A legacy worth preserving
Jan. 28, 2013
by Ivan Raconteur

The Minnesota State Capitol, with its distinctive Georgia marble dome, is a beautiful structure with a rich history, but it is in trouble.

Years of neglect have taken their toll.

According to State Representative Dean Urdahl, a member of the Capitol Restoration Panel, it will cost an estimated $240 million to restore the capitol.

Urdahl, who has been an advocate of capitol restoration, was recently re-appointed to the commission, the purpose of which is to advance the restoration project.

Among the projects included in the restoration effort are:

• repairing a leaky roof in the capitol’s dome

• restoring aging artwork,

• upgrading deficient plumbing and electrical systems, and

• securing crumbling marble on the building’s exterior.

A video that shows some of the deterioration of the structure is available at www.mnvideovault.org by entering “capitol restoration tour” in the search field.

How, we might ask, did the capitol get into this condition?

Any homeowner knows that maintenance is a regular cost of home ownership.

We maintain our homes for a variety of reasons. We take pride in ownership, and we want them to look and work the way they should. Perhaps most importantly, we want to protect our investment in what for most people is our most valuable asset.

Why, then, have we allowed our state capitol, in which we all share ownership, to fall into disrepair?

Could it be that maintenance is not as glamorous as new investments, and our elected officials can’t get their names in the headlines for supporting routine maintenance they way they can for supporting new projects?

It can’t be a question of money, because the state legislature seems to find ways to spend money – taxpayers’ money – to build stadiums for private businesses.

Why, then, do our legislators find it so difficult to spend money to protect the investment in our state capitol, which is owned by all Minnesota residents? Shouldn’t our tax dollars be used to maintain our own assets before building playgrounds for private businesses?

The state capitol was designed by acclaimed architect Cass Gilbert. Construction began in 1896 and was completed in 1905.

Since it opened, it has been considered one of the most beautiful public buildings in the nation.

It has been listed on the national register of historic places since 1972, and has been part of the Minnesota Historical Society’s historic site program since 1969.

The capitol is part of our heritage as a state, and it seems to me it is worth preserving.

The Capitol Preservation Commission secured $44 million in last year’s capital investment bill to be used for the project, but there is still much work to be done.

There are many conflicting interests competing for public funding these days. Some are clearly in the public interest, while others may not be.

We have inherited an incredible structure in the capitol, and it is an asset that can and should be preserved for future generations of Minnesotans.

The capitol is something of which we, as a state, should be proud.

If we fail to preserve our legacy, and if we allow leaky roofs and neglect to continue to erode what we have, we could end up with something that is a source of shame and embarrassment for the state rather than a source of civic pride.

Restoring and renovating the building also makes financial sense. It is better to fix things so they operate efficiently rather than continuing to pour money into temporary measures.

The estimated $240 million cost of renovation may seem steep, but things only reached this point because the problems have been neglected for so long.

We need to take responsibility to preserve the capitol for all Minnesotans, and doing so should certainly be a higher priority for our legislators than catering to special interest groups.

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