Ritter praises repair team for work on capitol

By Lucy McFadden
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

It’s almost a wrap for the “Life Safety Upgrades” project at the Colorado Capitol.

At a press conference June 29, Gov. Bill Ritter officially proclaimed the day to be “State Capitol Life Safety Project Day,” recognizing the contributions of various planners, construction workers and artisans in repairing the Capitol building to eliminate life-and-limb-threatening problems.

Representatives of the Colorado Historical Society, the Department of Personnel and Administration, Fentress Bradburn Architects and GH Phipps Construction rolled into the governor’s office and lined up at the front of the room Monday morning to watch him sign the proclamation.

The ceremony marked the near completion of the $30 million, five-year project, which has been managed by the DPA and funded through the Historical Society’s State Historical Fund. The SHF also has ensured that the upgrades don’t compromise the building’s historical integrity.

“This has been a wonderful collaborative project, and I am proud that the critical preservation … of this architectural highlight has been a success,” beamed Edward Nichols, president and CEO of the SHF.

The changes are making the Capitol safer for the state officials and employees who work there and for its estimated 50,000 visitors per year.

New smoke detection, fire alarm and fire suppression systems have been installed, significantly increasing the building’s ability to contain a fire. Its new stair towers are equipped with glass doors that close automatically when a fire is detected, pressurizing the air to keep smoke and fire from spreading.

The final phase of the project includes construction of the building’s second smoke-protected stair tower and completion of a subbasement exit. The DPA planned the projects in phases so that only about a quarter of the buildings’ employees would be displaced at a time and so construction would never take place during the legislative session.

The Capitol’s defining feature, the gold dome, needs some $11 million worth of work and won’t get any attention under this project.

The structure under the gold leaf is almost entirely cast iron, and rust has spread contagiously throughout the iron columns, railings and facades of the dome. What’s more, the wood around the dome windows is rotting, and, in 2007, a 10-pound piece of iron fell to the ground from the dome, prompting state construction workers to hang a net beneath it. DPA officials say that quick fix has eliminated public danger.

The state pays Fentress Bradburn Architects $17,000 a year to inspect the Capitol and make repair recommendations. Its April report recommended immediate action to mend the dome.

DPA spokeswoman Julie Polstoy said immediate action is necessary to prevent further deterioration.

“The Capitol is stable, and it is not a hazard,” she assured, adding that, unfortunately, no public money is left for repairs.

“The CHS withdrew their pending grant when the DPA could not come up with the money required to receive it,” she said.

Workers have, however, completed work on Mr. Brown’s Attic, a 2,000-square-foot attic space that was turned into a gallery to exhibit photos and artifacts of the Capitol’s beginnings. The gallery is named for Brown Palace Hotel builder Henry Cordes Brown, who donated the land where the Capitol is situated in 1868.

Original 1886 blueprints for the Capitol are on display in Mr. Brown’s Attic, and its windows allow visitors to see how the building’s rafters connect its naked steel, brick and stone superstructure.

Lucy@coloradostatesman.com