The House of 10,000 Cracks: The Minnesota State Capitol Undergoes a Multi-Million Dollar Restoration Project


One of Minnesota’s nicknames, “the Land of 10,000 Lakes,” is quite ironic, considering its capital building has 10,000 cracks.

Though the Minnesota State Capitol may not actually have that many cracks, MinnPost reports that it does have enough structural damage, general wear, and outdated facilities to warrant a total restoration. The restoration is currently underway in Saint Paul after commencing in 2013 — and after having been toyed around with by legislators and state officials for 30 some-odd years.

The Minnesota State Capitol was built in 1905 when Theodore Roosevelt was President and when a young Upton Sinclair began to serialize his novel, The Jungle. It was then, and still is, considered to be one of the most impressive and gorgeous state capitol buildings in the nation. The 378,825 square-foot building hosts 201 state legislators, the governor and attorney general, more than 370 events, 13,000 tours, and 120,000 public visitors every year. The building has the second largest self-supported marble dome in the world, beating out St. Peter’s Basilica and second only to the Taj Mahal. It is also well-known for the “Progress of the State,” a massive statue of a quadriga (or a Roman chariot pulled by four horses) that sits in front of the building’s main entrance.

Still, an impressive structure necessitates impressive repairs. The pricetag for the restoration amounts to $272.7 million after three years’ worth of state funding. Slated to be completed in 2017, the restoration will cover everything from the cracked marble to the antiquated heating and electric systems to adding a women’s bathroom, which was not included in the pre-suffrage construction.

Most of the building will be closed off to legislators, government officials, and the public alike, which will inevitably cause some discomfort. Still, the restoration is considered necessary due to the building’s slowly but noticeable dilapidation. Though the state had been considering the idea of restoration for nearly three decades, it was finally implemented a few years ago when a large chunk of stone fell off the building. The Minnesota Capitol Preservation Commission was gathered in 2011, and starting in 2012, the legislature allotted funds for the project for three consecutive years.

The construction material of the building is composed of 16 different kinds of marble, including marble from a quarry in Minnesota itself as well as Minnesotan limestone and granite.

“Limestone from local quarries in Minnesota will be used throughout the interior of the capitol,” says David Hadidian, Owner, Bay Shore Cleaning & Restoration. “The dome will consist of Georgia White Marble. Georgia White Marble found its name from quarries in the state of Georgia. It’s an exquisite looking marble and became one of the world’s most sought after stones. While its name is derived from its original unearthing in the hills of Georgia, it is however formed in quarries all over the world. One such quarry is located in the state of Minnesota where 1400 cubic feet of marble will be purchased and fabricated into 12 large blocks to form the capitol dome.”

Though minor repair work has been done on-and-off for three decades, this latest restoration is a massive overhaul of not just the structure but the systems in place: mechanical, electrical, plumbing, telephones, Internet, etc. It will also touch up painting and fixtures and will add the glass-door elevators found in the original 1905 building that have since been replaced by contemporary metal ones.

“There’s hardly a pipe or anything else building that’s not going to be new,” said Rik Myhre, senior project manager with JE Dunn, the construction company leading the restoration.

In addition to restoring the building, JE Dunn will also expand it. The planned expansions include a basement-level public gathering room and expansions of the cafeteria. The Minnesota Historical Society will have a new public classroom to work with, and the building will be fully accessible to the disabled.

The restoration will also include plans to restore artwork housed in the building. Although those efforts are technically outside of the restoration’s domain, the legislature hopes to preserve old artwork as well as commission new pieces.

Though the restoration project has gone through political and bureaucratic obstacles over the years, it is well on its way and has already received full funding. The $272.7 million is considered to be the total amount of funding the project will receive, although state officials say there are back-up funds in case anything goes awry.

By 2017, many Minnesotans hope that the North Star State will shine a little brighter.

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