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Chris Bergin, Deseret Morning News
Utah's Capitol, open Saturday for Capitol Discovery Day, will be closed for four years as crews make it quake-safe as well as update its systems.

The now vacant state Capitol was swarming with more than 2,000 people Saturday as families visited to say goodbye to the building before it closed for the next four years for renovations.

Allyson Gamble, coordinator of Capitol Discovery Day, said the event offered children and community members a chance to learn about the history, architecture and craftsmanship of the 88-year-old building through fun, hands-on activities.

Kids gathered at the center of the Capitol to build mini models of the rotunda with gumdrops and toothpicks, participated in scavenger hunts and construction obstacle courses, and got an up-close and personal look at exactly what the renovation project entails.

"It was great for kids to see and understand that this big huge building is going to be put on stilts and then these huge base isolators are going to be placed underneath the building to make it earthquake safe — their faces light up and they really get interested," Gamble said.

Architects with models of the Capitol were on hand to show how they planned to earthquake-proof the building.

Rep. Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake, and his family also were among the groups visiting the Capitol.

"It's fun and educational, and it's important to get a sense of what a beautiful and historical place this is for the whole state. . . . It's important to share the history and what this means to us as a state," Becker said.

Gamble said another goal was to teach children about the importance of preserving historic buildings.

"A lot of times people say, 'Well, why don't you just tear down the Capitol and start again?' We wanted to teach children that we don't always need to tear down our buildings to keep them. This is 'The People's House' and it's important we keep it alive for the public," Gamble said.

Four years and $200 million later the Capitol should be earthquake-safe, asbestos- and lead-free, pedestrian friendly and looking like it did when it was new. But it will be modernized as well, with better access for people with disabilities.

It will have a new sewer system and plumbing, new wiring, double-pane windows and energy-efficient lighting. It also will have new communications systems, including one for video conferences and production.

Currently, everyone has moved out of the Capitol and has set up shop in the new House and Senate buildings. For the next four years, the Legislature will meet in the House building, and the governor's office will be in the Senate building.

The Capitol Preservation Board was established in 1998 for the purpose of overseeing the Capitol's facilities and the grounds, preservation, maintenance and restoration.

Capitol Discover Day was hosted by the Utah Heritage Foundation and the Capitol Preservation Board.

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