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4-year renovation plan eyed for Capitol building

Committee approved design contract last week

Posted: December 19, 2012 - 1:08am
Wayne Jensen, President of Jensen Yorba Lott Inc., talks Tuesday about how his design firm will work on updating the nearly 82-year-old Alaska State Capitol, starting with the building's portico.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Wayne Jensen, President of Jensen Yorba Lott Inc., talks Tuesday about how his design firm will work on updating the nearly 82-year-old Alaska State Capitol, starting with the building's portico.

The Legislative Council approved a contract last Thursday with Jensen Yorba Lott, a Juneau-based architectural firm, for design work on the retrofitting and restoration of the aging Alaska State Capitol, paving the way for a project set to span four summers and cost millions of dollars.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, lobbied successfully to add consideration of Capitol repairs to the agenda at last Thursday’s Legislative Council meeting in Anchorage, despite the objection of Sen. Linda Menard, R-Wasilla, chairwoman of the committee. The contract was approved unanimously after the committee went into executive session to discuss the matter, Egan said.

Wayne Jensen, president of Jensen Yorba Lott, said a cost estimate is being prepared and will be presented to lawmakers early next year. He acknowledged the cost of reconstruction is likely to be high. He declined to give a range for how much it may cost, but said it would be in the millions.

“It’ll be a lot of money, because it’s a significant amount of work,” Jensen said Tuesday.

The design contract itself is worth slightly more than $1 million and covers design work for all three phases of the construction, the first of which could start as soon as summer 2013, according to Jensen.

“One of the reasons why it came before the Legislative Council this early is that with that approval, we can get some of the work started this summer,” said Jensen.

Restoration of the Capitol should be a priority both for historical preservation and safety reasons, Egan said Friday.

“It’s the Capitol,” said Egan. “It’s a life safety issue. We have the governor’s office there. We have the entire Legislature there. And it’s an 80-year-old structure. It behooves us, whether the Legislature’s there or not, to preserve it.”

Pam Varni, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency, agreed that work is needed.

“We’ve had some pieces of the terra cotta (that) have fallen off the Capitol and some bricks that need repair, and it’s time for this work to be done,” Varni said Tuesday.

Varni and Jensen both stressed that this issue is not unique to Juneau. Other state capitol buildings — many of them older than Alaska’s, Jensen noted — have had work done in recent years to restore them.

“The building is 80 years old, and over the years, it’s been subject to a lot of the ravages of weather,” said Jensen of the Alaska State Capitol. “Also, when it was designed, it wasn’t designed to resist some of the earthquake forces that we know exist today.”

Renovation work will have two purposes, according to Jensen.

One is a seismic retrofit of the building. Juneau sits near the Fairweather-Queen Charlotte transform fault system, which has seen several earthquakes over the past century, including a recent temblor in Canada’s Haida Gwaii archipelago that triggered a minor tsunami in the southern Alaska Panhandle.

The other is a facelift for the building’s exterior, with changes to make the structure safer and more resilient, as well as to restore it to its original condition. Construction on the building, which was originally known as the Federal and Territorial Building, began in 1929 and was completed in early 1931.

“The intent would be it would be restoring it to its original appearance,” Jensen said. “Now, we may not use some of the same materials.”

Jensen said porous stone that has not stood up well to Juneau’s marine climate may be replaced with similar-looking concrete. But he said one prominent building material will stay: the marble quarried on Prince of Wales Island during the building’s construction.

“We definitely would restore those,” said Jensen. “We would keep those features. Even though they have some deterioration, we think we can restore those and maintain that, mainly because it’s Alaskan marble.”

Money has been set aside to allow the first phase of the project to go out to bid and get underway next year, according to Varni.

That first phase will address the entryway to the building, as well as corrosion and deterioration in the crawlspace beneath the building.

“The portico is one of the elements that’s in the worst shape of all the components of the building, and it just happens to be the most recognizable feature of the building,” said Jensen.

Temporary scaffolding was placed around the marble pillars of the portico earlier this year, as a “safety precaution,” Jensen said.

Work in summer 2014 will center on restoring the entire south wall of the Capitol, the part of the exterior that faces toward the Gastineau Channel.

The third phase will likely span two summers, from 2015 to 2016, Jensen said. That work will finish off the rest of the building.

Jensen said summers are being eyed for the construction season on the Capitol as so not to disrupt the legislative session. He acknowledged that the Capitol is one of the most photographed attractions for tourists, who flock to Juneau on cruise ships throughout the summer.

“They’ll have to sell a lot of postcards,” Jensen said.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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