JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi Capitol is undergoing an $8.3 million restoration designed to help keep it in good working condition for generations to come.
Crews have been working several months on the 111-year-old structure, and their efforts will continue even after the legislative session starts in January.
“Anytime you have an old building, especially one of historical value, you have to do some work every now and then,” said Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, who serves on the Public Property Committee. “It’s important to keep your assets up.”
Although the Capitol has undergone roof repairs and other maintenance work in recent decades, this is its most extensive round of work since a 1979-82 restoration that cost $19 million. Back then, the Legislature moved out and met in another downtown Jackson building, the former Central High School.
This time, the Legislature will keep working in the Capitol, although daily routines will be different. Temporary walls are blocking off the rotunda at the center of the first and second floors, where lobbyists and visitors congregate. Marble floors are covered with padding and plywood as a precaution against damage from items that might accidentally fall.
Restoration is being done in several phases. The first phase includes exterior work, waterproofing and restoration of stained-glass windows from the House and Senate chambers and the governor’s office. It is scheduled to be completed by next summer, said Lawson Newman, the main architect for the project.
Later phases will include work on the glass domes over the two legislative chambers.
“Over the course of several years, the entire building will have been restored,” said Newman, who works with the Jackson-based firm WFT Architects.
Legislators approved $6 million in bonds during the 2010 session, another $900,000 in bonds during the 2013 session and nearly $1.4 million in cash during the 2014 session to pay for the Capitol restoration.
The four-story, Beaux Arts style statehouse was built from March 1901 to July 1903 on the site of the old state prison and cost $1.09 million, funded with back taxes paid by Illinois Central Railroad. It has marble from around the world, brass fixtures, ornate iron work and intricate stained-glass windows and ceilings.
Yet, in recent years, the building’s beauty has been marred by leaky roofs. During heavy rains, workers would place four or five tall garbage cans in the first floor rotunda to catch water that fell 180 feet from the center dome.
“I’d like to walk in and not see that,” said the Senate’s top administrator, Liz Welch.
A mishap during restoration also created more work, but not at taxpayers’ expense. A heavy rainfall occurred one recent Sunday - the day before workers were set to replace some roofing over the Senate chamber. Because old waterproofing material had been removed, rain poured in around windows, leaving stains on the walls and soaking the carpet in the chamber.
The construction company is paying to repair the damage from the Nov. 16 storm, said Department of Finance and Administration director Kevin Upchurch, the state’s chief fiscal officer.
For now, the Senate chamber is empty. Senators’ desks and chairs are stored in another building, and their books and other belongings are in boxes. Construction workers built a temporary wall to block off the back of the chamber, where the damage occurred, so dehumidifiers could run. Welch said the handmade carpet in the Senate chamber is a special-order item that can’t be replaced quickly, and she hopes it will dry completely.
A large meeting room directly below the Senate chamber also had water damage from the storm. Workers removed the beige carpet in that room, uncovering hardwood floors.
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