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Mississippi's Capitol getting specialized facelift

Capitol restoration_0506_rgbJACKSON – The Mississippi State Capitol building is getting its first restoration and repair in 30 years, the state Department of Finance & Administration said in announcing the start of the 2-year, $6.9-million project.

Work crews are installing massive construction scaffolding that will envelop different parts of the 110- year-old structure over the next two years.  It’s the first phase of an effort to improve the building’s water tightness and stop further deterioration of the Mississippi Landmark.

The building’s limestone exterior and three domes (the large Main Dome and the House and Senate chamber domes) are the focus of the repair work as weather and old age have left the historic Capitol with such deficiencies as leaks, cracks, stains and rust.  Recent inspections found that deteriorated roofing and cladding materials, especially on the Capitol’s Main Dome, have been allowing water to infiltrate the building.  Damaged terra cotta on the Main Dome must be replaced, the two chamber domes’ skylights will be re-glazed, and roofing and flashing will be repaired and replaced.  It’s not an easy feat for workers, considering the building’s roof spans about 402 feet, and the main dome rises to a height of 180 feet.

“Leaks are common in buildings with complicated roofs like the Capitol,” said Kevin Upchurch, executive director of the DFA.

“Over the years, we have been conducting small repairs, but the entire Capitol, including the dome, has not undergone a complete renovation in nearly three decades, since the early 1980s.”

The problems must be fixed and the leaks stopped “to preserving this magnificent landmark and ensuring that it can last another 110 years,” Upchurch added.

Also requiring significant effort and time during the 24- month project will be necessary general maintenance and repairs such as cleaning the building’s exterior stone walls which are made of gray limestone and granite, re-pointing mortar joints, replacing broken concrete walkways, and removing, repairing and reinstalling the building’s wooden windows, including its stained glass.

In addition to the stained glass windows, other well recognized elements will be restored.

The exterior cast bronze light fixtures and the copper globe lights have already been removed for restoration. The gold eagle (8 feet tall and 15 feet wide) perched atop the Capitol dome will be repaired and re-gilded.

An original terra cotta railing around the lantern on top of the Main Dome will be replicated and installed in place of the simple sheet metal railing that replaced it in the early 1970s.

Perhaps the largest and most complicated undertaking of the nearly $7 million bond project will be the restoration of the Main Dome’s lantern. “The deterioration of the lantern will require us to dismantle the railing and columns, expose the steel structure, perform repairs and then put it back together,” said project architect Lawson Newman, who works for the firm WFT Architects in Jackson and is overseeing the entire restoration.

“The building is really in pretty good shape due to the fact it was renovated in the early 1980s.  Several recent state capitol renovations around the country have had to address much more extensive deterioration,” said Newman, who mentioned a recent $200 million plus interior/exterior restoration project on the Kansas Statehouse building.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) wants to insure that the restoration maintains the original design whenever possible and that the project conforms to the historic nature of the building.  Newman has spent long hours researching the architectural and structural components of the Capitol and is working closely with MDAH to enlist the best resources from across the country.

Brenda Davis, State Capitol curator, said the department has “gone to great lengths to be sure all subcontractors were qualified to work on the project and that they specialize in historic preservation.”

The project’s general contractor is Johnson Construction, founded in Mississippi in 1968. It supervised the recent restoration of the Old Capitol Museum building on State Street.

Davis said three of the firms involved in the project are nationally known for their work on historic buildings.

» The Guilders’ Studio of Olney, Md.,  has completed work on the Washington Monument and the Georgia State Capitol Dome  and will be re-gilding the eagle;

» Robinson Iron of Alexander City, Ala., has worked on large projects such as Grand Central Station in New York City and will oversee the metal restoration, including the cast bronze exterior light fixtures and door surrounds and the copper globe lights;

» Boston Valley Terra Cotta, an Orchard Park, N.Y., company in business since 1889 , is an industry leader in historic terra cotta fabrication.

» Mississippi-based Pearl River Stained Glass Studio will oversee the delicate repairs to the Capitol’s stained glass windows.

The Capitol has been the home of the Legislature since 1903.  It was built on the site of the old state penitentiary.  Not only is the Capitol building designated a Mississippi landmark, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Capitol will remain open for tours during the renovation.  Tours are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

The project should be completed by mid- to late-2016 and will be done in multiple phases.



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