Major repairs on the horizon for the State Capitol building

An example of weathering on the portico at the entrance of the Alaska State Capitol Building. (Photo Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)
An example of weathering on the portico at the entrance of the Alaska State Capitol Building. (Photo Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

When legislators enter Alaska’s capitol building soon for the session, they won’t have to be concerned about falling debris.

Gray lumber hugs the marble columns at the entrance to the Alaska State Capitol – to support temporary scaffolding meant to catch anything that might break off the 80-year-old building’s façade.

And when lawmakers leave next spring, work will begin on the capitol portico; the first phase of building restoration. Juneau Senator Dennis Egan recently won Legislative Council approval for some immediate repairs and a design process for future construction.

“It’s our capitol, for crying out loud,” Egan says.

Egan is a member of the joint House and Senate Legislative Council. The Juneau Democrat admits he worried some Southcentral legislators would try to scuttle the proposal, but in the end the council approved a $1,055,000 contract to Juneau architectural firm Jensen Yorba Lott to produce design and construction documents, including estimated costs, for a three-phase project.

Phase 1
Next summer’s repair of the front entry way can’t come soon enough.

“This needs to happen as soon as possible,” says Don Johnston, State Capitol Building Manager.

He says he’s been documenting areas of deterioration since at least 2006, after a window washer noticed loose pieces of sandstone on exterior ledges.

“We would cordon off the area down below and he would remove those pieces for us,” Johnston says.

He says the entrance is the most critical area.

“If we’re talking life safety issues, there is no worse area,” Johnston says.

The crawl space also has water, which has begun to damage the concrete foundation and rust steel reinforcement bars. Egan jokingly calls it “a creek running in the basement.”

While it’s not that bad, Johnston says, the capitol building does sit downhill.

“There areas where water kind of trickles and runs through the crawl space to Fourth Street,” Johnston says.

Johnston has worked in the capitol building since 1985 and took over as manager in 1997. He’s supervised a number of interior decorating projects – but nothing structural. So much work needs to be done that it will total millions of dollars – the amount yet to be determined. A Seattle area contractor – working with Jensen Yorba Lott — has already done an in-depth analysis of the building.

“The goal is to have a cost estimate done early in the session and that will be presented to the Legislative Council,” says Wayne Jensen, the firm’s manager for the project.

A wooden platform above the doorway of the Alaska State Capitol Building protects entrants from falling debris from the portico.
The temporary wooden platform above the entrance of the capitol building. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

Seismic retrofit
Jensen says first phase portico and foundation repair can be done quickly, beginning as soon as session ends in April. The second phase is exterior renovation, starting with the south wall, at the end of the 2014 session. The final would take two construction seasons, through 2015.

A major part of the work is what he calls a seismic retrofit:

“If there was a seismic event, the building I don’t think would fail but some of the materials could start falling off the building. Brick and some of the stone and some of the terracotta could actually come loose, because it’s been weakened over the years. The seismic retrofit involves installing concrete sheer walls from the foundation all the way up to the roof in certain areas of the building, so the building is more capable of resisting earthquake forces,” Jensen says.

And that work will lead to the building exterior:

“There’s an opportunity to restore the exterior walls, windows, brick, terracotta, stone, all the components that comprise the exterior wall assemblies,” Jensen says.

The 80-year-old heating system with its corroded steel pipes and cast iron radiators also will be replaced with a modern hot water system that’s easier to control and maintain.

“They needed to be replaced years ago and now’s the time to do it,” Jensen says.

The east, west and north sides of the capitol will be restored in phase three.

While the work will disrupt some offices, employees will be able to stay in the building during construction, one of the reasons the project is phased.

Jensen says much of Alaska’s capitol is in pretty bad shape:

“Most state capitols are going through this or have gone through this over the years. Most of them were built in the 17, 18, 1900s, so some of them are pretty old,” Jensen says.

Contrast Alaska’s capitol, completed in 1931. It was built by the federal government to house the territorial legislature, governor, post office, courts, and other agencies. The building became state property in 1959 at statehood.


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