‘The People’s House’ reopens in the state’s capitol

Members of the Wyoming Legislature perform the ribbon cutting to officially reopen the Wyoming State Capitol building in Cheyenne last Wednesday. Photo/Vicki Hood

Vicki Hood
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CHEYENNE—Declaring it “The People’s House”, former Wyoming Governor Matt Mead made the final remarks in an hour-long ceremony in front of the state’s newly-renovated Capitol building prior to its reopening Wednesday afternoon in Cheyenne.  
Speaking to a crowd of several thousand, Mead praised the efforts of legislators past and present for “their vision, hard work and planning” to see the project through, noting that while it was “not  quick or by any standard inexpensive, not without strife and criticism, it was a project that needed to be done.”
Following Mead’s remarks, legislators gathered on the steps for the official ribbon-cutting.  Legislators gathered on the steps and following a brief countdown, members of the Capitol Rehabilitation and Restoration Group cut a wide, bright red ribbon that had  been unrolled across the length of the steps and held up by those in the front row.
Then amid cheers from the crowd, legislators stepped aside and the doors swung open to a steady stream of people who had come to see the end result.  
At a cost of just under $300 million, the renovation, officially called The Wyoming Capitol Square Project, was approved by Wyoming Legislature in 2014 and encompassed   four major components, including rehabilitation and restoration of the Capitol building, replacement of the central utility plant, expansion of the connecting tunnel and remodeling and expansion of the Herschler Building.  The work on the Capitol building focused on restoring the interior similar to the original look and upgrading the infrastructure to make it safer, stronger, ADA compliant and more accessible to the public.  Ground was broken on the Capitol Square Project on August 25, 2016.
Original construction on the Wyoming Capitol was done between 1886 and 1890 and it was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1987.
One of the most substantial portions of the project is not visible but critically important nonetheless.  To secure the foundation of the Capitol building, new supports, called micropiles, installed almost 35 feet below the Capitol’s foundation, have strengthened the 130-year-plus old building to handle the structural changes that were necessary for restoration. Called underpinning, the process has enabled the Capitol’s existing foundation to bear heavier loads than originally designed for in the late 1880s and allows for modern utilities to pass under the historic footings.
A central utility plant is state-of-the-art and provides mechanical and electrical services to not only the Capitol but also the Herschler, Barrett, Supreme Court and Hathaway buildings.  
Although it may seem hard to believe, the Capitol’s dome was re-gilded in gold leaf using a total of just seven ounces of gold.  The process used one imperial ounce (28 grams) per 100 square feet of surface.
Originally located outside the Capitol building, statues of Esther Hobart Morris and Chief Washakie have been relocated.  Morris, who played a significant role in the women’s suffrage movement to gain the vote and the great Shoshone leader and warrior Chief Washakie, noted for his reputation of cooperation with the white man, may now be seen in the Capitol extension near the Student Learning and Visitor Centers.       
Highlights of the work inside the Capitol include the addition of four bronze sculptures, fulfilling an intended feature by the original architect in 1886 that was never completed.  Four niches were originally built on the third floor level but the sculptures were never commissioned.  The decision was made to commission and add them as part of the renovation.  Denver sculptor Delissalde, who attended Wednesday’s event, created The Four Sisters, representing key values and attributes of Wyoming and its citizens.  Truth, Justice, Courage and Hope now stand in the niches, first seen by the public during Wednesday’s open house.
One of the goals in the project was to restore the historic ceiling and window heights to allow more light into the Capitol and feature more of the original decorative work on the walls and ceilings.  
The original 1888 Territorial House Chamber, later occupied by the Supreme Court, has been restored and features a public balcony overview. A stained glass skylight and a chandelier have been restored to the room as well and it is now the largest public meeting room in the Capitol.  
A large window was added to the House Chambers.  District 4 Representative Dan Kirkbride said it was a change he was glad to see happen.  “It really brightens the entire atmosphere in the room. It really opened things up and I really like it.”    
Public meeting rooms, a student learning center, and media center were added through the expansion of the existing tunnel that connects the Capitol and the Herschler buildings underground.   Visitors will find the skylights that have been added offer a stunning view of the Capitol’s gold dome.
There were some pleasant surprises discovered by workers along the way during the restoration process. Historic paint studies revealed extensive decorative patterns in several areas, including the Supreme Court Chamber and the Senate and House Chambers.  
The paint studies also revealed decorative painting on six vault doors in the garden level.  Crews painstakingly removed layers of paint before uncovering outstanding oil paintings on the vaults.
Wednesday’s celebration, held on Wyoming’s Statehood Day, also included a number of additional events near the Capitol.  They included a hour-long concert by folk/rock band Canyon Kids, special programs for the Arapaho and Shoshone traditional arts, a tin type photography session, tours of the governor’s historic mansion, a behind the scenes look at the Wyoming State Museum, music by the 67th Army Band, a book-signing of A History of the Wyoming Capitol, a Fallen Warrior Ceremony to honor all Wyoming veterans who have died in service to country, music by the Fort D.A. Russell Band and a performance of Wonderful Wyoming Women Voters out on the A League of Her Own acting troupe, a performance by Ballet Wyoming, an ice cream social, performance by the Wind River Indian Dancers, a re-dedication of the Capitol’s cornerstone, and music by Indie folk/rock band The Woodpile.   
The day closed out with live music by Chancey Williams and the Younger Brothers Band and a fireworks display near the Capitol.  
The Capitol Square Project was an undertaking of extensive proportion.  Noted by several of Wednesday’s guest speakers, the project was paid for in cash, on time and within the budget.  It is certainly something to see and well worth the drive to Cheyenne, regardless of your home address.  
With great respect given to the historical component and a well-planned strategy to deal with the practical needs of government operation, the Wyoming Capitol is something of which Wyoming residents can and should be proud.  
Open for business once again, it is truly The People’s House.


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