The current round of repairs should be wrapped up later this year, after workers repair the finial (the gold lantern atop the dome) and replace the windows in the drum (the mid-section underneath the dome). As they weigh the costs and benefits of additional repairs, lawmakers will have some tough choices to make. For example, Waslaski said repairing the roof of the building alone will likely cost $9 million.

It won’t be easy, but supporters say it’s an obligation to the public that lawmakers must fulfill.

“We’ve been entrusted with the care of this beautiful building for the long term,” Loeffler said.

Loeffler’s bill was approved April 12 by the House State Government Finance Committee, and now awaits action on the House floor. A companion, SF1262, sponsored by Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope), awaits action by the Senate State Government Innovation and Veterans Committee.

Urdahl’s bill has been incorporated into HF1061, the omnibus legacy bill, which he also sponsors. It awaits action on the House floor, and has no Senate companion.

Session Weekly More...

Session Weekly Home

Related Stories

A session of compromise
Successes, disappointments and controversies mark 2012 session
(view full story) Published 5/25/2012

Minnesota Index: 2012 session
Facts and statistics on the 2012 legislative session
(view full story) Published 5/25/2012

Drawing to an uncertain close
Major bills are in limbo as the end of session looms
(view full story) Published 4/27/2012

Greene exits House after one term
Redistricting costs early childhood advocate a seat at the Capitol
(view full story) Published 4/27/2012

Going home to put out different fires
LeMieur plans to spend more time with sons
(view full story) Published 4/27/2012

Education funding champion
Dittrich says serving was ‘just the perfect pinnacle experience’
(view full story) Published 4/20/2012

Complicated road to the Senate
Koenen wins one Senate seat, but hopes to switch to another
(view full story) Published 4/20/2012

Putting family first
Kriesel steps down after a brief but eventful first term
(view full story) Published 4/20/2012

Educator, lawmaker, advocate, mom
Slawik prepares to leave on a high note for her key issue: early childhood
(view full story) Published 4/20/2012

Wanting to go to Washington
After one term, Bills seeks to serve Minnesota in the nation’s capitol
(view full story) Published 4/6/2012

Hilty: ‘It’s time’
Pragmatic legislator best known as renewable energy advocate
(view full story) Published 4/6/2012

A family man heads home
Shifting priorities cause for Hosch to step down
(view full story) Published 4/6/2012

A distinctive voice departs
A staunch conservative, Buesgens was more principled than partisan
(view full story) Published 3/30/2012

Breakfasts with Bobby to continue
Champion hopes to inform constituents over a cup of ‘Joe’
(view full story) Published 3/30/2012

First and last term
After two years in St. Paul, Mazorol plans to rejoin the private sector
(view full story) Published 3/30/2012

‘Stepping up’ to Senate race
Westrom hopes to continue renewable energy advocacy in different chamber
(view full story) Published 3/30/2012

Stepping down and across new lines
Doepke plans to take her education focus to the Senate
(view full story) Published 3/23/2012

One less Anderson in the House
‘Anderson, B.’ strives to put people first, rather than government
(view full story) Published 3/23/2012

An educated first term
After two years in House, Petersen looks to join the Senate
(view full story) Published 3/23/2012

Artist and advocate for natural resources
After eight years in House, Scalze to run for Senate
(view full story) Published 3/16/2012

Just call her Mary
New district has Kiffmeyer hoping to break bread with senators
(view full story) Published 3/16/2012

The RULE of law
Lawmakers consider reigning in agencies’ rulemaking powers
(view full story) Published 3/9/2012

Continuing his public service
Eken running for open Senate seat to avoid race with close friend
(view full story) Published 3/9/2012

Renewable energy advocate
Knuth proud of her accomplishments in the House
(view full story) Published 3/9/2012

Family calls him back home
Murdock leaves with better understanding of the district he has served
(view full story) Published 3/2/2012

Equal representation for 5,303,025
A special feature on Minnesota's legislative redistricting.
(view full story) Published 2/24/2012

Collaboration over discipline
Whips rely on communication as session moves forward
(view full story) Published 2/24/2012

Editor's Note
No 'First Reading' story this week
(view full story) Published 2/17/2012

Changing the rules, mid-game
Land use spat pits developers against cities, environmentalists against business
(view full story) Published 2/3/2012

So many rules, so little time
Lawmakers debate the wisdom of curbing agencies’ rulemaking powers
(view full story) Published 2/3/2012

Big plans, short session
Vikings, bonding, government reform top the agenda in 2012
(view full story) Published 1/27/2012

Always looking to help others
Allen brings her fight for social and economic justice to the House
(view full story) Published 1/27/2012

The Dance of Legislation has started
Numerous bonding proposals highlight first bill introductions of 2012 session
(view full story) Published 1/27/2012

Minnesota Index: Session 2012
Facts and statistics about legislative sessions past and present.
(view full story) Published 1/27/2012

Pension changes now law
Local employee plans to join statewide plan
(view full story) Published 8/11/2011

Small budget, big changes
State government finance law includes plans for government reform
(view full story) Published 8/11/2011

State of uncertainty
Budget stalemate, government shutdown leave Minnesota in limbo
(view full story) Published 7/15/2011

Freshmen power
Zeal for reform influences session agenda
(view full story) Published 7/15/2011

Too much reform?
Gov. Dayton says state government bill too aggressive in proposed cuts
(view full story) Published 7/15/2011

Minnesota Index: 2011 regular session
Facts and statistics from the 2011 legislative session.
(view full story) Published 7/15/2011

Special session? Not so special anymore
Number 50 since statehood could be imminent
(view full story) Published 5/20/2011

State of disrepair
Lawmakers look to fix a crumbling Capitol Building
(view full story) Published 5/13/2011

Minnesota Index: Older Minnesotans
Facts and statistics on aging in Minnesota
(view full story) Published 5/6/2011

Rangers in a strange land
Iron Range lawmakers stick together at the Capitol
(view full story) Published 4/15/2011

Black and Light
A photo essay
(view full story) Published 4/8/2011

Beyond budget cuts
Finance bill heralds big changes for state government
(view full story) Published 4/8/2011

Minnesota Index: State demographics
Facts and statistics on the state's population
(view full story) Published 4/8/2011

The long and winding road
Omnibus bills morph and change all along the way for a purpose, tax chair says
(view full story) Published 3/25/2011

Betting on change
Budget bill would restructure state government
(view full story) Published 3/25/2011

Blueprint for change
What would a redesigned state government look like?
(view full story) Published 3/11/2011

The big reboot
To help cut costs, lawmakers look to technology improvements
(view full story) Published 3/11/2011

Remembering Ed Burdick
Former chief clerk passes away
(view full story) Published 3/11/2011

From staffer to representative
Melin wins special election to become newest Iron Range member
(view full story) Published 3/4/2011

Melin wins special election
New member takes seat formerly held by Sertich
(view full story) Published 2/18/2011

Minnesota Index: Celebrating black history month
Figures and statistics on black Minnesotans
(view full story) Published 2/18/2011

At Issue: Address is a snapshot of hard times
Governor pledges funding for education, all-day kindergarten
(view full story) Published 2/11/2011

A farmer with wings (New Member)
Green acres is Daudt’s place to be
(view full story) Published 2/11/2011

From daycare mom to legislator (New Member)
Franson commits to practicing kindness, likes to see others follow
(view full story) Published 2/11/2011

Rural Republican’s challenge (New Member)
Hancock says government’s role important in supporting small communities
(view full story) Published 2/11/2011

Runbeck the reformer (New Member)
New members’ senior has her eye on property tax reform
(view full story) Published 2/11/2011

From volunteer advocate to member (New Member)
Anderson now has an office in building she used to roam as activist
(view full story) Published 2/4/2011

Cutting through the red tape (New Member)
Benson hopes to reduce bureaucracy, empower people
(view full story) Published 2/4/2011

Following Willard Munger’s trail (New Member)
Gauthier strives to give voice to working class
(view full story) Published 2/4/2011

Charting her own course (New Member)
Kieffer focuses on better schools and business climate
(view full story) Published 2/4/2011

The ‘beet’ goes on (New Member)
Kiel brings agricultural, educational experience to Capitol
(view full story) Published 2/4/2011

A soldier on a new mission (New Member)
Kriesel hopes to bring civility to the Capitol
(view full story) Published 2/4/2011

Standing up to Goliath (New Member)
Schomacker’s district on the frontline of keeping business
(view full story) Published 2/4/2011

Politics with his pancakes (New Member)
Woodard goes from breakfast with his buddies to the House
(view full story) Published 2/4/2011

Preserving an engineering feat
Capitol dome repairs hope to preserve Minnesota’s statehouse for many years
(view full story) Published 1/28/2011

Leading by example (New Member)
An economic wonk, Bills wants to use his background to create solutions
(view full story) Published 1/28/2011

A third call to duty (New Member)
Leidiger says his obligation is ‘to right-size government’
(view full story) Published 1/28/2011

Second run’s a charm (New Member)
Focused on government’s role, Lohmer hopes to make ‘significant change’
(view full story) Published 1/28/2011

Start early and stay late (New Member)
For Murray, new role offers much to learn and many challenges
(view full story) Published 1/28/2011

Taking part in another endeavor (New Member)
Quam’s varied background will help him make the hard decisions
(view full story) Published 1/28/2011

A Minnesota marketer (New Member)
Stensrud believes state needs to do a better job of selling itself
(view full story) Published 1/28/2011

Professor turned legislator (New Member)
Banaian goes from the classroom to the House
(view full story) Published 1/21/2011

Numbers guy (New Member)
Barrett hopes to help bring fiscal management to Capitol
(view full story) Published 1/21/2011

‘Make a difference’ (New Member)
Greene considers herself a person who can unite others
(view full story) Published 1/21/2011

Priorities based on data (New Member)
Gruenhagen doesn’t favor across-the-board cuts
(view full story) Published 1/21/2011

Firsthand information (New Member)
LeMieur brings his business background to the Capitol
(view full story) Published 1/21/2011

A brighter future (New Member)
Mazorol plans to focus on budget, business
(view full story) Published 1/21/2011

Snapshot of Delano leader (New Member)
McDonald follows in his father’s footsteps
(view full story) Published 1/21/2011

Myhra goes from home to House (New Member)
Dedicated door-knocking key to election success
(view full story) Published 1/21/2011

A new way to serve (New Member)
O’Driscoll continues a long record of public service
(view full story) Published 1/21/2011

A fast learner (New Member)
Petersen says state should practice ‘kitchen table budgeting’
(view full story) Published 1/21/2011

The bills have landed
First two House files focus on economy, budget
(view full story) Published 1/14/2011

Final Reading
Sertich steps down
(view full story) Published 1/14/2011

Putting his theories to the test (New Member)
Crawford brings big ideas, practical experience to St. Paul
(view full story) Published 1/14/2011

Steeped in Tea Party values (New Member)
Back for her seventh term, Erickson aims to improve schools
(view full story) Published 1/14/2011

Fabian hits the ground running (New Member)
Track coach and high school teacher wants to keep jobs in Minnesota
(view full story) Published 1/14/2011

Focused and determined (New Member)
McElfatrick hopes to strengthen Iron Range economy
(view full story) Published 1/14/2011

Going from homeless to the House (New Member)
Moran used hard work to improve self, wants to help others
(view full story) Published 1/14/2011

Welding the economy back together (New Member)
Swedzinski brings rural development experience to the House
(view full story) Published 1/14/2011

A reformer in the House (New Member)
Vogel brings focus on agriculture; hopes to streamline state government
(view full story) Published 1/14/2011

Looking to give the state a fresh start (New Member)
Wardlow seeks fiscal stability, better jobs climate in Minnesota
(view full story) Published 1/14/2011

Ready for the challenge
2011 session underway with changes aplenty
(view full story) Published 1/7/2011

Let the people’s work begin
Activists, lobbyists, members’ families mark day one of 2011 session
(view full story) Published 1/7/2011

Minnesota Index: Minnesota House 2011
Figures and statistics about the Minnesota House of Representatives.
(view full story) Published 1/7/2011