Ask Matt Mead about the plan to renovate the State Capitol. His mind goes first to those who made the decision to build it in the first place. Wyoming wasn’t even a state when they sat down and made plans, appropriated the money, and started the construction.
Over the next three decades, they added the east and west wings and the House and Senate chambers. That was optimism. That was vision.
No more so than what it took Governor Mead and the leadership of the legislature to move ahead with the current renovation. The timing is never especially good to spend 300 million dollars on a project, but the time has come for a major renovation of the Wyoming State Capitol.
The project has its critics. Maureen Bader, the Canadian paid with Texas dollars to write columns critical of Wyoming for the Liberty Group calls the plans “palatial.” She predicts, “dreams of palaces (will) turn into nightmares.”
I predict The Liberty Group is wrong.
It’s true. A project of this size and scope will always experience stumbles getting off the ground. The end result, however, will be a Capitol Complex that will serve this state well for the next several decades and make its citizens as proud today as were those who built the original structure 150 years ago.
As the Governor pointed out during a recent conversation he and I had in his office, he has nothing to gain. By the time the Capitol reopens, he’ll no longer be Governor and most of today’s legislators will likewise be gone. It’s not about them. It’s about modernizing and creating a place where the people’s business can be done effectively in the 21st century.
Governor Mead meets visitors from Wyoming and around the nation in the rotunda. They are often nonplussed about the lack of access to restrooms and an elevator that may not make it to its final destination. They don’t know the half of it. The building is a firetrap. How fortunate we are that a fire has not broken out in the historic structure. The building is ill equipped for fire-suppression, putting not only people at risk but also the historic treasures the building houses.
It’s been a long while since significant upgrades were accomplished in the Capitol. The most recent was completed in 1980. That project included stripping and staining the woodwork, painting walls to match original designs and colors, replacing wooden floor beams with steel, and modernizing the wiring, heating, plumbing and air conditioning.
That was thirty-five years ago. Today, the building has grown increasingly inadequate to fulfill its fundamental purposes. It lacks the basic wiring and other facilities necessary to employ current technology. Hearing rooms are generally too small to accommodate members of the public seeking to hear and be heard when the legislature meets. The technological improvements available that would permit people from around the state to participate in their government without traveling long distances are not available. Neither is the security infrastructure demanded of modern buildings in these times.
All of those problems and more exist across the Capitol Plaza in the Herschler Building. It was built in 1981. No major renovation has been undertaken since, though the building has become more and more dysfunctional.
Noteworthy is that the Herschler Building cost $27.3 million when built in 1981. Today, the same building would cost $94.2 million. That speaks to what the much-needed renovation of the Capitol Complex would cost if there were further delays.
This complex multi-year project, which began recently, will repair the two buildings while making necessary health, safety, security and electrical upgrades.
These problems have been ignored for decades. Finally Wyoming has the political leadership willing to take the heat and get the job done.
The Wyoming Legislature set aside funds for this project for 15 years. The planning has been thoughtful. The project is underway.
Our own homes are remodeled now and then to maintain their value and appearance. The peoples’ house deserves no less.