Statehouse work nearing completion


Ribbon cutting for final phase to be held today in Topeka.

Ribbon cutting for final phase to be held today in Topeka.

TOPEKA (AP) — After 13 years of renovations, the Kansas Statehouse is ready to welcome new generations of visitors to the seat of state government.

The project's final phase included an auditorium, a classroom, thousands of square feet of exhibition space and a visitor center, complete with an oversized map of Kansas. A ribbon cutting will take place today to open the new space.

"I think everybody's pleased with the final design," said Vance Kelley, with Treanor Architects, which did design work for the project. "We want this visitor center to speak for its time, which is today. The rest of the building speaks to its historic period."

A formal ceremony to mark completion of the nearly $330 million renovation project is scheduled for Jan. 29, the day in 1861 when Kansas became the 34th state to join the Union. The Statehouse was built in phases over 37 years, starting in 1866.

Workers will remain at the Statehouse through early 2014 to finish minor work and to complete landscaping on the exterior grounds.

Jim Rinner, project manager for JE Dunn which oversaw the project, said many of the features of the renovated Statehouse and visitor center were built to provide a sense of place for people touring the building. For example, visitors can peer into windows from beneath the stairs on the north entrance and see into the visitor center.

"It's a really nice tie to see where things are," Rinner said.

Visitors will enter from the north at the ground level and proceed through the visitor center and into limestone corridors that are the foundation of the building. Photographs of historic Kansans, events and documents line the walls before visitors go up to the five floors above.

"I am really proud of this space, and I hope everyone enjoys the exhibits," Jennie Chinn, executive director of the Kansas State Historical Society, said. "I've seen them in storage, as we've been working on them the last few months, but it's great to come down here and finally see them for the public to see."

The renovations started in 2001 under Republican Gov. Bill Graves. They've included upgrades to the building's offices, meeting rooms and mechanical systems. Some previously drab rooms and hallways have been restored to their original 19th-century opulence.

Early estimates of the work pegged the cost at between $90 million and $120 million, but that was before legislative leaders added an underground parking garage and approved an expansion of the basement for new offices.

The state also discovered unexpected needs for repairing the exterior stone and replacing copper on the building's roof and dome.

During the renovations, crews discovered many unknown features included during the original construction, including fireplaces, ornate stenciling and doorways between rooms that were closed off during previous restoration efforts.

Much of the exterior work has been completed, though some of the final pieces of landscaping won't be installed until the spring when planting is more conducive. A concrete driveway that previously encircled the building was replaced with paver stones. New lighting was installed along sidewalks, but lights that previously illuminated the building were not replaced.

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