- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Gov. Matt Mead and top Wyoming lawmakers voted Tuesday to approve a plan reallocating office space in the state Capitol - a key step in a massive renovation project starting this summer.

Under the new plan approved by the Capitol Building Restoration Oversight Group, the governor as well as the state treasurer, state auditor and secretary of state will have offices on the Capitol rotunda. Several large public meeting rooms will be designated throughout the building.

Special Assistant Attorney General Michael O’Donnell is coordinating the $300-million project, set for completion in 2018.

Speaking after the meeting, O’Donnell said plans call for bringing Capitol back to how it looked in about 1920, shortly after its last major addition. The building also will receive new mechanical, fire-suppression and elevator systems. The neighboring Herschler Building will also be refurbished and receive a new stone outer covering.

“The big change is that the building is much more accessible to the public,” O’Donnell said of the Capitol. “The addition of a number of large, public-access meeting rooms throughout the Capitol was really key. Also, it found a way to bring the statewide elected officials back into the Capitol, for their base offices. That had not been in a number of earlier iterations.”

Several rooms in the Capitol will be opened up through the removal of interior walls.

“What you’ll see is a return to the traditional, historic rooms, some of which have been divided up over the years,” O’Donnell said. “They’ll be opened back up to their structural walls.”

Sen. Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, chairman of the Capitol Building Renovation Oversight Group, said the approach calls for highlighting the building’s grand spaces. “Quite frankly, the first floor is and should be grand space,” he said.

Mead, as well as Treasurer Mark Gordon, Auditor Cynthia Cloud and Secretary of State Ed Murray, all told they group that they support the design approach.

Cloud said it will be good to have public rooms set aside where officials can meet with youth groups or with municipal officials. “I think it’s going to be a really good balance,” she said.

Under the plan, the media will no longer have rooms in the Capitol, but it will have space in the Herschler Building.

Final decisions about wall coverings and artwork have yet to be determined. State staffers intend to tour state capitols in Idaho, Kansas and Montana to see how they have approached both matters of interior design as well how to encourage more people to visit their capitol complexes.

Ultimately, Wyoming wants its Capitol to serve not only the needs of the legislative and executive branches of government, but also serve as a museum that displays artwork emblematic of the state that draws both state residents and visitors.

“The idea, I think, is to get the state artifacts and art pieces out where they can be seen, and also to try to do some more interactive media type things,” O’Donnell said. Plans call for building a student learning center in the Herschler Building.

Legislative staffers are set to move out of the Capitol this month for temporary quarters in a leased building in Cheyenne. Other state workers are moving out in stages, with Mead and his staff and other elected officials set to move out of the Capitol by August.

By early fall, O’Donnell said the oversight group should have made final decisions on all aspects of the project design and be in a position to take a final vote to proceed with the project.

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