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Capitol walls to get safety check

Consultant to make sure stone is secure and doesn't present a danger

Posted: July 28, 2012 - 11:08pm
A piece of facade is held up in front of the Capitol on Thursday. The piece was found by a legislative aide. The legislature has approved a study of the Capitol's exterior condition.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
A piece of facade is held up in front of the Capitol on Thursday. The piece was found by a legislative aide. The legislature has approved a study of the Capitol's exterior condition.

Some legislators fear Alaska’s Capitol is going to pieces, but this time they mean it literally rather than figuratively.

Chunks of the aging building’s outer walls have been loosening — and sometimes falling — to the ground below.

The Legislative Council, the committee that handles the day-to-day business of the Legislature, last week approved hiring a consultant to assess the condition of the building’s “envelope,” or its exterior walls.

“It’s something we’ve got to do to make sure the building is safe, it’s not that big a deal,” said Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, a member of the Legislative Council, from Anchorage after the council met last week.

Egan and others worry there might be loose parts of the exterior walls, including sandstone and marble, that might fall from the building.

That has happened, but contrary to reports at the meeting, they didn’t hit legislative aide Darwin Peterson.

“No, that would explain a lot, but that’s not quite the way it happened,” Peterson said.

“I was walking to work and there was a piece of brick that had fallen and broken into three pieces on the steps,” he said.

“It would have hurt someone if someone had been right underneath it when it fell,” he said.

Peterson, who works for Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said he showed it to building manager Don Johnston, and learned they had similar reports going back to 2006.

Legislative Affairs Agency Executive Director Pam Varni said the reports prompted a request to the Legislative Council for an expert survey.

The company doing it will be Paul Lukes: Building Envelope Consulting Services, based in Seattle. Varni said that company has worked in Juneau, including on the Capitol, in the past.

The company’s website describes it as “the premier consulting firm specializing in architectural pathology.”

Varni said she did not know how long it would take to do the survey, but said it was likely to be several months before the Legislature has a report. Varni said up to $149,000 has been authorized for the work.

The Capitol is home to both the Legislature and the executive offices of the governor and lieutenant governor, but is owned by the Legislature.

Egan said the discussion of the need for repairs to the 1930s-vintage building resulted in typical suggestions of a capital move from Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, but the funds were eventually approved unanimously.

Egan attended the meeting in person, but got support via teleconference from fellow Southeast legislators Rep. Bill Thomas, (R)-Haines, and Rep. Peggy Wilson, (R)-Wrangell.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com

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