Final Capitol renovations nearing completion
October 10, 2019
CHEYENNE — After the grand reopening of the state Capitol in July, the final pieces of the renovation project are projected to be completed before the 2020 legislative session in February.
That includes construction of an auditorium, student learning center and visitor center in or near the tunnel connecting the Capitol to the Herschler Building.
Gov. Mark Gordon and other members of the Capitol Building Restoration Oversight Group received updates Wednesday afternoon from representatives of MOCA Systems, the firm serving as project manager.
Just over $2 million of a contingency fund set aside by the Legislature earlier this year to complete the three areas of the project were approved by the committee during its June meeting.
Work on the landscape surrounding the Capitol is expected to be finished by the end of October following delays due to a wet spring season, while audiovisual capabilities within Capitol meeting rooms should also be finished by the start of the 2020 legislative session.
Along with updates on the $317 million project, committee members spent some time discussing possible repairs and placements for statues of two historic figures, Chief Washakie and Esther Hobart Morris, that previously stood outside the Capitol.
Both statues are in need of repair, Wyoming Division of Cultural Resources Deputy Director Sara Needles said during the meeting. The statue of Morris was struck by a car in 1973, and it was repaired with scant funding, Needles said.
“(The crash) broke the statue at the waist and created a crack about 12 inches long on her right sleeve,” Needles said.
Full repairs to the Morris statue would cost between $20,000 and $30,000, while restoration of the Chief Washakie statue would cost around $6,000, according to committee estimates.
Following the report from Needles and Wyoming State Museum Director Mark Brammer, committee members unanimously approved a motion to provide funding for the repairs through the Legislature.
After unanimous approval of the funds, however, there was disagreement over a motion to permanently place the two statues in the Capitol extension building, which connects the Capitol and Herschler Building.
The motion passed by a 5-2 vote, with the governor and Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, voting against the final placement.
“There’s a tradition of taking a picture of Esther Hobart with the Capitol in the background,” Gordon said. “I think it would be nice to be able to continue that tradition.”
Connolly agreed, saying she has heard concern, especially in the Cheyenne community, about the loss of the statue from in front of the Capitol.
Phil Nicholas, a former senator serving in an appointee role on the group, noted the restoration project was intended to restore the original view of the Capitol without any statues obstructing it.
“We can honor both the Chief and Esther inside the building, no different than statuary hall in Washington, and we can preserve the quality of the monuments,” Nicholas said.
Another motion to limit any future sculptures on Capitol grounds was advanced by Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, but it failed to gain support from any other committee members. Gordon said he appreciated the motion’s intent, but he worried about binding future legislators.
The committee also received a report on the grand reopening of the Capitol in July. Riana Davidson, a legislative information officer, said around 11,000 people showed up for the celebration.