Renovations underway at Alaska’s State Capitol

Long overdue renovations to Alaska’s State Capitol are well under way. Juneau-based Alaska Commercial Contractors started major work on the building’s crawl space and portico at the end of April, a few days after the legislative session ended.

Bright red construction tape blocks the front of the building, stairs are missing, and large signs direct you to a temporary entrance on Seward Street. A few workers are beneath the entrance landing, which supports four marble columns.

“They’ve shored up the slab on the front here to support the portico. They will be installing some more shoring from the slab up to the portico so when they begin demolition, they can take it down in pieces,” says Capitol building manager Don Johnston.

Within a few weeks, the original sandstone portico that bears the words ‘Alaska State Capitol’ will come down.

“It’s because it’s deteriorating. If you see underneath there, you can see white efflorescence. That’s just all sandstone which is not a really desirable material for this climate which is why it’s breaking down,” Johnston says.

The historic columns supporting the portico will remain where they are and the railing on top will be removed for reuse later. During construction phase, the stairs will be replaced. The iconic portico will be rebuilt in Phase 2 using pre-cast concrete resembling sandstone. Phase two of the renovation project will also involve a seismic retrofit of the entire building.

Right now, workers are digging a hole on the corner of 4th and Seward streets.

“What they’re going to do there is punch a hole through the foundation so they can get material in and out of the crawl space. There will be a conveyor belt underneath there hauling soil and all kinds of debris out of the crawl space and delivering any materials in there they need.”

That hole is right under Juneau Senator Dennis Egan’s ground floor office. Egan arrived to work Tuesday morning to jack hammering. His window looks right onto the renovation site.

“It doesn’t bother me. It’s progress. We’re getting things fixed and we’re saving a very historical structure.”

Egan says building improvements to the State Capitol, originally designed in 1929, are long overdue.

“It got to the point where we had to do something. There was marble falling off the portico. It was becoming dangerous. There was sandstone brick that’s popping off because of the moisture and over the years becoming more serious.”

Updates on Capitol renovations will be heard during upcoming legislative council meetings. Also discussed will be money for phase two. Egan says the majority of the close to $20 million needed for the next phase is secured, “but we’re still hunting and scratching and trying to figure things out. But the chair of Leg Council, Mike Hawker, he’s been very supportive of this project and that means a lot, at least to me, because you have an Anchorage legislator in full support of what we’re trying to get done here.”

Phase one of Capitol renovations is scheduled for completion this October. Building Manager Johnston says he has not received any complaints from the legislators and staff about the renovations or the noise. Daily tours of the capitol have not been interrupted.

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