February 2024

JE Dunn’s Appreciation of State Capitol Renovations

JE Dunn Construction applauds our clients who honor legacy buildings by investing in their future while preserving the past. Demonstrating an appreciation for historical design and renovation is rarely the easy choice, as it takes time, patience, skill, and perseverance to preserve works of art that will continue to stand the test of time. In this delicate dance, JE Dunn has developed a niche in the renovation of historic state capitols, having worked with the states of Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Oregon, and North Dakota on their statehouses. 

 

Kansas 

JE Dunn embarked on its first state capitol project by undertaking the renovation of the Kansas State Capitol, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which required coordination with the State Historic Preservation Office to provide modern workspace and amenities for building occupants. With restoration came upgrades to mechanical and electrical systems and weaving state-of-the-art technology into historic fabric.   

Specialty designers and artisans were involved during all phases of design and construction. Much of the interior space was restored to its earlier grandeur and included the restoration of the governor’s office to its circa-1900s design. The Senate Chamber received notable restoration, including the Kansas cherry wood desks dating back to 1885. Additional projects consisted of the construction of a new two-level, 561-car underground parking garage situated below the north lawn of the capitol; new underground vaults for additional office space and new mechanical systems; a new visitor center with a U-shaped drive; and an exterior plaza to the north. 

 

Minnesota 

When the Minnesota State Capitol opened in 1905, it was heralded as one of America’s great modern structures, evoking pride from all Minnesotans as it became the state’s most famous landmark. The building includes over 300,000 square feet of highly decorative and ceremonial space, with marble exterior and a large marble dome like the unsupported dome at Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  

A comprehensive restoration of the interior and exterior addressed life safety, accessibility, asset preservation, and long-term functionality. Key design features included reclaimed public spaces; raised ceiling heights; restoration of the vast decorative painting and fine-art murals; new skylights/daylights; new historically appropriate elevators; and a complete overhaul of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. The exterior work included stone restoration, window replacement, and new roofing systems. The ornate stonework required several master carvers on site for several years. Unique aspects of the work involved finely detailed copper roof and restoration of the gold leaf gilded elements like the dome lantern finial and the famously large “Prosperity” charioteer that sits above the main entry. 

 

Oklahoma 

In Oklahoma, JE Dunn tackled exterior renovations, including stone restoration, window replacement, and copper roofing work. The team simultaneously coordinated interior tasks like abating, removing, and refinishing lead-paint-filled steel windows in a controlled environment while refreshing the interior components. On the exterior, repointing of mortar joints, a painstaking and time-consuming process to protect the building from water infiltration; repair of cracked and damaged stone using the dutchman repair process; stone cleaning using a micro-abrasive process or laser cleaning; scaffolding to allow the stone masons to get close to all areas of the building’s exterior; refurbishing and replacing all 477 windows that surround the building; and fully replacing all four wings of the existing copper roofing were paramount to preserving the building for future generations. 

 

Wyoming 

Listed as a National Historic Landmark, the Wyoming State Capitol Square underwent a major 130,000 –square-foot restoration, a 360,800square-foot Herschler Building renovation, a new central utility plant, and an underground connector that houses hearing rooms, an auditorium, and serves as a connection between the capitol and Herschler buildings. A new central utility plant accommodates all new mechanical, electrical, plumbing, life safety, and ADA upgrades.  

The original building was constructed in 1886 and was restored to keep its original appearance and historical features while reconfiguring the space to accommodate modern offices, state-of-the-art technology, improved circulation, and six meeting rooms that seat 75 – 250 people. The exterior renovation included stone restoration using newly quarried stone from the original Rawlins, Wyoming, sandstone quarry. A complete roof replacement, new parapets, and energy-efficient windows protect new HVAC systems. Historic elements throughout the capitol interior underwent artful restoration. An ornate stained-glass laylight in the ceiling adorns the space, and ceilings were removed to recapture the original monumental ceiling heights. Coffered ceilings, cornices, ornate columns, and architectural doorways were brought back to their original glory. Ornate plaster and trim were refurbished to their original condition. The dome received structural reinforcing and gold leaf repairs and replacement. One of the most impressive features is the decorative ceiling in the rotunda, which was restored to its 1888 design. The entire Capitol Square integrates new parking and landscaped promenades. 

The capitol’s wooden dome underwent a transformative renovation, becoming a steel marvel. This ambitious project reshaped the dome and created new legislative chambers that also required restoring windows, exterior stone, roofs, and interior plaster. Despite the challenge of sourcing skilled craftspeople, the team recruited experts from Europe, bringing ancient arts like decorative painting, plasterwork, and stone carving to life. By overcoming obstacles, JE Dunn’s thorough work earned the capitol the 2021 Grande Pinnacle Award for historical preservation from the Natural Stone Institute. 

With only 50 of these architectural marvels standing as testaments to craftsmanship of a bygone era, these renovations represent a detailed journey through time. By skillfully navigating the labyrinth of regulatory frameworks, recognizing ties to the National Register of Historic Places and oversight of the U.S. Department of the Interior and state historical preservation organizations, JE Dunn went beyond preservation to parade the legacy of state capitol buildings that are a testament to America’s past, present, and future.