Stay the course in capitol repair

Monday, June 5, 2006

In a way, it's just another state office building.

But housing all three branches of Nebraska government, it's one of the most visible symbols of the state.

The famed Capitol spire, designed by architect Bertram Goodhue, was built as the money was available, beginning in 1922 and not completed until 1932, for a total of $10 million.

It was repaired in 1960s and 1970s, but not very well, according to Capitol Administrator Bob Ripley.

Nine years ago, the state began rebuilding the structure again, but as any homeowner who has undertaken a remodeling project knows, it's turned out to be more than the owners bargained for.

Originally projected at $22.3 million, the project could now take at least 13 years and $60 million to complete -- or more, if the Legislature stretches out the project to make it fit into the budget.

The problems are many.

The underlying bricks are decaying, and the limestone shows microscopic algae damage that could turn into real damage.

The west entrance has problems, copper roofing around the base of the building is loose, limestone in the four courtyards is cracked and dirty, and the legislative chamber itself has water leaks and streaking by the windows.

Nebraskans have been justifiably proud of their state capitol, recognized as an architectural wonder. Proud as well, that it was paid for when it was completed during the depths of the Depression.

An office building, yes, but an important icon that should be aggressively protected. The Legislature should do all that it can, within reason, to see that it is maintained and restored as a proud legacy for the next generation.

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