- Associated Press - Sunday, October 11, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Nearly 200 feet up, out of view of the school children on field trips and the thousands of other tourists to Wisconsin’s state Capitol, there’s a problem.

Inside the outer dome, beyond the interior one seen from the rotunda and adorned at the top with the “Resources of Wisconsin” mural, plaster is peeling away from the bricks laid in place more than 100 years ago when the Capitol was built. The plaster is deteriorating due to a moisture problem caused by humidity changes, leaking water and non-breathable oil-based paint.

The problem has been known for years, and now work is underway to fix it.

“It’s pretty much a plaster repair project but it’s 200 feet in the air in the most prominent building in the state,” said Laura Davis, the lead architect on the project. Davis, with Isthmus Architecture in Madison, has been working on Capitol projects since 1992.

The repairs mark the end of a series of rehabilitation work that began at the Capitol in the 1990s, costing more than $141 million.

This last project will largely be done out of sight - except for one 6-foot patch of peeling plaster about 160 feet inside the dome top, known as an oculus, that will require some acrobatics high above the ground to repair.

Despite being mostly hidden from view, Davis said the plaster repair work is still exciting inside what she calls “the state’s living room.”

“It’s so difficult to get up here,” she said on a narrow inner balcony not accessible to the public, just below the “Resources of Wisconsin” mural inside the interior of the Capitol’s dome. “It’s just a fun project.”

Access to the rotunda on the ground and first floors of the Capitol was closed off starting last week as workers put down a plywood floor to protect the marble in case anything is dropped during the plaster repair work.

The interior and outer dome, as well as a spiral staircase, will be painted and the exterior gutters and trusses will be repaired. The entire project is expected to cost around $800,000 and be done by the end of January.

Work requiring the rotunda to be closed is slated to be complete by Nov. 10, in time for the Capitol Christmas Tree to be installed in December.

A scaffolding system will be constructed for workers to remove the peeling plaster by hand. They will place the debris in buckets, and then dump that into a large flexible trash bin that will be hauled away by a crane parked outside the building.

The crane will also get supplies to the workers without having to navigate the more than 150 steps of a narrow winding staircase that leads to the top of the dome from the inside.

One small part of the project will be in full sight of Capitol visitors. A 6-foot-wide swath of plaster inside the southeast side of the dome is peeling. To repair it, a worker will be suspended from inside the oculus of the dome, nearly 11 stories high, and will swing over to patch it.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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