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As Legislature turns 100, Capitol gets a face-lift

Posted: February 9, 2013 - 8:51pm  |  Updated: February 10, 2013 - 1:05am
Wayne Jensen, of Jensen Yorba Lott, talks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce about the renovation of the Capitol building during their luncheon at the Hangar Ballroom on Thursday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Wayne Jensen, of Jensen Yorba Lott, talks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce about the renovation of the Capitol building during their luncheon at the Hangar Ballroom on Thursday.

The Alaska Legislature is celebrating is 100th year, but it is the state’s 80-year-old State Capitol Building that is getting the facelift.

Wayne Jensen of Jensen Yorba Lott Inc. and the chair of the Alaska Committee spoke about the ongoing exterior renovation of the State Capitol Building to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce business roundtable at the Hangar on the Warf Ballroom, Thursday.

Jensen said design and construction of the capitol was slow going at the turn of the 20th century. Planning for the Capitol started in the early 1900s and $200,000 was set aside for its construction in 1910. By 1923 the design process began. Six years later construction began on the Federal Territory Building. It was done in 1931 at a cost of about $1 million.

Sometime prior to 1978 the cornice at the top of the building was removed due to leaking, Jensen said. However, it provided a considerable amount of protection to the building walls, he said. Part of the building’s remodel will be to replace the top cornice.

The walls will also receive stiffening against earthquakes. The entire skeleton of the building is reinforced concrete poured on site. Concrete braces will be poured between the building exterior wall columns.

There are other problems the Capitol faces. At one point sandblasters stripped the hard surface off the brick exterior, accelerating weathering, Jensen said. And stone slabs around the base of the building at grass level have been pried loose by wedges of frozen water. The building’s stone window sills are brittle and have cracked in earthquakes over the years.

The iconic marble columns at the capitol’s entrance have also started to degrade. Jensen said workers may drill a three- or four-inch hole down the center of the columns and reinforce them with steel. The surface cracks, he said, can be fixed with epoxy.

The building's 80-year old heating system will also be replaced.

Even with its cracks and chips and leaks, the octogenarian capitol is in decent shape, Jensen said.

"Generally speaking, it is in better shape than you’d expect."

It is also sitting on a good foundation.

Down about 10 to 15 feet below the Capitol sits a very dense layer of glacial silt, Jensen said. It can bear loads similar to rock, he said.

"The building is sitting on very good material," Jensen said. "We are starting from a good foundation."

Jensen said work on the south wall is expected to be complete in the summer of 2014. A final push from May to December in both 2015 and 2016 should complete the job.

The project does not yet have a cost estimate, Jensen said. However, an estimate is expected in the next few weeks, he said. The Legislative Council appropriated $1 million for design work.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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